The Gambler’s Creed

My Daddy was a gambler, among other things. He learned some hard lessons from that sport. Inevitably, so did we. Both spoken as well as unspoken laws of the game were written on our hearts and engraved in our memories. So much so that risk-taking became for me a dreadful thing, as I vowed to cherish rather than squander whatever I might call my own in life.

I remember this picture hanging on the wall in our living room. The larger-than-life tapestry (at least it seemed that big then…maybe just because I was so small) seemed to capture my attention often. I grew up and forgot about it eventually, but this morning, it reappeared. Turns out it stood for all those years, holding out a wisdom that I would need right now.

I love how God can take something unexpected and even ill-associated, and cause it to bear something strangely beautiful and holy.

Lately an old song has been playing in my memory, The Gambler, by Kenny Rogers. Actually, just a few lines have been on repeat, but I remember the song well from my childhood days, in those houses where the gambling tapestry decorated our living rooms. It was one of my mother’s favorite songs….maybe because she loved a gambler, and was herself searching for wisdom in the deep, messy places of their life.

The song tells the story of one broken-down man’s encounter with a gambler on a train ride, and how the gambler reached into that man’s life with much needed wisdom. Though their encounter was brief, the gambler imparted a life-long gift, and the recipient of the gift walked away holding his ace.

While much of the song can be discarded – and would probably be forbidden in most holy discussions, I want to hone in on the few lines that Heaven has been holding out to me in recent days:

“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run…

Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away
And knowin’ what to keep…”

How in the world does this constitute wisdom, you might wonder? I wondered the same thing, trying to change the channel in my brain to something more suitable for worship. How vain our attempts at spirituality can sometimes be! Just when we think we’ve figured out the way to do things right, God comes swooping in with a wild card. I’m still learning to appreciate the mystery of His ways.

During my devotional time with the Lord this past week, I read a passage in Scripture that held the key to understanding this wisdom. 1 Samuel 30 tells the story of David and his army, and how they found themselves in a terrible position one day.

They had gone back from battle to their homes, and found that everything was gone. Their city had been attacked and burned, and all of their wives and children had been taken. I can only imagine the shock and grief of such a devastation. David and his men – mighty warriors though they were, wept until they had no strength left to weep, the Bible says. What else is there to do in a moment like that?

Sometimes we read stories like these as if they are history assignments, rather than stepping into them and seeing how they fit. When you take the time to try them on, to walk around in them, you tend to find that they lead backward or forward right into the heart of some of our own most painful journeys, and there hold out precious gifts we could gain from no place else.

To make matters worse on that fateful day in a devastated camp, David’s men blamed him and wanted to stone him for their loss. Sounds like humanity in its brokenness, doesn’t it – always looking for a place to aim revenge, always wielding the weapon of blame in the vain attempt to alleviate the pain of suffering? Thank God for His intervention in the human heart!

Thankfully, David had an ace in his pocket as he faced great loss that day: “He found strength in the Lord his God,” verse 6 tells us. And after he regained his strength, he reached for wisdom. Verse 8 says that “David inquired of the Lord, ‘Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?'” David wanted to know, before he risked what was left of himself and his life, if going after what had been taken from him would be worth it.

He needed the Gambler’s wisdom in that hour, to know whether he should hold em’ or fold em’. It seems a no-brainer from our vantage point. Of course he should go get his wife and children back! The enemy stole what didn’t belong to him. Why should he just accept that?

But in 2 Samuel 12, we see David in a similar predicament. Faced with the potential loss of his son, David again went before the Lord for wisdom and help. God had forewarned David that his son would die, but David wasn’t ready to accept such a fate. He fasted and prayed and waited for God to speak, to give a hopeful word, to tell him he should hold his hand and pursue the life of his son. He wanted God to change His mind, to turn the situation around.

God did not. David had to fold that hand. He had to let go of what he wanted to believe he could keep.

In 1 Samuel 30, God’s answer was different. God told him to keep his hand, to go get what belonged to him. He had permission and backup to put all his chips on the risky endeavor of standing up and fighting back and slaying the enemy that had stolen from him.

What treasures these two stories lend to us, as we daily face the raids of the enemy in our own lives! One holds out the courage to pursue and take back, and the other offers the humility to bow our heads and drop our hands and accept the defeats and losses we cannot change and don’t have permission to pray away.

Yes, I said what we don’t often take the time to inquire about before we pray: there are some things we don’t have permission to pray away. Wisdom will seek God’s will before wasting its strength to chase after what has not been granted.

Contrary to popular Christian belief, God does not wave His magic wand over every hard and harrowing thing. He does not remove all consequences, and He does not prevent all attacks.

Though He has given us much and promised us more, the devil will be the devil. He will always be looking for opportunities to steal, to kill, and to destroy. We are called to live vigilantly, but also to trust God. We can’t prevent bad things from happening. We can’t stop all the enemy’s advances. There will be times when he sneaks up and sneaks in and we find ourselves suddenly faced with the great dilemma of not knowing what to do with the hand we’ve been dealt.

The wisdom of the Gambler is actually the wisdom of God Himself, the greatest risk-taker of all. He risked all of Heaven’s glory and the reputation of His own Name and character to entrust His Spirit to frail humanity, in a mission to save us from death’s permanent, broken sentence. And because He did, we live with the hope that promises not to disappoint, with the reward of eternity spent united with Him.

It is this same God, this same great risk-taker, who draws us to Himself in times of crisis and loss, to gain the wisdom we need to battle well.

