Life the Jesus Way: 3 Ways to Stop Playing the Game

I have this growing sense that I have wasted way too much energy in my life on things that just don’t matter.

Growing up, I would attend a weeklong basketball camp every summer. On the first day, the coaches would place us all on teams and then we would spend the next five days competing to become “Camp Champ.” What more could a ten-year-old kid ask for?

One year I got placed on the green team (we naturally called ourselves the Green Machine) and spent the first two days giving everything I had to ensure that, come Friday, we would hoist that little fifty cent piece of plastic in the air declaring to the world that we were the best. But Wednesday morning I walked into the gym and received terrible news. I had been traded to the Blue Buffoons – the worst team in the entire camp.

I was devastated (and furious) because all the effort I put into helping the Green Machine win was not just wasted, it was now working against me. Life is so difficult sometimes isn’t it?

Nobody likes being told they’ve been playing the wrong game. I certainly didn’t.

So two thousand years ago, when a Jewish Rabbi named Jesus showed up and started changing the game, nobody knew quite what to do.

Beginning his ministry with the declaration that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:23, Mark 1:15), he went on to explain a brand new way to be human.

In this new system:

  •  The first shall be last and the last shall be first (Matthew 19:30)
  • If you want to find your life, lose it (Matthew 10:39)
  • If you want to be great, learn how to serve (Matthew 23:11)
  • Forgive everyone, even if their debt is so big they could never repay it (Matthew 18:21-35)
  • And be so generous that people think it is unfair (Matthew 20:1-16)

Bold move, Jesus. He flipped everything upside down and told the world to stop wasting so much energy playing the game. Meaning the call of Jesus is not to stop playing for the Green Machine and start playing for the Blue Buffoons; the call is to realize that the fifty-cent piece of plastic (and the “fame” that comes with it) is no longer the win.

In the Kingdom of Heaven, there is always enough. Our job is to realize that as a part of that new system, we are enough.

Okay, stick with me. Think of this new kingdom Jesus is talking about like a meal.

In the world, food is limited, so you better eat fast because other people at the table are in the way of you getting your fill. But in God’s kingdom, the feast is infinite, so the pressure is off. Meaning other people are not in the way of you getting your fill, they are on the way to you enjoying the meal to its fullest. You are free to sit with them, laugh with them, and enjoy the meal together. And when you try something you like, there is no longer any reason to hoard it or keep it to yourself; now you can tell everyone about it so they can experience it with you.

This paradigm shift is at the root of my growing suspicion that I waste way too much energy. Why do I gossip? Because if I can make other people look bad, I can gain some leverage on the world. Why do I stay bitter? Because if I focus on the struggles of others, I feel better about myself. Why do I try so hard to get recognition? Because I still don’t believe that I am enough.

Do you see how this works? When resources are limited, there is a brutal game to be won, and other people are competition. But when resources are infinite, you can stop playing the game and start seeing other people as eternal souls who need and deserve love and respect. When that happens, you stop competing and start celebrating, because these other people become the means through which you get to enjoy God’s infinite resources to their fullest. Of course, making this shift is no small task, so here are three ways we can practice.

1. Live Generously

Sometimes God must just laugh at how tightly we hold onto our possessions and our reputations. But if we believe the message of Jesus, then life is way too precious to waste on comparing ourselves and trying to one-up each other.  

Living generously means learning to celebrate people. It means honoring everyone, even if you have to be demoted for that to happen. It means that you genuinely desire to see others succeed, because if they win, you win.

2. Practice The Thousand Year Rule

Here’s a good question to ask yourself: Am I going to care about this a thousand years from now?

If the answer is no, then why are you wasting so much precious energy on it? That energy could be used to build somebody else up.

  •  That silly argument you had with a close friend that just feels so important right now. Not going to matter a thousand years from now.
  • That guy that cut you off on the highway, just to prove a point. Not going to matter a thousand years from now.
  • That award or recognition you so desperately desire. Not going to matter a thousand years from now.

What is going to matter is the way you cared for people and the quality time you spent with loved ones. So next time the blood starts boiling and you feel like you have to prove yourself to the world, try asking yourself that question.

3. Create A Saying

A simple saying is an excellent way to guide yourself back to the proper mindset. And it can be whatever you want it to be! Here’s one that works for me: “I’m not playing that game anymore.”

The goal is to stop playing the “prove yourself to the world” game and start playing the “live, love, and look like Jesus” game.

When I start to feel jealous of someone who is getting more recognition than me:

   - “I’m not playing that game anymore.

When a co-worker gets an opportunity I feel I am more qualified for:

   - “I’m not playing that game anymore.”

When traffic is ruining all of my plans:

   - “I’m not playing that game anymore.

I am not the best at this, so I have to say it to myself over and over again throughout the day. But the more I do, the more I realize the invitation of Jesus is far better than anything the world has to offer.

All of this is completely counter-intuitive. That is one of the things I love most about Jesus. So remember this is a process. Take it one day at a time, give yourself grace, and whether you find yourself playing for the Green Machine or the Blue Buffoons, remember to play with freedom…

For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!  


Ryan is the Missions Pastor at Seacoast Grace Church in Cypress, California. His passion is to lead his peers into lives of service, primarily focusing on the cities of Compton and Long Beach. He is also back in school slowly working on his Master’s Degree at Talbot School of Theology, which he plans on finishing sometime in the next 20 years. Any other time he has is spent surfing, playing basketball, and watching the Broncos.