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Sandbox Devotions

There was a period in my life where I spent a good bit of time playing computer games. I developed a fascination with certain games and gained a lot of pleasure from playing them. Truth be told, if I was able to find a way of extending my days from 24 to 48 hours I might take up the hobby again. Unfortunately, as it stands now, I just have too many other responsibilities in life to be able to dedicate any significant time to gaming (though occasionally, very occasionally, I can scrape together a couple of hours and play something with my boy, who loves the games as much as I used to).

Of the games I played, my favorites were always strategy games (anyone who has played classics like Civilization or Railroad Tycoon will know the kind of games I’m talking about). Many of these games offered two different modes of play: campaign or sandbox. In campaign mode, the player would typically play an ongoing series of scenarios; finishing one scenario would unlock the next and would increase the options available to him in future scenarios. The campaigns were often very linear, but it was a pleasure conquering one area of the game before moving on to the next. This way of playing would slowly unlock the game’s features, all the while offering measurable goals. Sandbox mode, on the other hand, gave the player free reign to play the game however he liked; there was no formal structure and often no overarching point to the game—the player would have all options available to him and would simply play however he saw fit. Sandbox mode never appealed to me. I needed to conquer rather than just play the game open-ended.

I guess I’ve always been a campaign more than a sandbox kind of person. The desire to overcome and to conquer is built right into me. I love to form and then to pursue a series of defined goals and find great satisfaction in doing so.

Some time ago I found myself growing frustrated with my times of personal devotion. I would take time every morning to read the Bible, to pray, and to (at least some of the time) meditate upon the Word of God. But somehow it all seemed frustrating and almost pointless. There was little way of measuring or even sensing whether I was really benefiting from these times. Was I growing from these times? Was I benefiting? Was I making the best use of these times? I noted that on the few occasions that I was asked to preach, I would find greater joy in studying the Scripture in preparing a sermon than in simply reading it on my own. The goal at the end made a difference. It was around this time that I began to notice the parallel between my devotions and computer gaming. I was doing sandbox devotions! I would simply choose a book of the Bible and read through it, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly. They were open-ended with little in the way of defined goals and I began to see that this was somehow in opposition to my personality type. It was not enough for me to just “spend time with Jesus.” Instead, I needed to put my devotions within a larger context, a story line that would bring some kind of cohesion.

So I began to change the way I did devotions. I set them within a larger context. I determined I would conquer books of the Bible, one-by-one. Most recently this has taken the form of what I’ve been thinking of as “conquering Genesis.” In this campaign I will be spending at least 90 days studying Genesis, not only reading the book and meditating upon it, but also relying upon good commentaries, theologies and other resources. The plan is to “conquer” the book—to study it until I really and truly understand it, both on a macro and, to some degree, a micro level; to learn how it fits in the sweep of redemptive history; and to learn how it applies to my life here and now. Meanwhile, my prayers will continue to be based around a “concentric circle” model I developed some time ago where each day my prayers have a different focus. I begin the week focusing on myself and in subsequent days focus on immediate family, extended family, church family, neighborhood, nation and world.

What difference has it made? It is still too early to tell, I suppose, but in the weeks or months since I changed my focus from sandbox to campaign, I’ve found a renewed sense of determination and interest in the Bible. Within the context of a campaign rather than a sandbox I am finding that I have found greater enjoyment in reading and studying the Bible and that I am gaining more from it. Suddenly there seems to be a wider story, a greater purpose. I’m out to conquer and somehow that seems to make a difference.