Ain’t It All Just Awful

two puffins playing "ain't it all just awful"

A person overtly expresses distress, but it is covertly gratified at the prospect of the satisfaction they can wring from their misfortune.”
– Dr. Eric Berne,
Games People Play

I’ve always been fascinated by the games we play.

I was ten years old when the Eric Berne classic Games People Play was published. The title intrigued me, and since I helped myself regularly to my parents’ reading material, I dove in.

The gist of his book is that certain patterns of behavior – games, as he calls them – can be spotted wherever there are human relations.

Some of these games are pretty unproductive, so if the people playing them have the integrity to examine what they’re getting out of the game, then both they and their relationships will improve.

Some of the games Berne lists will ring a bell with you, I’m sure. “If It Weren’t For You I Could” and “Let’s You and Him Fight” are two obvious examples. But I think the most popular one is called “Ain’t It Awful?”

Who’s Up For It?

“Ain’t It Awful?” requires two or more players. Their goal is to discuss how awful certain things or people are. (You get more points for discussing people.)

The rules are simple and user friendly. Focus on someone’s weakness, failure, or error (someone not present; penalty points for face to face directness) and milk the subject until all players have achieved sufficient levels of superiority. Extra points are added if the conversation passes for “concern”; bonus points if the gossip passes for a prayer meeting.

Full disclosure: I’ve found pleasure in this, probably because it feels so good focusing on someone else’s sins while minimizing mine.

Don’t Try This At Home

For example, my wife and I talk almost daily about issues, many of them political or social; many of them having to do with the state of the Body of Christ. Sometimes, during these talks, I’ve played the game without her even knowing.

So we might be discussing trends in the Church that we lament, like the lack of disciplined Bible study, or the “endangered species” status of hymns. Other times we’ll discuss things we disagree with, or what we wish people would do more of, or less of.

Then, just when I’m starting to get drunk on how wrong They are and how right I am, Renee blows the whole thing by saying, “OK, so we really need to pray about this.”

Game over. No one plays “Ain’t It Awful” while coming before the throne. The end goal of the game is, after all, to be able to not only say “Ain’t It Awful” but also, having thoroughly dissected someone else’s faults, to look at the soul I’ve just thrashed and say, by comparison, “Ain’t I Great?”

A Tale of Two Extremes

I guess this is on my mind because I’m more and more torn between two huge concerns.

One is the epidemic lack of Biblical discernment we’re seeing today, evidenced in horrendous decisions some denominations and leaders are making, and gross errors promoted by some teachers and pastors who should know better.

The other concern is with the self-righteous obsession some folks seem to have with railing against, publicizing, then harping on, the errs of others.

Now, public admonishment and respectful disagreement is not only valid but, these days, called for. But needless, ongoing chatter about how wrong a brother, group, or church is, without fair recognition of that same brother or group’s virtues (much less prayerful petition to God and loving discussion with the person in error, as Renee likes to remind me) seems more to me like games than godliness.

Thine Own Log, Thine Own Eye

So I’m trying to stop myself before discussing what someone else is doing or saying that bothers me. I’m trying, instead, to first ask myself if it’s something I’ve talked directly to the person about (if possible), something I’m not guilty of myself, and something I can discuss without needlessly damaging the person being discussed, or the person I’m in discussion with.

And, it should go without saying, I cannot express my grief over someone else’s wrong without then praying for the person in question.

Those are rules I’ll try to follow, anyway. Because you and I know there are problems everywhere, big ones warranting lots of concern and, hopefully, lots of corrective action.

But playing “Ain’t It Awful” by endlessly talking (or posting, or commenting) about how bad it is accomplishes nothing. I’d like to try my hand at some new, more challenging games:

Ain’t it Hopeful:

“Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

Ain’t it Human:

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)

Ain’t it Heavenly:

“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4)

These we can play and, thank God, even the most unathletic among us can win.

This article was written by Joe Dallas and originally published on 07.21.2020 at https://joedallas.com/2020/07/21/aint-it-all-just-awful/  See his homepage for more insightful blog posts and to learn more about his ministry.

