“The Gambler” is the title track found on Kenny Rogers’ 1978 album. The song itself tells the story of a late-night meeting on a train “bound for nowhere” between Rogers (as narrator) and an unnamed old man, known as the gambler. The gambler says that he can tell “Rogers” is down on his luck (“out of aces”) by the look in his eyes and offers him advice in exchange for his last swallow of whisky. After the gambler takes the drink (and a cigarette), he gives the following advice, “You may be able to fool some of the people some of the time, but you cannot ever fool all of the people all of the time.” This advice certainly will not work for the internal changes that are obviously needed. There is nothing as fulfilling as a person who lives transparently before God and others. Many people today think they are protecting themselves from hurt by keeping others out. They are afraid to take the risk of being transparent, so they live their lives trying to “fool” others. The truth is that they are trapping themselves in a world of loneliness, fear, anger, worry, despair, and even depression. Although the world received this song with accolades and even considered it as sound advice, its truth has had lasting and devastating results. Today, this attitude of “no transparency” infiltrates both outside and inside the local church.
II Timothy 1:7, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” Fear is not of God, but God has given us a spirit of love. God wants us to first connect intimately with Him; and out of that intimate personal relationship, His perfect love drives out all fear, and we are able to have healthy relationships with others. The problem is clear – many of us are not secure in an intimate relationship with God; therefore, we fear transparency. Transparency requires removing the mask and revealing to others who you really are; getting beyond the surface to what is really going on in your heart.
What is transparency? The 1828 Noah Webster’s dictionary defines transparency as “that state or property of a body by which it suffers rays of light to pass through it, so that objects can be distinctly seen through it. This is a property of glass, water, and air, which, when clear, admits the free passage of light.”
If you do any counseling or public speaking, you can sometimes see this transparency on the faces of those whom you are counseling or speaking. It is the “raw material” that is used to form and fashion your behavior. God certainly expressed this when He spoke to Cain in the garden and asked him, “Why hast thy countenance fallen?” In other words, “Why won’t you look at me?” I sincerely believe many Christians are suffering through the Christian life because they lack transparency.
When we fear transparency, we say things like: “If you knew me – really knew me – you may not like me – you may reject me. Since I am afraid of rejection, I can’t really get close to you or let you get close to me. If I am transparent and share my intimate thoughts and ideas – who I really am with you and you reject me, it will crush me, so I can’t really get close to you or let you get close to me. I have been transparent and shared my intimate thoughts before – I’ve trusted others and I was burned – hurt, betrayed, humiliated – so I won’t get close to you or let you get close to me.”
Not Getting Past Your Past
So many people I know are living with barriers to transparency in their lives because of past pain—and their pain is real. Many build walls of protection around their hearts. They are not going to let you know their real need. They say things like: “You are not going to get too close. I am going to keep you at a safe distance, because I don’t feel safe when I am transparent or when I am close to people. I don’t want to get hurt again. I’ll never let anyone abandon me again. I’ll just make it on my own.”
Before we look at how we can overcome the barriers to transparency, let’s first look at how these barriers can harm us. When God created Adam, He decided he would be better with a help-meet. From Adam, He (God) made woman – Eve. He gave them complete rule in the garden and designed them to be intimate with Him and with each other.
The barriers to transparency can do two things to us: First, they can make us distant: “I am going to keep you at arm’s length. I don’t want to get hurt. Genesis 3:9-10, “And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” The barriers to transparency can cause us to keep people at, what we would call, a safe distance. We don’t want to get hurt again.
Secondly, they can also make us defensive: “I’m not going to take the blame for this. It’s everybody else’s fault.” The first “blame game” was played in Genesis 3:12. Adam blamed Eve. (Boy, do I have that problem from time to time! I think we all do.) Eve then blamed the devil. What do we see here? The barriers to transparency make us defensive. How often do you hear this: “It’s not my fault. It’s your fault. If only you were different. You always do this. You never do that. It’s all your fault.” It all started in the Garden of Eden. When Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the snake; and as Bro. Curington says, “The snake didn’t have a leg to stand on.” We have been covering up, lying, pretending, and denying ever since! The barriers to transparency can cause us to be distant and can make us defensive.
