“Shoot the red eye! No, the RED eye! RED! RED!!!! Ok, shoot the Middle eye! The MIDDLE eye! The RED MIDDLE eye! See, now you are dead. I hope you are happy. I told you to shoot the stupid red eye.” Confused? Don’t worry, I will explain what all this means in just a minute. But first, let’s jump ahead into the present before I explain the meaning of this frustrating exchange.
We have come a looooong way. Thanks to devices like the Kinect I can simply bark out commands to my console and voila! The system switches shows, searches the web, snaps between applications… I can’t wait until this technology is integrated into my lawn mower. I can tell you from experience, it wasn’t always this way, and the path to the caliber of voice recognition we enjoy now was certainly a rocky one. And to illustrate this, I am going way back into my archives into the PS2 era and a game that was both incredibly obscure and ahead of its time. If you have heard of it then I grant you 20 bonus nerd cred points on the spot… It is called Lifeline.
Lifeline has a concept that honestly needs to be revisited, because it certainly had the potential to be amazing if it wasn’t limited by the technology of the time. To play this game you had to have a headset, which is incredibly common now but this game launched way back before online gaming had hit home consoles in a meaningful way so just getting a compatible headset was an obstacle. Slipping your headset on, the game thrusts you into the control of a character who is locked in a secure room on a space station, a room which you are unable to leave. Your full interaction with the game is through your voice, and in this confined position you are stuck observing the story play out through cameras which you are monitoring from your security station.
While that may not sound exciting, it is here where the action really picks up. The primary protagonist of the game is the person you are speaking to through your headset, and it is your responsibility to guide them safely through the dangers, enemies, and obstacles that they will face as they discover the truth about the outbreak on the station as well as assist both you and all of the other survivors in escaping the horrific monsters who are running rampant. You are helpless to assist with anything other than your voice, which creates an entirely different form of exhilaration and excitement as you do your best to keep alive the only person who can free you from lockdown. With only your verbal commands and your ability to see ahead through the camera system to aid you, this creates the potential for a tense thrill ride as you work together to survive the ordeal.
So why didn’t this unique game find its way into the greatest hits section of your local game store? With such a novel approach and the innovative use of voice control surely this title was destined to become at least a cult classic, right? Unfortunately, the genius concept was built on flawed execution, and this is where we return to the beginning of the column. The voice technology simply didn’t do a great job translating what I said in my headset into action by the protagonist. I would tell them to turn right, they would open the door to a bathroom. I would scream at them to run away, they would look at a picture on the wall. I would beg them to turn around and shoot the monster sneaking up behind them, and they would tell me they aren’t thirsty right now. You get the picture. What should have been an enjoyably tense experience due to the challenge of keeping another character alive without having direct control became an entirely different kind of stress as I finally reached the point of grim satisfaction watching my disobedient partner fall victim to the very dangers I had been shouting for them to avoid. On an unrelated note, don’t pick me as your partner in any activity in which you are blindfolded and following the sound of my voice. It may be hazardous to your health it seems.
Understanding what God wants us to do in a specific, day by day way is one of the most challenging subjects for Christians to discuss, and one of the most common questions believers both new and seasoned grapple with. If you are like me you yearn for God to make it as simple as a GPS barking directions… “Turn right in 500 feet. The destination is on your left”. And while it is true that the closer we draw to God in prayer and through reading His Word the easier it becomes to hear His voice, there are many times that despite my most earnest prayer sessions and focused attempts to seek Him the clear and direct answers I seek remain elusive. Much like my gaming example, I feel that I am only hearing part of the guidance and I find myself wildly flailing about trying to shoot a door and open a third eye instead of the other way around. So while this is not a comprehensive list by any means, I would like to share some of the areas I have found that make my “headset connection” with God a little more clear.
First, we have to realize that God is a Spirit, and while He may choose to communicate audibly or through other physical means His primary communication is through His Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 unloads a treasure trove of help to understand the communication breakdown and why we may all hear the same thing but each respond to it differently. Verse 12 tells us that as believers we have received the Spirit of God so that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. And verse 14 explains that the very wisdom of God is received as foolishness by the natural man because the things of God can only be SPIRITUALLY discerned. So if we try to use our natural mind to rationalize the wisdom of a Spiritual God we will find His commands confusing and counter-intuitive at best. And that is by design, because we have chosen to follow the paradoxical teachings that include concepts such as the first will be last, bless those who curse you, and lose your life to find it. Sometimes the disconnect is by trying to hear and comprehend a spiritual message using only our natural mind, leading to misunderstanding and frustration. By disconnecting our rational response and allowing His Spirit to speak to ours, the signal will finally become clear.
But there is another challenge, one that we cannot escape that is found 1 Corinthians 13. While most recognize this as the famous “Love Chapter” in the Bible, it is also the source of another critical insight from the Apostle Paul. Verses 9-12 explain the simple truth inherent in our mortal human existence…. We only see in part, as if we were looking through a glass darkly. It is the image of having too little light, a surface that obscures some of the message, and a limitation on how much is actually being revealed to us. No matter how spiritual we become, even Paul shows us that the path won’t always be crystal clear. Here are a few examples from the diary of Paul that shows us that he knows what he is talking about from personal experience:
Acts 16:6 Went to Galatia as a missionary but was forbidden by the Spirit to preach in Asia.
Acts 16:7 Attempted to travel to Bithynia to minister but the Sprirt of God did not permit me here either.
Acts 16:9 Finally,given guidance in a vision to preach in Macedonia, where I was promptly beaten and thrown in prison.
Sounds like a frustrating series of events for certain, much like my experience while playing Lifeline. While there are many things we can do to make our daily leaning on God for guidance more productive and insightful, the truth is there will always be a vast expanse of knowledge that will remain beyond our reach. Even as a veteran missionary Paul was receiving mere glimpses of what to do next, and at times it seemed that he was running around in circles. And I know I have been there many, many times. The good news is that the path to hearing God clearly is a process that we will be mastering throughout the course of our lives. I wish it was easy as buying a specialized headset once I got saved, but it takes time for us learn to follow the simple advice provided in Proverbs 3:5-6:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do NOT lean on your own understanding. Submit to Him in all your ways and He will direct your path.”
If each day and every choice I make is processed not through my flawed and biased intellect but rather through the Spirit I will easily and more readily submit my will to His desires. And while the verse does not promise He will draw out an itinerary for you, as Paul found He will continue to gently course correct you until He has you right where you are needed as long as we remain submitted to Him.