You’ve Got to Know When to Hold ‘Em

“Knowledge is knowing what to say. Wisdom is knowing whether or not to say it.”

“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em. Know when to walk away. Know when to run.” I love Kenny Rogers! The lyrics to the Gambler hold deep life wisdom for so much more than the game of poker. But then that’s the point of the song, isn’t it? The gambler in the story looks at the face of the kid next to him and sees that he’s “all out of aces” and he offers him the wisdom he’s gleaned from a life of learning to read past the poker faces of his opponents.

Everyday life is an information dump. Some of it we want some of it we don’t. What we do with it is imperative. Processing it with the mind of Christ gets a little difficult when we have the eyes of humanity. David struggled greatly with this. He often found himself “out of aces.” As he looked at all he saw going on around him his eyes were not blind to how those who had no commitment to God seemed to prosper while he, in his commitment, suffered. The information he was privy to was almost too much for him to handle.

We all go through times like David where our eyes see but our minds cannot comprehend. David warns that these are slippery places to be in. “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled” Psalm 73:1-2. His declaration at the onset of this Psalm is profound and powerful for all of us to take note of. God is good to the pure in heart, but often that goodness feels strange to our human senses. God is good to those who seek him but often there are bruises in the goodness.

David found himself in danger when his eyes lingered on those who seemed to be prospering in spite of their lack of integrity. It almost seemed that their wickedness brought them more prosperity and he watched as God’s people turned toward the wicked and away from God because they too saw these things and they chased after the prosperity.

I love David! He’s so raw. He lays things out before the Lord with nothing held back. His is a beautiful, vulnerable, passionate, messy relationship with his maker. The Lord makes it very clear that he loves David’s heart. He responds to David’s rawness in a way that we don’t see anywhere else in the bible. Their relationship is poetic and messy and filled with rage and passion. All things we tend to shy away from in our time with the Lord. We are tempted to make it neat and impressive, as if God doesn’t know exactly what we are in our unpolished format. We offer him our poker face and hope that we get a hand full of aces as a reward. We speak to him in lists that can be checked off with demands that we hope to see fulfilled. When we don’t understand, often the temptation is to formulate our own way out because God has obviously valued us less than all that we see going on around us…right? Wrong! But the temptation to strike out on our own is absolutely there.

What David does with his rant in Psalm 73 gives me chills and hope and a raw passion to seek out the heart of God when nothing around me makes sense to my human eyes. What he says to God is this, “But when I thought how to understand this, (the prosperity of the wicked) it seemed to me a wearisome task, UNTIL I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end” Psalm 73:16-17.

So many things do not make sense until we take them into the sanctuary of God. This is what he wants from us. Not a polished request system but a vulnerable willingness to be raw before him inside his sanctuary where our human eyes can see through the lenses of God’s wisdom. Outside of his sanctuary is anger and bitterness as we accumulate a hand full of cards that we have no idea how to play while the wicked seemingly take the pot with every bid. But in God’s sanctuary we are able to discern with the mind of Christ what the next move is and exactly what the end game for the wicked will be.

Life deals us all kinds of cards. Some aces, some worthless, and some that seem worthless but when paired with other cards, they create a winning hand. What it all boils down to is going before the Lord and allowing him to tell us what to hold onto and what to let go of and sometimes when we just flat need to run! “Every gambler knows the secret to survivin’ is knowing what to throw away, and knowing what to keep.”

Thank God the difference with us and the advice in these lyrics is this – nothing for us is a gamble when we enter the sanctuary of God and discern from him what is to be our next move. Eyes on him! Not on those around you. Take what you’re given and walk with him in a life of integrity and discernment and don’t focus on the prosperity of the wicked! May our hearts and relationships emulate the raw vulnerability of David before our Lord. May we be willing to lay down what he tells us to lay down and carry what he tells is to hold until it’s time to lay down the winning hand he’s called us to play.


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