Playing Cards with God

To anyone who has played Texas Hold ‘Em or anything similar this is for you. You have a hand, and you have three options. Depending on the situation you can bet, call, or fold. You wait for the flop, maybe ride the turn, and finally see if you win anything with the river. It’s a fun game. I first played it when I was in my early 20’s or whatnot, and it was at a gathering with some friends from the church I was going to at the time.

We only played with chips, and it was enjoyable for me to see the reactions of my friends as they won sometimes, and lost others. To be honest I think I did fairly well that night. Beginners luck? Maybe. At any rate I started looking into the game a little more, and I found out that there are professionals that play it for sums of cash that would make most of us sweat, at least a little.

I left around 11 that night and I was thinking about how people get hooked to games like that, even without knowing how to play well, and how there is such a rush when you know you got a good hand. A pair, two aces, etc. It is a feeling that can override reason and other senses that serve to give us caution usually.

I’ve always admired the games I played as I was growing up for the skill and strategy involved, and like anyone, I did like it when I won. For who doesn’t like it when they are the victor?

Ancient societies were not slacking on enjoying games either. The Egyptians played Senet. The Greeks had their Olympics, and a board game called Petteia. Ancient African societies had Mancala. Romans had Latrunculi. There are also ancient game pieces and boards that have been found that we can only speculate what the rules were for them.

It’s in human nature to play games, strategize, and try to outsmart the opponent facing us. We have this nature in such force that we carry it away from the cards, the boards, the arenas, and any other domain straight into our daily lives. It has been that way since the beginning.

In the scriptures, and throughout history, there are many examples of humans in a battle of wits against one another. To have the best picture they could, many ancients would employ whatever one up they could muster. Divination was one such practice. Looking at a liver for life guidance? I guess there is really nothing new under the sun.

With divination, among other practices, the ancients would try to entreat their gods for their schemes and plans. If their practices worked or not, they chalked it up as the will of their gods. These measures and the people that provided them were sought after for anything. It didn’t matter if it was for business, family, favor or anything else. They took the goal of winning seriously. I can only imagine how much the temple staff loved the never-ending feast!

Peculiarly though, there is the story of one ancient that knew God and was called a friend of God. We know him by the name Abraham (P.S. his name was originally Abram). This man had hutzpa! For example, he is listed in the Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11). He is called the father of many nations. He risked everything by leaving his homeland Ur to basically fly-by-divine-wire to go to the land that God wanted him to settle in, and according to the story, he is the father of the nation of Israel.

I would say the one thing he is best known for was the Isaac event when Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, to God. Yet God saved Isaac from that fate by giving Abraham a ram. A pick-up truck saving someone from a sacrifice? Oh, wait… not that kind. *wink wink*

Still… Abraham was also very human. For all of his strengths, he faced the same flaws we face on the daily. One of his greatest mistakes, in my opinion, was thinking he could play cards with God.

The story goes that Abraham had God’s promise that he would have a son, yet by this time he and Sarah were practically old as dirt by ancient standards. There is no doubt that though he trusted God he must have felt pressured into making God’s promise come true. This is where Sarah comes into play.

Sarah had a handmaiden from Egypt named Hagar. One day Sarah had the idea to have Hagar sleep with Abraham to have a child for her. Abraham agreed, and the deed was done. Hagar got a major ‘tude and pride boost over being pregnant and she started to vex Sarah. Sarah vented her frustrations to Abraham about this and she blamed him for her misfortune.

He basically told Sarah that it was her problem to deal with and to do what she thought was best with Hagar. It got to the point that Hagar ran away to the desert from the mistreatment. Umm… catfighting much?

In short, the Lord found Hagar, consoled her, gently corrected her, and blessed her and the son in her womb GREATLY. She named him

(The) angel said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit (humble) yourself under her hands.” (God’s) angel said to her, “I will greatly multiply your offspring, that they will not be counted for multitude.”

Genesis 16:9-10, WEB

It’s a great story because it illustrates something about us. Like Abraham, when are we not pressured into making things happen before their time? Even when it is reasonable to think that it is okay to rush things it usually isn’t. When we do rush we don’t make blessing come any faster, even if it is done with the Lord, and his priorities in mind; instead, we create strife and pain for ourselves, and for others.

And guess who in His grace is still there to do damage control with the consequences? The Father of Lights. For it is written,

If we are faithless, he remains faithful; for he can’t deny himself.

2 Timothy 2:13, WEB

He cannot deny himself; he cannot deny his goodness; his words NEVER return to him void, and he is forever faithful to us — even when we screw things up.

Just as it was foolish for Abraham to think he could bet on the hand of Hagar having a son outside of the promise that God gave him, regarding Sarah having a son, and expecting the blessing of God to fall on Ishmael with the same favor — so too, is it to think that we can tweak a word of promise God gives us for our expedient advantage, and think that the alteration will be acceptable to him. God goes for fullness and meaning in this realm of space and time; rather, than the quick “solutions” we seek.

Abraham could have avoided a lot of strife in his house, and other family dilemmas if he was patient. Yet God in his grace was still there to heal and restore. We can’t shock him with the pocket aces of our mistakes. We can’t go all-in in a fashion that he can’t get us all-out. Amen to that!

Some people of faith may be shy admitting they like a good game of cards, for who knows? The friendly neighborhood pastor could be the best card shark you ever met. Hehe.

Anyway… when you play a game of any nature, remember that there is one that loves a good game as well. He doodled, he played with children in the streets, he even liked creating the wonderful riddles we know as Parables. His name is Jesus, and even if you do make, or have made the mistake of bending a promise of his to your advantage — he is faithful and just to unbend and heal your heart, life, and whatever else has been flambéed.

If we play fair by him we will fare better with him in the long run of life. I pray that you find patience, peace, and tranquility in trust of his provision, his promises, and whatever else you face.

Be blessed. =)

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