Reflecting the Father: the Challenge of Becoming Doers of the Word

Drawing of Little boy watching Father tie his tie in mirror

For New Year’s this year, I went to a formal dinner with friends. Normally I don’t wear ties when dressing up, but this time, I decided I would. I learned how to tie one several years ago and thought I would still remember, but I stood in front of the bathroom mirror for twenty minutes trying. Frustrated, close to running late for the event, and about to nix the tie altogether, I asked my roommate to help me out. He grabbed his own tie and stood next to me in front of the mirror. He tied his tie first as an example. Then he undid his work and began to tie it again–this time slowly so I could follow. Soon, I was out the door in a tie looking just as polished as his. 

This one-on-one, how-to-tie-a-tie tutorial has helped me put in context this passage from James 1:22-25: 

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

This passage is a one-on-one, how-to-look-more-like-God instruction manual. Inside is a warning, a command, a challenge, but also hope of a promise.

The Warning: 

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. . . For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.”  

When we listen to the Word, we acknowledge the Father is speaking to us. Yet sometimes by choice or by becoming distracted, we stay stuck only listening. Taking no forward action, we are really taking a step back from becoming more Christ-like. We forget our fallen condition, and we move on with our life. We look into God’s Word that is confronting us and only think, that’s nice, that’s interesting, I will really think about that later. If we don’t return to this, it’s an action, not of obedience, but of pride. And if that is our mindset, we are only deceiving ourselves that we look like God. When we look like Him, we are representing Him to the world; but when we only think we look like Him, we are simply representing ourselves to the world. God receives no glory from us reflecting ourselves. 

The Command:

“Do what it says”

God’s Word does not compel us into action by obligation or threat of punishment. He is commanding us to take ahold of the abundant life He has given us through Jesus’ work on the cross. He always has our best interest in mind. If God’s Word is perfect, why don’t we simply do what it says? He is trustworthy. His Word is trustworthy. So why do we willingly put on blinders to what God shows us? It’s because this process hurts, and we want to avoid pain. Seeing the distance between our sinfulness and His holiness can be painful. If we chose to change, doing something about this distance is grueling, yet this is the command. We do not labor alone; the Holy Spirit is our helper. He is the only way to make any lasting change. 

The Challenge:

“But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts. . . “

We are blessed as we stay in His Word, suffering through the process of looking into His Word and surrendering everything that does not look like Him. By His help we can cut away the things that God never intended us to carry around. This can be surrendering our fleshly desires; weeping at how many false things we have added to our own image; feeling the pain of parting with our old self in the mirror. This is also the joy of seeing again the face of the One who died for us. 

Earlier in James, we read, “Count it all joy my brothers when you encounter trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).”  Facing trials hurts, but each time you partner with the Holy Spirit to become more like Him, you grow in steadfastness and the ability to chisel bigger chunks off next time. This is perseverance. This is accepting the challenge and finding joy in the process.

Wanting to look like Jesus isn’t all boot-camp-during-a-rainstorm-on-an-empty-stomach. Yes, it’s hard work, but this Word–this “law”– that is shaping us isn’t a list of do’s and don’ts that weighs us down, making life miserable. James calls this the “law of liberty.” It frees us from the burdens we carry instead of adds to them; it gets us back to the basics. His yoke–His law–is easy and His burden is light. 

The Promise:

“Blessed in your doing.”

As we partner with God to reflect Him, He promises we will be blessed–not when we finish (though that will be its own blessing)–but as we labor toward holiness. Our efforts are rewarded. The process might be slow, but if we keep at it, we will see change. We will be different. We will look more like Him. As we dive into living out His Word, our words and our actions will more closely mirror His. Jesus told his disciples that He did only what He saw His Father do and said only what His Father said. So will we.

Those around us will also take note of our reflection. As Paul told Timothy in 1 Tim. 4:15 “Be diligent in these matters, give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” Acting upon God’s Word isn’t just for the goal of being like him one day. When we begin to act, even our progress–those tiny steps we’ll take–are something God will use to showcase Himself to our communities. 

At the end of the day, tying a Winsor is easy, and cleaning yourself up to look nice on the outside is a breeze. But allowing God to clean your life up is incredibly difficult. We all have areas in our lives that God has spoken into and said, “Let Me help you be set free.” We’ve told Him, “Thanks, but not right now.” We trust Him, but we don’t want to feel the pain of surrender. Yet He commands us to pursue life still. He knows best. So He challenges us to persevere and be honest with Him, ourselves, and those around us. He sees at the end there is blessing and reward–its His to give. He’ll stand back, take a good look at us, and say with a proud, fatherly grin, “looking good.”