The Well-Played Life

Leonard Sweet’s new book is a much needed statement that redeems the idea of “play” for the Christian.

Published by Tyndale, the classiest publisher I’ve ever worked with, the book is appealing both outside and inside.

In it, Sweet contrasts work, particularly the addiction to work, with the spiritual value of play.

According to Sweet, the “well-played life” is a life that is marked by joy. 

Getting a sense of “pride” for doing work for God is an illusion. And God never intended it. Sweet’s book shows that we can please God by embracing His gift of “play” . . . and experience the fullness of joy that comes from walking with Him in the garden, so to speak.

When many Christians seem obsessed about being “used by God,” Sweet counters that the Christian life is about learning how to “play well.”

How we “play” (in the divine sense) depends in part on our age. According to Sweet, there are 3 age groups:

  1. First-Agers (0-30). The important questions of first-agers is “How do I learn to live in God’s pleasure?” and “How do I learn to play in my relationship with God?”
  2. Second-Agers (30-60). The important question of this group is “How can I retain or regain my sense of play amidst the complexities of my life?” or “How can my relationship with God help me find joy in my relationships with my family, church, community, and creation?”
  3. Third-Agers (60-90): The important questions for this group are “How can I become a master player and world changer?” and “How can I be a coach to others in Godplay?”

The book is broken into three sections corresponding to each of these three life periods.

With respect to writing style, I’d say this is Sweet’s easiest read to date. Each chapter contains stories that illustrate the points and quotes by a varied battery of authors and artists that are pure gold.

Sweet argues that we Christians need to let go of a “work for” ethic of attaining God’s pleasure and live in a “gracional (grace+relational) playground” with a Father who loves us and gives His loving, playful presence to his children.

God doesn’t demand that you work to obtain His acceptance because His unconditional love is a playful, loving, grace-full relationship full of laughter, fun, and patience.

The Well-Played Life is a reminder to laugh, have fun, and play. I personally think that Christians who take themselves too seriously show that they haven’t met this side of God. And it’s a big side of Him.

As we pointed out in Jesus: A Theography, the garden was the playground of angels. And Jesus had a keen sense of humor.

If you think that the harder you work, the more God is pleased with you, then this book is a must read for you. It will help you to unclench your teeth, loosen your grip, and experience God’s sheer pleasure in merely having you as His child.

The subtitle is well deserved, “Why pleasing God doesn’t have to be such hard work.”

When reading a book, the ideas often spark my own thoughts on the subject.

So here are some of mine:

Was Jesus’ life all about work? Not really. He lived by the life of Another . . . His Father’s life.  His Father was the One who worked in and through Him.

I grew up in several denominations that were marked by austereness. Humor wasn’t appreciated. And the leaders always looked like they were sucking on lemons.

As I read this book, I couldn’t help but think of this crowd. Regrettably, such people still exist in the Christian fold. And there’s good news. God isn’t sucking on a lemon in heavenly places.

I also thought about my own spiritual heritage . . . the Pentecostals. The Pentecostals are the “blondes” of the Christian faith. They have more fun. And they show all other Christian tribes that we have a God who is bursting with love, joy, fun, and play.

The book reminded me of these things. It also reminded me that God is not a big Soup Nazi in the sky. But He’s the One who invented fun, play, and recreation.

That doesn’t mean that the Lord can’t be grieved and displeased. He can. And there is a counterfeit for God’s idea of fun and play. But God’s highest and best is joy . . . a joy unspeakable and full of glory. This is the gift to all of His children.

While following Jesus does include work at times, it’s not primarily about work or effort. The Lord’s yoke is easy and His burden is light. But this is only experienced fully when the Christian discovers what it practically means to live by the Lord’s indwelling life. A concept that Sweet and I hammered away at in both Jesus Manifesto and Jesus: A Theography.

One final thought I had was that the world has perverted “play” and distorted it into a counterfeit that masquerades as something human beings need. What the world calls “partying” – which often includes Paul’s “works of the flesh” list of drunkenness, sexual immorality, and the like. The New Testament uses the term “carousing” for it.

This is a counterfeit for the fun and play that God wired us to enjoy. Unfortunately, some Christians have tossed out the whole concept of fun and play because of the counterfeit. Others have imbibed the counterfeit and justified it with spiritual language.

That said, I think this is one of Len Sweet’s best “solo” books to date. And so I highly recommend it to you.

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