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Friday, May 31, 2019

Jeopardy James

Winning and losing

    Maybe I need to be more like “Jeopardy James.” Jeopardy James is the latest game show phenomenon. As I’m writing this, he’s won 31 games in a row, second only to Ken Jennings’ record of 74. Even though he’s won less than half as many games as Ken, he’s within two games of passing Jennings’ record of more than $2.5 million. James’ average for his daily winnings is close to the pre-James record for the highest one-day total.

    So what’s his secret? James is a mathematician and a professional gambler. He uses probability and statistics to determine his strategy. He doesn’t play hunches or take foolish risks. (Yes, he takes high risks, but they’re all carefully calculated and therefore reasonable.) That’s one side of his success.

    The other side is what I’d like to emulate. James is completely comfortable with both winning and losing. I’m not. On May 23, he came close to ending his streak. When I tuned in partway through the show, another contestant was ahead of him, which is rare. The contestant then got a Daily Double, boosting his earnings to nearly twice as much as James’. That was a first. But James coolly continued to play, risking everything he had on the next Daily Double and taking the lead. Still calm, still relaxed.

Stressing out

    Unlike me. I was tied up in knots. Screaming in my head, “No! This can’t be happening! He has to win again! He has to break the current all-time record! He can’t lose!” Focusing intently on the game instead of loading the dishwasher, as I usually do during Jeopardy! time.

    Why was I so wrapped up in this game? In the grand scheme of things, an eternity from now, will anyone really care how much money James makes on Jeopardy! or how many records he sets? I don’t think so. During the commercials, I reflected on my reaction and on how James would respond if he lost. That’s when I realized that I need to be more like him.

    As a professional gambler, James knows that the house always determines both the rules and the odds, because it exists to earn a profit. No profit, no house. In the same way, game shows are intended to make money, not to give away unlimited riches. James knows that he will lose at some point. He accepts that as the way the system works. And because he’s comfortable with the system, he wins more. Stress doesn’t mess with his mind or emotions, leading to costly mistakes.

    How comfortable am I with the way God’s system works? Not as comfortable as I’d like to be. I only check my blog stats once a week because I can’t handle the roller coaster of encouragement and disappointment. If the number of page views isn’t as high as I’d hoped, I feel like I’ve failed. Question whether I’m following God’s leading. Search the internet for new ideas on how to be a successful blogger. Get all tensed up inside. And suffer the consequences as the stress messes with my mind and emotions.

    Deep down inside, I know I’m doing my best to listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. In a Bible study last summer, I had one of those wonder-full experiences of seeing a familiar verse in a new light. “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27, RSV). I always thought this referred only to our initial calling to follow Him. But it also applies to our daily walk with Him.

    Jesus doesn’t hide His will and direction from us. He doesn’t challenge us to search high and low for it with uncertainty and anxiety, as for a hidden treasure that few will ever find. He speaks to us through His Word, through wise counselors, through life’s circumstances. We hear His voice. It’s that simple. And yet I still worry that I’m missing something.

    A few months ago, I was selling off books and games that I no longer wanted. Boxes of treasures went to the second-hand store. The payoff: $38. I’d hoped for so much more. Had I done the right thing in dealing with this particular store? Should I have shopped around or had a garage sale or used eBay? Did I fail to do what was best in the situation? Disappointed and discouraged, I struggled with it all the way home.

    A day or two later, a thought occurred to me: maybe that $38 was exactly what God wanted me to have. Not a penny more. Not a penny less. Just right.

Living in God's system

    Don’t I have an even better foundation for facing my gains and losses than James does? He plays within an impersonal system that’s stacked against him. I live and breathe and move and work in the presence of a living God who loves me and wants the best for me. Every hair on my head is numbered (Luke 12:7). He works in all things in my life for His glory and for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). I can hear the voice of my shepherd without straining to make it out.

    So I checked my blog stats this morning from a new perspective. Not as many page views as I would have liked? Maybe that number is just exactly where God wants it to be. Maybe I’m not failing to follow Him faithfully when I have fewer readers. Maybe I need to trust Him to bring just the right people to my blog at just the right time, instead of stressing out over whether I’m doing everything that I should be doing, whether I’m missing some signal from on high that I should be seeing, whether I’m really good enough at this to continue with it.

    Maybe I could have the peace and calm of Jeopardy James, accepting the bad with the good, the trials with the triumphs, because I know that God is leading me and that He loves me, even when I don’t fully understand His system.

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