Have you ever witnessed the shell game while walking the streets of a city? The runner of the shell game, takes a bet from the player, then simply places a pea beneath one of the three shells, then mixes them up rapidly, almost as if his mixing is an art form. At the conclusion of the mix up, the game runner stops and asks the person playing against him, to choose where the pea is at. if the game runner is worth their salt, they will be a few bucks richer, as they moved the pea enough to avoid detection.
At times, those who would follow Jesus, as well as those who do follow Jesus are guilty of playing the shell game with God Himself. The only problem for us, is no matter how well we think we have avoided detection, or moved the pea (sin, bondage or self-indulgence) around He always finds it out. When we seek to shuck and jive and move that which we do not want to be discovered, our spiritual shell game puts our sanctification in jeopardy.
The Gospel of John gives us a good example of person playing the spiritual shell game.
John 4:13-26 (NKJV) Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.”
Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”
In our passage, Jesus has met a Samaritan woman of loose morals and practice. So contrary was her behavior, this woman was even outcast among a people of shady morals and religious practice. From the very onset of her encounter with Jesus, she was cynical, and seemingly sarcastic cornering our Lord’s request for water. Until Jesus found her pea!
When He defines Himself as the One who has the power to give anyone who asks living water, a supply that never runs out and is in fact internal and eternal, she responds along the natural line… “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”.
Jesus’ offer of living water, which needs no drawing will alleviate the shame she feels in being outcast among her people. This was the natural line we often come to God with. We want an answer to prayer, to alleviate some uncontrollable aspect of our life which makes us feel silly, shamed, stupid, ineffective or just plain old bad about ourselves. The problem is the discomfort we want removed is often a product of our own apathy toward God–or our neglect to obey Him–or some discomfort we need to keep us dependent on Him.
Paul even faced something such as this with his thorn in his flesh; a particular physical condition allowed by God, which knocked down the potential of his human pride.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NKJV) And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Indeed, that which Paul wanted to avoid was for his own good. How often do we miss that truth about the trouble, trials and discomfort of our lives? The woman at the well takes the idea to an art form.
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.“
As our Lord Jesus Christ points to the correct shell, lifts it up and exposes the pea or her painful life of sin, the woman pulls the shell game runners oldest rick… Look over there, did you see that!”
Rather than humble herself, repenting and seeking a solution for her sin, she tries to divert God’s attention away from that which makes her feel shame–that which she has been unable to leave behind– that which causes her shame and loss of the joy and love–that which has separated her from the God she has sought for, as a blind woman poking around in the dark. She tries to divert God’s attention and conviction toward a religious argument.
We often do the same, just more privately. I have found this to be true from over 17 years of ministry. Countless times, I have been involved with the Lord, in bringing a person to the point of deliverance, when that which holds them back or in bondage is exposed; only to have that person change the subject or walk out agitated.
But here is the truth about those times and situations and people… They were merely playing the shell game; trying to divert God’s attention with a distraction. Guess what? He is undeterred, He already knew where the pea was from the beginning; as He did with the woman at the well.
“Sir, I perceive you are a prophet!” In this statement and what follows, in the way of a religious discussion with the Author of true religion, we see her pivot to avoid dealing with that which caused her shame. She tried to move the pea, until her religious talk backed her into a corner, when in later verses she declares, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” In this she was moving the pea, dropping the microphone in a fashion that says, “you know some things prophet, but when Messiah comes”.
Jesus then removes all her shells for good, “Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”
With this statement, Jesus Messiah, God’s only begotten Son, “I AM” in the flesh, present in all His convicting Person ends the woman’s spiritual shell game. She was exposed and raw, but ready for freedom and transformation. Why are we so much like her?
The word of God preached in the power of the Spirit or read in the power of the Holy Spirit is for the purpose of exposing and reviving. We often like the outlay of what we think reviving is, not understanding, there is no reviving without exposing what is dead or dying and part of the old life.
Yet far too many Christians in America are pretending to know it all, be it all, and have it all together. Playing the shell game, whenever pressing into the Lord brings about exposure. Don’t play the spiritual shell game. We are called to sanctification, which means that which Christ attained through His death and resurrection is lived out in us progressively, as we walk in humility with Him.
This means all that remains in our life patterns from our life before Christ will be exposed and must be brought to death throguh self-denial; one area at a time. In the positive, once these patterns are exposed and removed, the Holy Spirit can freely lead us into being more like Jesus; for His glory.
This is our calling. Don’t put God’s plan to conform you to the image of Christ at risk, by playing the spiritual shell game.
2 Corinthians 7:1 (NKJV) Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.