Sermon for March 17, 2019
If you are going to play with God then you need to know the game that God is playing.
If you are going to pray to God, listen to God, follow God, serve God, and ultimately be blessed by God, then you need to understand how God works.
There is one simple clue I can give you. It’s there in all of scripture. If you really want to understand scripture and the stories of our faith, this clue will help you. If you want to deepen and strengthen your walk with God, and if you want to see how God is working in your life, this clue will help you. It is a clue that God showed Abram towards the beginning of his walk with God. It is a clue that the prophets understood, and it is a clue that, of course, Jesus knew and taught and lived.
The clue is this:
God is always playing the long game.
God is always playing the long game. What does that mean, you may be asking. What is the long game? Well it’s this: there are two basic games we play in life, the long game and the short game. The short game is the path of immediate results: instant gratification, swift resolutions. If you are playing the short game, you want to visibly win and win now. The short game wants to sell you on the idea of living your best life now…oh wait, that sounds like a good book title. Sometimes the short game is the path of least resistance; it could be, for instance, paying to get into an elite college or university rather than doing your homework every day. Sometimes the short game seems perfectly sensible: selling off your stocks before there is a dip in the market. Sometimes the short game uses strength and power to achieve immediate goals without really considering long-term consequences. And here the short game can quickly move from being benign to being very destructive. Forcing yourself upon someone, rather than spending the time to build a relationship with them. Using power rather than persuasion. That’s the short game.
The other game is the long game. The long game is not a game you are going to sit back and watch on TV, because the long game is incredibly boring. It is just what it says it is: long. It is the opposite of the short game. It isn’t looking for immediate results. It is always focused on long-term goals. The long game isn’t so much worried about every bend in the road; the long game is worried about the final destination. And the long game takes work; daily work. The short game might ask you to exert a massive amount of force or power once to achieve something immediate, but the long game asks you to exert a little strength and will-power over, and over, and over again, with no immediate gratification. The long game is saving money. The long game is exercise. The long game is diplomacy. The long game is relationship. You can’t always see the effects of the long game, at least not quickly, so the long game takes patience.
Sometimes we humans manage to find the grace, the will-power or the wisdom to play the long game, but let’s face it, what we really like, and the game we are best at playing is the short game. We don’t necessarily need to be ashamed of that; sometimes we willfully make bad choices, but sometimes we are playing the short game because we simply can’t see into the future. We are after all humans.
But God is always playing the long game. God always sees things from the perspective of eternity. Hours and days and years, those things do not mean the same thing to the eternal God as they do to us little humans that lives our lives on a little ball that spins around everyday. God can always see the future. So God is always playing the long game. You can see it throughout our scriptures:
“The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “you have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him,”this man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” The he said to him, “so shall your descendants be.”
Today, Judaism, Christianity and Islam all look to Abraham as our father in the faith. Yes, we Christians worship Jesus as the son of God, but he was very clear that his God was the God of Abraham. So Abraham is our father in faith too. So every Jew, Christian or Muslim is a child of Abraham. That is almost 5 billion people living today that are in some way descendants of Abraham. 61% of the world’s population, and that’s just the people that are living now, not counting all the generations that have come between us and Abraham. I would say God made good on his promise to Abraham, but it didn’t happen quickly. It wasn’t instant. God was playing the long game.
And God wanted to make clear to Abram just what game he was playing. So after Abram (or Abraham) makes this sort of bizarre (to us) sacrifice to God, he falls into a deep sleep, and in that sleep the Lord comes to him again and says to him: “know this for certain, your offspring will someday inherit this land I am giving you, but there is a long road ahead of them. There will be slavery, there will be suffering; oppression is not over.” In other words God made it clear to Abram: “I am making a covenant with you and will bless you and your descendants, but make no mistake, I am playing the long game.”
“O Tarry and await the Lord’s pleasure; be strong, and he shall comfort your heart; wait patiently for the Lord.”
So said the Psalmist. Tarry and await. Wait patiently for the Lord. Why? Because the Lord is always playing the long game.
“For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is their destruction; their God is the belly…their minds are set on earthly things.”
Brother and sisters, people in the world want instant gratification. They let their hungers and their desires rule their lives. They can’t be bothered to endure suffering. They don’t want to hear Jesus’s word ‘take up your cross and follow me.’ They are only playing the short game. That is what Paul is saying to the Church in Phillipi. And he goes on to tell them that our ultimate citizenship is in heaven. Our Lord lives there, he is returning from there, and ultimately all things will be put in subjection to him, so brothers and sisters…”whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way.” Play the long game brothers and sisters, because that is the game that God is ultimately playing. Don’t be afraid of this day’s struggles because we are here to play the long game.
“Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”
Watch out Jesus, they said in the gospel, or your game may be over. Herod may kill you and then what? You will lose. They thought Jesus could lose. They thought Jesus was playing a short game, but he wasn’t. Jesus was playing the game of the prophets. The prophets play the long game, because that’s the game that God is playing, and they usually suffer greatly for it. Some people think pain and suffering are signs of being a loser, but Jesus knows better. He’s not about to lose, he’s just winning at a different game…the long game. Because that is the game that God always plays.
Remember that friends. Remember that God, the God of all our history and all our future, the God of eternity, remember that God is always playing the long game. When it feels like you are failing or losing in life, when it feels like God isn’t answering or listening to your prayers, when you can’t see the results of any of your labor, remember that God is playing the long game. And be careful of the call of that short game, because it is seductive. You may think you can play it well, but you can lose.
Playing the long game takes patience, it takes work, and most of all it takes faith. Maybe that is why God is so determined to play it, because it takes faith. For whatever reason, it is the game God is playing, so if you want a deeper walk with God, I recommend you learn how to play it too. It isn’t easy, but when you are playing the long game with God, you can’t lose.