Game On

In the movie, Bridge of Spies (2015), based on a true story that started in 1957 during the Cold War (1947-1991–the Cold War ended when the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991), an American lawyer, James B. Donovan (played by Tom Hanks) is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (played by Mark Rylance) in court, and then helps the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers (played by Austin Stowell). Abel is convicted and sentenced to 30 years in a Federal prison (much to the chagrin of the general public who wanted him executed; however, Donovan stated to the judge that he might be of use in a prisoner exchange in the foreseeable future if one of our spies was caught by the Soviet Union).

While Abel is in prison, Donovan visits Abel and brings him a letter that Donovan received from a woman in East Germany pretending to be Abel’s wife (she sent the letter thanking Donovan for his kind treatment of Abel)–East Berlin and East Germany were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1945 at the end of WWII. Donovan asks Abel if he should respond, and Abel indicates yes, and states, “What’s the next move when you don’t know what the game is?” 

At this point, an American spy pilot (Powers) was recently shot down over Soviet territory and captured by the Soviets and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The letter Donovan received from the woman pretending to be Abel’s wife in East Germany turns out to be the beginning point of the him helping the CIA facilitate a prisoner exchange of Abel for Powers and another young American graduate student named Frederic Pryor (played by Will Rogers) who was recently captured and being held by the East Germans. However, at the time Donovan received the letter, neither Donovan nor Abel knew that it would eventually result in a prisoner exchange involving Abel. That’s when Abel responded with the following question:

“What’s the next move when you don’t know what the game is?”

While situations vary, it is hard to know what to do when one doesn’t know what the game is that is being played. On the surface it might look to be quite different from what is actually going on beneath the surface and behind the scene.

Often when we encounter situations we don’t fully understand, we like to think that we are “in charge” of our situation and that all it takes is the right amount of “positive thinking” to get the results we want or to get back on track. I’m not quite sure where “positive thinking” as a “cure all” got it’s start (actually, I think it got it’s start in 1952 with the publication of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale‘s book, The Power of Positive Thinking) but we have been fed a line of thinking for several decades now that says we are pretty much the captain of our own ship, and we can have or change anything we want if we just “think positively” enough and acquire the right connections in the process. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a positive mental attitude, we have too often elevated “positive thinking” on a throne of it’s own and as a panacea for all difficulties or diseases.

In answer to the question, “Is there any power in positive thinking?” answers it by stating:

One definition for “positive thinking” is “the act of reviewing thought processes in order to identify areas that need improvement, and then using the appropriate tools to change those thoughts in a positive, goal-oriented way.” Of course, thinking positively is not wrong. The problem associated with “positive thinking” is in believing that there is some kind of supernatural power in positive thinking. In this age of rampant false doctrine and watered-down theology, the power of positive thinking has stood out as one of the more popular errors. False doctrines are similar in that they are human ideas masquerading as the truth. One such human idea is the power of positive thinking.

The idea of the power of positive thinking was popularized by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale in his book “The Power of Positive Thinking” (1952). According to Peale, people can change future outcomes and events by “thinking” them into existence. The power of positive thinking promotes self-confidence and faith in oneself; it leads naturally to a false belief in thelaw of attraction,” as Peale wrote, “When you expect the best, you release a magnetic force in your mind which by a law of attraction tends to bring the best to you.” Of course, there is nothing biblical about one’s mind emanating a “magnetic force” that pulls good things into one’s orbit. In fact, there is much unbiblical about such a notion.

In “The Power of Positive Thinking,” Peale used flawed religious concepts and subjective psychological theories to advance a false version of faith and hope. His theory is part of the “self-help” movement whereby a person tries to create his own reality with human effort, proper mental images, and willpower. But reality is truth, and the truth is found in the Bible. People cannot create their own reality by fantasizing or thinking it into existence. Peale’s theory is flawed because he did not base it on truth.

Proponents of the power of positive thinking claim their research supports the validity of the theory. However, the body of data is widely debated. Some of the findings suggest there is a positive correlation between a positive outlook and performance, but this is a far cry from positive thoughts ‘creating’ an outcome. The research suggests that people who have positive attitudes tend to have higher self-esteem and better experiences as compared to people who have pessimistic outlooks. On the other hand, there is no substantiated evidence to support the idea that thoughts can control outcomes. Positive thinking has no inherent power to change the future.