Overcoming the Barriers to Transparency
So, how do we overcome the barriers to transparency? I want to share two ways: First, we must take a prayerful relational risk for a transparent relational return. We cannot take random, haphazard risks. We must be prayerful about who we invest our heart in, but we must know that it will take a risk in order for genuine transparency to be achieved. You cannot be in control and have true transparency. You cannot hold the upper hand and achieve true transparency. You cannot keep an “ace” up your sleeve and achieve true transparency. We must take a prayerful risk; and when we risk, we are vulnerable. We could be hurt, but it is a risk that we cannot afford not to take.
Some of you have relationships, but you are not being transparent in those relationships. Relationally speaking, we need to remove the mask and let others see what is going on in our hearts and say, “This is who I am. This is my heart. These are my fears. These are my hesitations, and I trust you to love me as I am.” Without this, we don’t have anything that is real, do we?
The second way we can overcome the barriers to transparency is: we must find our security, our acceptance, and our identity in our relationship “In Christ”. An individual once asked Jesus, “What’s the most important thing. Of everything, what’s most important?” Jesus replied in Matthew 22:37, “Love the Lord your God will all your heart….” We need to recognize that God is telling us that if we are going to become intimate with Him, it will always begin in the heart. Often, we lack a relationship with Him because we refuse to give Him the keys to our hearts. Some who read this article will continue to live a lonely life, only hearing about the relationship others are having with the Lord. God offers you the same thing He offers others. It begins when He asks for the keys to our hearts and unlocks the secret chambers, revealing to us and to Him those things nobody else would dare get even a glimpse. Even when we do get caught, our heart cries lonely lives, saying, “You only know the half of it.” If we do not accept ourselves, find our security in Christ, find our identity in Christ – we cannot have true transparency with others; and that my friends, is one of the biggest problems we have in relationships today. If we consistently criticize ourselves, we will be convinced that everyone else is criticizing us. If we don’t trust ourselves, we are not going to trust anyone else. We must find our security, our acceptance, and our identity in our relationship “in Christ.”
Think about it. You are secure in Christ! I am secure in Christ! I am free forever from condemnation; I am protected; I cannot be separated from the love of God; I am a citizen of heaven; I am born of God, and the evil one cannot touch me. I am God’s child; I am Christ’s friend; I have been bought with a price; I belong to God. I am a member of Christ’s body; I am a saint; I am the salt and light of the earth; I am a personal witness of Christ’s. I am a new creation; I am God’s co-worker; and I am God’s workmanship.
The more I accept these things as truth, and act accordingly, the more secure I become and the more I am willing to take risks to be transparent. We must find our security, our acceptance, and our identity in our relationship Christ!
Maybe some of you today are thinking to yourself: “I lack transparency. My marriage isn’t where it needs to be. I’ve lost trust. I’m afraid. I don’t have great Christian friends. I need to take a prayerful, relational risk.” For some of you, that means you don’t go to bed tonight until you open up with your spouse and say, “Let’s do business. Let’s be real.” For some of you, it might mean reaching out to an RU group leader this week. You take a prayerful risk when God leads you, and you will see . . . you will see God’s ultimate return. Is it risky? Absolutely. Could you get hurt? Yes, you could, but it is more dangerous not to take this risk. This is a risk you cannot afford not to take. I want to challenge you to make the commitment to take the risk and be transparent!
The gambler mentions that the secret to surviving is knowing what to throw away and what to keep, and that the best you can hope for is to die in your sleep. At this point in the song, the gambler goes to sleep. Some people interpreted this as the gambler finding an ace he could keep and then dying. Some Christians will go to their grave not enjoying the abundant life, because they were not willing to follow the biblical advice to replace fear with love. You really can lay everything on the line for real love, God’s love. You do not have to “know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.” You just need to take the risk and be transparent.