Growing up, we played a lot of card games. Euchre. Spades. 500. Casino. Hearts. Up and Down the River. My parents taught me several of these by the time I was ten or eleven. From Junior High on, my friends all played in our spare time. We played a lot on Scouting weekends. When I was a Freshman in college, my buddy Bill Bogner and I won our Order of the Arrow Lodge Euchre championship.
I still like to play cards. And I play a lot of games with youth, whether on mission trips, retreats, or campouts. Lately, I’ve been getting a fearsome reputation as a Hearts player. My younger opponents want to know why I win so often.
Well, this is not the time or place for a seminar in card-playing strategy. But with Hearts, there is one significant choice to be made: Are you going to play to win, or are you going to play not to lose?
You see, in Hearts, the low score wins. Points are bad. You want other people to get points. You get points for taking tricks with Hearts in them, or by taking the Queen of Spades in a trick; she’s worth 13 points in herself, whereas all the other Hearts are just worth one point apiece. So most people attempt to arrange their hand in such a way as to avoid taking tricks. If you never take a trick, you never take any points, right?
But just dodging and weaving, trying to avoid bad stuff, is not a winning strategy. If you’re playing to win, you have to take tricks as well as avoid them. You want to dictate who gets the points, and that means you have to control when and how certain cards get played. And since the fastest way to give points to other players is to take all 26 points yourself (in which case you get zero and they all get 26), you need to think about how to take all the tricks with points in them (called “shooting the moon”).
A high-risk strategy can backfire, of course. Being willing to take points means sometimes you take a lot of them. But as a general rule, you can’t count on stumbling into a win because other people messed up more. The way to win is to control the game, and that means you have to lead. And be willing to accept failure as well as success.
There’s a lot of people playing the church game who are playing it not to lose. They’re afraid of playing to win. Oh, they’d like to win. They’d like to see the church grow, they’d like to accomplish big things — but they’re afraid of failing, or of making people mad, or of getting stuck in the lead. They don’t want the responsibility. And so, of course, they rarely win. But there’s another name for not winning. It’s called “losing.”
Things don’t stay the same if you refuse to try. They get worse. Sometimes slowly, sometimes swiftly. But if you’re not winning, then you’re losing. Me, I’m playing to win. How about you?
Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it (1 Corinthians 9:24).