Every good gift is from God above (James 1:17), not from the power of positive thinking. The best gift of all is the indwelling Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13). The Bible says that man cannot be “good” on his own (Isaiah 64:6). The only good in us comes from the righteousness of Jesus Christ applied to our account (Ephesians 2:1–5; Philippians 3:9). Once the Holy Spirit indwells us, He begins the process of sanctification, in which the transformative power of the Holy Spirit makes us more like Jesus.

If we want to better ourselves and make positive changes, we need to have more than the power of positive thinking. True spirituality will always start and end with our relationship to Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who is the key to changing one’s life, not our thoughts, and not our effort alone. As we actively yield to the Spirit, He will transform us. Rather than seek help from psycho-babble, pseudo-religious books, or a self-generated power of positive thinking, we should rely on what God has already given us through His Spirit: “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). (Quote source here.)

Often we confuse positive thinking with faith. Genuine faith believes in God for the outcome, not in positive thinking for the outcome. describes faith as follows:

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Perhaps no other component of the Christian life is more important than faith. We cannot purchase it, sell it or give it to our friends. So what is faith and what role does faith play in the Christian life? The dictionary defines faith as “belief in, devotion to, or trust in somebody or something, especially without logical proof.” It also defines faith as “belief in and devotion to God.” The Bible has much more to say about faith and how important it is. In fact, it is so important that, without faith, we have no place with God, and it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). According to the Bible, faith is belief in the one, true God without actually seeing Him.

Where does faith come from? Faith is not something we conjure up on our own, nor is it something we are born with, nor is faith a result of diligence in study or pursuit of the spiritual. Ephesians 2:8-9 makes it clear that faith is a gift from God, not because we deserve it, have earned it, or are worthy to have it. It is not from ourselves; it is from God. It is not obtained by our power or our free will. Faith is simply given to us by God, along with His grace and mercy, according to His holy plan and purpose, and because of that, He gets all the glory.

Why have faith? God designed a way to distinguish between those who belong to Him and those who don’t, and it is called faith. Very simply, we need faith to please God. God tells us that it pleases Him that we believe in Him even though we cannot see Him. A key part of Hebrews 11:6 tells us that “he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” This is not to say that we have faith in God just to get something from Him. However, God loves to bless those who are obedient and faithful. We see a perfect example of this in Luke 7:50. Jesus is engaged in dialog with a sinful woman when He gives us a glimpse of why faith is so rewarding. “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” The woman believed in Jesus Christ by faith, and He rewarded her for it. Finally, faith is what sustains us to the end, knowing that by faith we will be in heaven with God for all eternity. “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Examples of faith. Hebrews Chapter 11 is known as the “faith chapter” because in it great deeds of faith are described. By faith Abel offered a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord (v. 4); by faith Noah prepared the ark in a time when rain was unknown (v. 7); by faith Abraham left his home and obeyed God’s command to go he knew not where, then willingly offered up his only son (vv. 8-10, 17); by faith Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt (vv. 23-29); by faith Rahab received the spies of Israel and saved her life (v. 31). Many more heroes of the faith are mentioned “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies” (vv. 33-34). Clearly, the existence of faith is demonstrated by action.

According to the Bible, faith is essential to Christianity. Without demonstrating faith and trust in God, we have no place with Him. We believe in God’s existence by faith. Most people have a vague, disjointed notion of who God is but lack the reverence necessary for His exalted position in their lives. These people lack the true faith needed to have an eternal relationship with the God who loves them. Our faith can falter at times, but because it is the gift of God, given to His children, He provides times of trial and testing in order to prove that our faith is real and to sharpen and strengthen it. This is why James tells us to consider it “pure joy” when we fall into trials, because the testing of our faith produces perseverance and matures us, providing the evidence that our faith is real (James 1:2-4). (Quote source here.)

So let’s go back to Abel’s original question,“What’s the next move when you don’t know what the game is?” Again, while situations vary, it is hard to know what to do when one doesn’t know what the game is (or, worst yet, when one doesn’t even know there is a game until it’s too late–I think back to when I lost that job eight years ago as an example in my own life). And history is replete with examples large scale and small of “man’s inhumanity to man.” I think of all the innocent victims who have died in wars, or closer to home, people who have lost jobs through no fault of their own. And I think of the millions around the world and here in America who live in poverty and can’t just “positively think” their way out of it. It goes beyond us and our own “thoughts” to include the motives and hidden agendas of all the “others” out there, too (the good, the bad, and the ugly). Only God sees the whole picture. We barely see even a tiny fraction of it. So . . . .

“What’s the next move when you don’t know what the game is?”

Proverbs 3:5-6 holds the answer:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight. . . .

YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig and Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here