The Shell Game

Have you ever heard the old saying “The good is the enemy of the great”? Much of what I write is, at least in part, influenced by the concept in this proverb. This is a warning. These words are trying to keep us from settling for satisfactory, mediocre. If we aren’t careful, we will be so blinded by the good that we will stop just short of the truly great that could have been.

shell-gameI think this happens to us in our Christian walk. At the root of this is the old shell game. Remember that street hustle from way back, the one with three shells and a ball? Well, this time there’s a twist. There’s a ball under two shells already. When you walk up, you put God under the third. Then the shells start to spin and twist, in and out, in complicated patterns.

It’s tough to keep your eye on the right shell. You can feel the earth move below your feet. Your concentration on the moving target is causing you to feel dizzy. The action stops and you have to pick. You have no idea what’s under the other two shells and you don’t care. Confidently you stare at the shell with God under it. You’re going to win.  However, as you reach out to commit to your choice, a sudden pang of doubt slices through you. No matter. You push fear aside and turn over the shell on the left, and out pops church.

It puzzles you. Church, huh?

While you’re pondering church, the confidence man running the game deftly slips your God in his pocket.

In the end what you find is good. You think you can do a lot of good with the church you have selected. You can point a lot of people toward God. You can disciple them in their own walk with Christ. You can reach out and meet the felt needs of the less fortunate. You feel satisfied and decide not to play anymore. Why risk it? You are going to do a ton of good. You call it a win.

Some time passes and you find you are disillusioned. Sure you are doing a lot of good but you feel distant, like there’s more. More for you personally. You’ve felt like this for a while, but you keep coming back to all the good you’re doing as the answer. Maybe it is the answer, but not to this question. So you go back and find the grifter to play another round.

You take another chance at finding what seems to be missing. The spinning begins. The circles, the patterns, the dizziness–they all return. Then you pick. It’s your family.

Hmmm, family.

Family is good, you say, convincing yourself. God expects us to care for our families. Maybe you were too bogged down in church and neglected your family. You cut your time demands at church in favor of family time. You trim out all unnecessary activities at church to focus on your wife and kids. In the end, that hollow feeling returns. Family doesn’t fill that void.

The problem is that we continue to repeat this habit. We focus on something. We put our full effort toward that thing and find it unfulfilling.

Our soul is longing, searching for that great thing among the good we do.

However, we will never find the great in those things. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not hating on church regardless of your brand of it. I am not against families and their priority in our lives.

I am against anything that is shifted to the place where God should reside in our lives. He must be Number One. Not that Sunday School lip-service Number One we tell the pastor, but a real, all-or-nothing first place in our lives.

You could keep going back to the back alley and betting your focal point du jour. You may even pick a shell with some facsimile of Jesus under it. But, these will never satisfy.

The best way to get out of this circle is not to play. If you have God where he belongs. If He is the absolute of your life then do not take your eyes from Him.

Don’t allow restlessness to entice you to seek good when you have great dwelling within you.

Give some advice in the comments to those who may already be in this circle of good. How can we get out of it? How do we stay out of it?

2 thoughts on “The Shell Game

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  1. I have recently written on my whiteboard of my office “Jesus Is Enough.” So it is in my face very day.

    I am too often distracted by…ooh shiny! What was I talking about?

    I desire for more. I desire more vacations. I desire being able to give my kids more experiences. I desire to give my wife beautiful things. I desire not scraping by at paycheck time.

    All of this desire sits smouldering…but add Social Media, and you throw kerosene on this and it becomes a raging fire of frustration and inadequacy.

    God, why do they get to go to that cool place on vacation? How do they afford that? Man, their family sure is a lot better than mine….etc etc.

    God is calling me back to him. He is allowing me to find emptiness in every relationship, every new toy, every new experience where I don’t put him first.

    He IS enough. I must remind myself that this life is not my own. Even above my own comfort, above providing for my family, above anything…he is first, and he will not leave me wanting.

    Every day. Jesus. Is. Enough.


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