Somebody a long time ago said that life is a game, and that is the main image behind this book. In using this image, I’m not saying that we should take our lives lightly. G. K. Chesterton once wrote that while we often take ourselves too seriously, we can hardly take our souls seriously enough. But life, like a game, is moving toward a goal. It has an object; it is not just a series of random activities. Furthermore, there are rules to follow in life, and each of us will develop a strategy. The game will not go on forever. As an ancient Italian proverb puts it, “Pawn and king alike, they all go back in the bag.” An outcome is inevitable. (I am indebted to James Dobson for this image, from his book Straight Talk to Men [Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1984], 19–20.)

How to play the game of life is what this book is about. The instructions are listed in the table of contents. Though it is best to know and play by all the rules, each chapter—each principle of the game—can be appreciated on its own and applied to the game of life. So feel free to skip around.

One of the most widely read manuscripts in the Middle Ages was an allegory that compared life to a game of chess. The anonymous1 author wrote, “Wherefore play the game of life warily, for your opponent is full of subtlety, and take abundant thought over your moves, for the stake is your soul.”

Have a good game.

John Ortberg, When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).


We have just released a new Bible Study based on John Ortberg’s Book, When the Game is Over It All Goes Back in the Box, by John Ortberg.

These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.

Lessons include:

Lesson #1
Chapters 1 – 2
Learn Rule #1
Be Rich Toward God

Lesson #2
Chapters 3 – 4
Three Ways to Keep Score
Master the Inner Game

Lesson #3
Chapters 5 – 6; Untie Your Ropes
Resign as Master of the Board

Lesson #4
Chapters 7 – 9
No One Else Can Take Your Turn
Remember Your Stuff Isn’t Yours
Prevent Regret

Lesson #5
Chapters 10 – 11
Play by the Rules
Fill Each Square with What Matters Most

Lesson #6
Chapters 12 – 14
Roll the Dice
Play with Gratitude
Find Your Mission

Lesson #7
Chapters 15, 16
Beware the Shadow Mission
Two Cheers for Competition

Lesson #8
Chapters 17 – 19
More Will Never Be Enough
Winning Alone Is Called Losing
Be the Kind of Player People Want to Sit Next To

Lesson #9
Chapters 20 – 21
Collect the Right Trophies
The King Has One More Move