Following Jesus Changes the Name of the Game

June 14, 2023 | Melissa Riggs

We are just days away from the start of VBS, and I can’t nail down a thought long enough to name it. This morning I went for a very early, brisk walk on the beautiful trails behind our house, and my mind was as jumpy as the baby bunnies I walked past. As I put one foot in front of the other, I tried to pray, but instead I mentally darted from the heartbreak of a dear family to the story of Noah (still on my mind from a recent podcast episode), to a Facebook post by a life coach that I saw on my way out the door. And the whole time I was trying to think or pray about those things (none of which were complete thoughts), my mind was jumping back to VBS and things I needed to remember this week. Half-thoughts were overlaid with VBS games and lists and ideas of what we hope the kids learn, as well as the theme for this week: “Following Jesus Changes Everything.” 

An hour later, as I was getting ready for work, I thought more about the games we are focusing on next week. Games form a backdrop for our entire VBS week this year, and our theme verse is, “Make your ways known to me, Lord, teach me your paths.” (Psalm 25:4). I laughed as I imagined a little game piece player walking along a board game path, first alone, and then with Jesus by his side. I wondered, “How would Jesus change things in that scenario? Would he help the red man win?” Then I thought back to the story of Noah I had remembered earlier.  

Genesis 6:5 says that during the time of Noah, every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time." Only evil all the time. Those are some pretty strong words! Also, we are told that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.” (Gen. 6:9) What did it look like to “walk faithfully with God” when the whole world was so incomprehensibly evil? Clearly it was walking differently than everyone else at that time. Walking required an active role. For Noah, following God changed the game. He had a completely different goal in mind. 

It would be easy to imagine that we should follow Jesus so that he will lead us to win. Isn't that the point of board games? We want things to work in our favor, and we want to control the process! But that’s where following Jesus changes the game. Our own success and happiness stops being the point. That is hard in a world that teaches that our happiness is what matters most. In the case of the suffering friends I had prayed for earlier in the day, their circumstances were so crushing, nothing could feel like “winning.” But my prayer is that they are playing a different game: one in which the twists and turns are still real and still terribly painful, but an intimate Savior is carrying them when they cannot walk.  

As I contemplated all of this, the Facebook post I had seen earlier in the morning rose to the surface of my scattered mind. The post had been encouraging others to give up things that keep them from being happy. “Be true to yourself and don’t do things that keep you from being happy,” were the words of the day. Although I believe we need to fear God more than we fear man and shouldn’t just do things to keep everyone happy, I also believe that ultimately, we answer to God and not ourselves. “Winning” is no longer the goal; pleasing the Lord and walking with Him is the point. And that is where the game changes.  

For five months now I have been thinking about how “Following Jesus changes everything.” And I now realize that in an effort to explain this, I have unintentionally gone to a place where following Jesus changes the outcome (ideally to one that makes us more happy!), when the truth is He changes the entire game—as in, we aren’t even on the same game board anymore! It doesn’t mean there won’t be twists and turns, and it doesn’t mean the game will be easy. But it does mean that HE is our goal and our destination.  

Even though my frail mind is tired and scattered, there is no doubt that if God can tie together all my messy thoughts into one clear, focused lesson that He wanted me to learn, He can reach the hearts of all 200+ children, teens, and adults who will be here next week. When VBS is said and done, I will sleep hard and hopefully regain some brain power (’cause there is no tired like VBS tired!), but every second will be worth it if our week is a game changer for the Kingdom of God. Please join me in praying for God to reach the hearts of the lost and to disciple those who already know Him. VBS is an incredible tool for sharing the Gospel, and I am thrilled beyond words to see what He is going to do. 

“Make your ways known to (us), Lord, teach (us) your paths.” (Psalm 25:4)