“So you’re playing the long game.”
“ABSOLUTELY I’m playing the long game! There’s no other way to play!”
This was the culmination of a long discussion about student ministry. Three other pastors and I debated different approaches to discipling teenagers for hours. At some point I said,
“People want to take a new student who doesn’t know Jesus, or a brand new believer, and turn them into a perfect bible-quoting, soul-saving, world-changing apostle by the time they leave high school! We treat discipleship like it’s something we can accomplish in a manner or months.
Discipleship is a lifelong process, and I only have them for a couple of years, so I have to meet them where they are, and walk a little further down the road with them, trusting God to take care of the rest.”
This was the point at which one of the pastors said, “so you’re playing the long game.”
There is no other way to play.
God is always playing the long game. He has no need to fear the future, so He is in no hurry to convince you to change. His love is patient and it is gentle.
If we are to truly love and minister to one another as God has designed us to, then we too must learn to work slowly, with enormous grace and patience.
The problem is, most churches have not modeled that for us most
God of Questions
An American woman once visited an art gallery. She was stunned by the beauty of the paintings she saw, so she wanted to meet the artist. She was introduced to the painter and asked him a straightforward question.
“Which one is your favorite”
The painter looked around the room thoughtfully for a moment, then responded to the woman.
“How many children do you have?”
The woman was taken aback. She thought this an incredibly strange response to her initial question. She eventually replied,
“I have 3.”
The man then asked her,
“Which one is your favorite?”
There is something strangely troubling and beautiful going on here. First of all, the painter is a Jewish man with a deeply-rooted faith steeped in Eastern thought. This is something very common to eastern spiritual leaders. They believe the best way to teach is not through giving answers, but by asking questions.
They answer questions with more questions.
God has always done the same thing.
In Exodus, when God is calling Moses and Moses is giving Him a litany of reasons to choose someone else, Moses asks God a question:
“What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? What if they say ‘The Lord has never appeared to you’?”
Then the LORD asked Him, “What’s in your hand?”
In the Gospel of Mark we see Jesus with His disciples and He asks them,
“Who do the people say I am?”
“Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other prophets.”
Then Jesus asked them,
“Who do you say I am?”
Can you imagine being one of the disciples being hit with the gravity of having that question turned in on them? Or Moses looking down and realizing for Himself that God wants to use whatever he has to free His people?
Or how about the woman in the art gallery. Imagine how that interaction will stick with her and change the way she views all she does.
Questions are powerful.
First Church of Answers
Most of us, in our experience with churches and our interactions with Christian leaders, have been given a lot of answers.
Now, to be fair, they gave us what we asked for.
If you come to someone wanting answers, you can hardly complain about getting them; and if you only give a person one conversation to respond to your lifelong struggles, you’re likely to leave more frustrated than you came.
However, all that aside,
answers may be what we ask for, but it is almost never what we need or are truly looking for.
When we search for answers, when the struggles and pains of life start to break apart and crack the surface of our lives, we ask for answers to smooth those surfaces back into place,
But what we really long for is people to walk through it with us.
Someone to love us no matter what is breaking through.
Someone to say,
“I will never leave you. You are not alone.”
One of the greatest misconceptions in history is that the bible is a guidebook to life. To see the bible as a place to find answers to “any and all of your questions” is the great fallacy of the sacred scriptures.
The bible is more like a math book. If every time I encountered a math equation, I chose to simply look in the back for the answer, I would NEVER learn math. A math book doesn’t teach you math by giving you answers. Instead, it gives you problems and helps you discover how to work through them.
The bible is the same way. It is a record, spanning thousands of years of people working through their relationship with God and the problems they face.
And it is an excellent teacher.
Trust God, Love People
So what does this have to do with faith, community, & purpose? I’m SO glad you asked.
If we ever hope to attain the truth, joy, and freedom God has promised us, then we have to play the long game.
In our communities, our families of faith, and our churches, if we are to truly experience the will of God and greater purpose in our lives, then we must learn to stop giving answers, and start finding ways to say,
“I see you. I love you. And I’m not going anywhere.”
Whether we’re speaking with someone, helping them to walk through the problems of life, or addressing our own difficulties and questions, it would serve us infinitely better to be a people who seek to love ourselves and each other as we work it out.
We must become people who don’t try to fix, correct, or instruct at the expense of listening, understanding, and embracing those in front of us.
The fourth chapter of 1 John in the bible has something to say on this subject,
“God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid (of getting it wrong), it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first.”
And two different places in John’s gospel, Jesus Himself says,
Now, God does use His people to admonish, and there are several places in the New Testament that reference correcting and rebuking one another. But if you read the entire section, it becomes obvious that the goal of these scriptures is a loving community that walks together though difficulty and disagreement with patient, enduring love that places the person before the issue.
Our job in this life, especially in our churches and our faith communities, was never to correct and fix people.
God has always called us to simply and furiously love one another.
What about growth?
What about learning who God is and what His will is for us?”
That is a great question. Let me give you one in return:
What does the bible say about that?
Who does God charge first and foremost with teaching and instructing?
and eternally difficult.
Our job has never been to fix. Instead God has always asked us to love Him, and love those around us; to walk together, trusting that “as we do, our love will grow more perfect so we will not be afraid on the day of judgment.”
In what ways are you trying to control your surroundings?
Where are you fighting to know the right answers?
Who are you wanting to fix (or “help”) and give answers to, rather than listen, understand, and embrace?
If we truly want more out of life, more out of our pursuit for honest faith, these are some questions that we may need to be asking ourselves.
Would you rather fix, or would you rather love?
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For more on church and how to live like Jesus, check out Giving Up Sunday: Looking for more from faith, community, and calling available on Amazon now