Poker and Our Spiritual Worldview

Using poker as an example, let me explain how we should not be thinking about life.

Poker is a “zero sum game.” What does this mean? In a game of poker, any money you win is lost by another player. Not everyone at the poker table will end up with winnings. If someone wins $100, its because other people lost that $100. It’s called a zero-sum game because if you added up the winnings and the losings, it would end up being zero.

Another example of a zero sum game is Black Friday. If that guy in the white tank top gets that last cheap television, it means I can’t buy that cheap television. The reason people get into fights on Black Friday is because the merchandise is a zero sum game.

The problem with a zero sum game is that everyone has to be focused on themselves. In that worldview, resources are scarce, no one helps each other, and the other person’s success equates to your failure.

However, the spiritual life in God is the opposite of a zero sum game. God is infinite! His love is infinite! His blessings are infinite!

When God spends time with me, it doesn’t take Him away from you. When God gives your friend a gift, it doesn’t mean you won’t also get a gift. When other people succeed, it does not mean that you fail.

Why does this matter?

If we think life is like a zero sum game, we will not relate to God correctly. A lack of trust in God, and any doubts about His love can stem from viewing life as a zero sum God. If we think God is limited in any way, we don’t know Him well enough.

Jeremiah 17:7-87
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
8 They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

If we think life is like a zero sum game, we will not relate to people correctly. We will be envious. We will not be supportive. When they are up, we should not be down! We should rejoice when our friends succeed. To relate to one another with genuine encouragement and care, we cannot see the spiritual life as a zero sum game.

What can we do about this? Here’s a spiritual experiment you can try:

  1. Make a list of the things you’ve been envious of. It can be a good exercise to show you what it is that you really want. Be as honest with yourself as possible. When you are done, look at the list without judgment. Be objective. Recognize what it is that you desire.
  1. Meditate on God’s limitlessness in relation to those desires. Pray about those desires to God. In other words, do some things to help you see that your relationship with God is not one of scarcity. The point here is to hone in on the very things that you obviously feel is lacking, and then work with God to change your perspective. Ask Him to get you out of feeling like life is a zero sum game.
  1. Anytime you feel a pang of envy, consciously decide to drop that reaction and love the person. Break out of your automatic feelings by recognizing them and making a different choice.

The spiritual life is not a zero sum game.