Sometimes spiritual warfare looks like going after what’s been taken. Sometimes spiritual warfare looks like surrendering it, and spending our strength in worship and wrestling instead (like David when his son died. Like Job when he lost everything. Like John in prison, waiting for Jesus, Who never came to rescue him.) Sometimes spiritual warfare looks like praying and fasting and waiting on God until the matter is decided for you, until the end becomes clear as you are waiting.

The secret to our victories lies in knowing what to do when we find ourselves facing loss and attack. And the only way we can possibly know what to do is by turning to God, Who alone possesses true wisdom, and knows all things. If there is an answer He desires to give, He alone can give it.

He gives time for grief. He strengthens us in our weakness. And He waits for us to ask, “Lord, what shall I do?”

I am coming up on the one-year anniversary of the most devastating day of my life. When I think about that attack, all that was lost, and all that was struck, it still steals my breath. But I sought the Lord in my grief, and He told me to fight for what had been stolen. He told me it was still mine. So I am still engaged in that battle, and what a joy it is to see that territory being reclaimed, even in one inch at a time.

But there are defeats and losses I’ve endured, as well. There have been times I’ve pleaded for God to change something, or asked for permission to pursue the return and restoration of what I cherished, only to hear God’s “No.” In those times, I’ve had to learn to lay my promises on the altar, and trust that, even if God gave it to me, He had the right to take it back. Whether He would repurpose it or remove it was not mine to know. Instead, I was called to trust Him.

There have also been seasons when I did not know what to do with what I held, and in going to God for wisdom, I was simply given the space to wait and believe. No details, no direction, no clear word from Heaven. Just the gift of what I had come to know of Him, and the promise that He would make something incredible out of that void in the landscape of my life.

The point is simple: in gain or in loss, in joy and in mourning, in risk and in surrender, n holding and folding, victory – in whatever shape it takes – is found in Him.

I feel led to mention a certain, perplexing story. Maybe someone needs to hear this today.

There was a woman who lost her child unexpectedly not long ago. Her story made the news and circled around the social media outlets like a storm. Not because he died, but because she responded with a fight. She and her entire faith community gathered for days to worship and pray and fast and petition the Lord for his return. They believed God could raise him from the dead. There were undoubtedly moments when they believed He would.

He did not. And after many days and many tears, with all of their strength spent in the battle, the scene quieted and the vultures began to swoop in on the carcasses – thinking they would find not just the dead body of the boy, but the dead hopes and dreams of his mother, as well.

Mockers told and retold their story, adding their comments and opinions with careless frivolity. There was much to be learned from her battle, but they did not want treasures that were dug from a pit so deep.

Was she wrong to fight? Wrong to believe? Wrong to pursue the promise that had been ripped away?

Here, in complicated places such as these, we want easy answers. We want prescriptions for spiritual warfare, outlines of lessons we can use for our own journeys. But the lesson in her story is one we cannot afford to miss:

The nature of victory in every battle can only be found in personal, face to face encounter with the Lord.

When facing deep devastations and losses, we can draw encouragement from those who walk beside us and have gone before us, but wisdom must come from the living Spirit of God.

To reach into the treasury of Scripture or the testimony of another and pick out the method we prefer and the outcome we desire is not foolproof, but rather a setup for disappointment and further grief, maybe even greater devastation.

God alone knows the way that each of us takes. Therefore He alone knows what is required for us to come forth as gold.

I look at that dear woman’s intense pursuit of God in one of her darkest hours, and I draw from it the courage to pursue Him in my own battlefields. I draw from it the boldness to wait and to believe, and to ultimately accept whatever He decides for me. And I draw from it the beautiful strength to then sing my song to Him, the song that can only be born in times of deep agony and personal reckoning with the Lord.

That in itself is victory that outweighs the accusation of things lost or gained.

One day, if I should face a loss like hers, I hope to be found as she was – ignoring the voices of critics, dodging the stones of accusers, and clawing my way before the only One Who can give me wisdom for what I must face, alone with Him.

Here are my final thoughts…

Today I celebrate the four-year anniversary of God coming to take my Daddy, the gambler, to his forever home. Turns out the great Gambler Who took a great risk in pursuing him won that hand. I am a witness to the many raids the enemy made in his life. But I am also a witness to the triumphant ending of the story, made all the sweeter by the battles that were both won and lost along the way.

We have known heartache. We have known humiliation. We have known crushing blows. But oh how we know the joy of having a life built on the wisdom of the ages, that solid Rock of Jesus. When it is time to fight, He gives us strength. When it is time to let go, He gives us grace.

Dear Woman of Breakthrough, what are you holding in your hand today? Are there losses you need to surrender? Are there losses you need to pursue and take back? Is there grief that needs to give way to strengthening, or strength that needs to lean in for wisdom, lest it be wasted?

You will only ever know if you should fight or surrender when you turn to the God Who has promised to be with you in all things. So go ahead, ask Him for wisdom, and you will find that He has opened up a space for you to enter into. No matter the outcome, you are sure to come out richer and stronger.

{Photo images courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com}


3 thoughts on “The Gambler’s Creed

  1. I had to surrender the care of my two autistic children to my ex-husband and his wife when all my supports were pulled because of COVID and they refused to draft a more doable exchange schedule. They told me to pick a child!? Something I could never do. It has been several months without seeing them, hoping to hear from my lawyer etc. Thank you for this post.

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    1. Hang in there. Keep strengthening yourself in the Lord and seeking His daily direction. Sometimes we don’t get to see the whole strategy, and have walk it out day by day. He is faithful. Don’t lose heart, and keep your focus on Him. He will direct You and be with You.

      Like

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