John Ortberg, a well-known California pastor and bestselling author (THE LIFE YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED), knows how to captivate a reading audience, and he does it, page after page, in WHEN THE GAME IS OVER, IT ALL GOES BACK IN THE BOX. Using playing games as a metaphor for life, Ortberg shows how the object of the game is a life “rich toward God” --- growing a healthy soul, enjoying the people around you, doing good work, becoming generous and savoring the moment.
Wise people, writes Ortberg, build their lives around what is eternal. He suggests asking yourself the question, “What in your life is going to last forever, and what is going back in the box?” Spend your time caring for the inner you as well as the outer you. Think about the changes you need to make. Let go of wrong priorities. Quit trying to control that which is out of our control, rather than letting the “Master of the Board” take the helm.
What makes this book so brilliant is not that Ortberg offers a lot of new information. It’s that he has a flair for synthesizing this information and organizing his ideas in a way that makes them practical as well as soul-stirring. It’s also a joy to read.
Gently, in one section, he calls readers to reassess a preoccupation with “stuff” and concentrate on what is most important. A “richness of being” is always available, Ortberg says. “I can seek at any time, with God’s help, to be compassionate, generous, grateful, and joyful…usually it will not mean seeking to accumulate more stuff.” As he shows through a moving story about Larry, a church member who is killed in an accident, in the end it’s not about our achievements or our wealth. It’s about our capacity to love. It’s the people, not the stuff, that we need to focus on.
Ortberg also reminds his readers that Christians have to be consistent in acting like Christians instead of labeling themselves as such. “The world gets pretty tired of people who have Christian bumper stickers on their cars, Christian fish signs on their trunks, Christian books on their shelves, Christian stations on their radios, Christian jewelry around their necks, Christian videos for their kids, and Christian magazines on their coffee tables but don’t actually have the life of Jesus in their bones or the love of Jesus in their hearts.” “Be the kind of player people want to sit next to,” he urges, borrowing from a Monopoly analogy.
By turns humorous, painfully vulnerable, poignant and wise, Ortberg weaves biblical, personal and fictional anecdotes together with practical points in a compelling way for the reader. He includes insights from many excellent authors throughout, including Anne Lamott, Lewis Smedes, Susan Howatch, Viktor Frankl, Marjorie Rawlings and Thomas Lynch. Rather than getting in the way, these quotes and excerpts enrich the text.
One of Ortberg’s passages that haunts me is this: “We need to ask ourselves what we are doing (or not doing) with our lives now that could lead to deep regret.” He urges the practice of “regret prevention” --- assessing the commitments we have made in light of what we don’t want to regret. Then, he asks us to consider what we need to rearrange. Don’t wait for a crisis --- a child running away, getting fired, having a spouse file for divorce --- to force your hand, he urges. More will never be enough.
Although he uses the game metaphor throughout, Ortberg doesn’t force it to get his ideas across. The narrative flows seamlessly. In places, Ortberg writes about spending time with your children, but this book is suitable for readers at any stage of life. My husband and I --- almost empty nesters --- are planning to read and discuss it together. It would be an excellent resource for personal reflection or small group study as well.
This is Ortberg writing at his best. But reader, be warned --- you’ll come away changed.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on November 13, 2011