Reaching For the Fast Travel Button? When Getting There is None of the Fun (2 Cor 11:23-27)

As our games grow larger and open-world gaming via an overworld map or at least a hub world has become the standard operating procedure for almost every major title that releases, a new experience has become just as standard… the fast travel button.  When you have areas to explore that can literally take over an hour of real world time to traverse, or in the case of select titles areas that simply do not connect to each other without the fast travel method, this has become less of a convenience and more of a necessity.  Could you imagine walking across the world of Skyrim each and every time a quest requires you to deliver medicine to someone in another zip code?  Or enduring the travel time it would take to fly from one planet to another to participate in an event in Destiny?  Suffice to say many of our favorite titles would become virtually unplayable without this built-in “cheat” that allows us to bypass the mundane requirements of physically moving from one place to another to progress.

Have you ever wondered what your character does during the fast travel time?  I know this is a fairly abstract thought, but hear me out.  While you check your phone for text messages or grab something to drink while waiting for the next screen to load, your character is doing the long, painful, virtual walk across the map that you chose to bypass.  Did they run into any friends?  Enemies?  Battle a giant crab?  Stop to smell the roses?  Accidentally walk past a sweet chest to loot that they didn’t see containing the boots you have been waiting for?  Who knows what you missed while they made like the Flash and zipped from one city to another?  What you just walked past may be more important to your story than the side-mission that had you traveling in the first place… but you didn’t catch it because of the convenience of fast travel.

Many times in life I yearn for a fast travel button.  I have a feeling I would use it way too often though.  Long line at the grocery store?  Fast travel.  Traffic snarled up on the way home?  Mash that button.  Long angry conference call from the boss?  See you on the other side of Winterfell.  I have a feeling most of us would be all too happy to have this option in real life to speed through the painful times, the boring times, or the waiting periods we all endure.  When you have a clear idea of where you want to go, and the only thing between you and the completion of your goal appears to be heartache, difficulty, or a bunch of wasted time it is easy to want to speed up the process and simply GET there.

If you open your Bible to the area that is typically in the back labeled “Maps” or something similar, you will typically find a map of Paul’s missionary journeys.  This is assuming you still use a physical Bible… for those of you who have already bypassed the need for the physical medium of books, they were something the ancient races used to record events using an archaic form of communication know as writing.  We physically held these items while perusing them, flipped through literal pages of words, and if you were lucky sometimes there were pictures.  Maybe hunt one down someday as a fun little history lesson… but I digress.  On these maps you will find the path the Apostle Paul took on his three missionary journeys:

    Having these nice, neat colorful maps with all of the accompanying arrows helps us understand the path Paul as he took the mission of taking the gospel to the entire known world quite literally.  But there is a funny thing about these maps that can be easy to forget… they weren’t in Paul’s copy of the Bible when he started out.  Would have been nice, but no such luck.  As a matter of fact, since he was responsible for physically writing much of the New Testament, his personal parchments that contained his version of the Word of God would have been limited to only the works of the Old Testament and perhaps an early version of a Gospel account.  Suffice to say, he did not possess this road map when he started each of these journeys.  To him… the fast travel option did not exist because he didn’t even know where he was going to end up much of the time.  And he certainly did not plan for how he would be received during each of these visits.

Sometimes he would set a plan to travel to a certain place but was prevented by the Spirit of God from going there (Acts 16:6-7).  Other times he would travel to a destination but was unable to start the ministry he had planned because of the hostility of the locals to the message (Acts 14:8-20).  He did not have the benefit of large, bright, flashing arrows guiding him where to go to next.  And his path was not a fun walk across the beach with footprints in the sand tenderly placed as he and His Savior enjoyed a leisurely stroll across the sands of Asia minor.  No, this is how Paul described his path:

2 Cor. 11:23-27 “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones,three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,  I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”

This was not a path of fast travel and comfortable amenities.  Paul’s walk was not clearly scripted with continental breakfast int he morning and the light left on for him at night.  It was a messy, painful, and challenging journey and at the time of the writing above he still had some of his largest challenges still remaining before him, including lengthy imprisonments, tragic betrayals, and eventually his reported death as a martyr.  And this is a man who at the end was able to say that he had run his race and finished his course.  And our path and our journey will be much the same… and bypassing it would mean that we missed out on the parts that were most important.  Paul was not on a march to his end point simply to complete his race… his race WAS his purpose. Fast travel would have saved him from the pain and challenges he described, but he also would have never planted half of the churches that he setup or reached many of the lives that he bumped into along the way.

In our real world, the road less traveled by is the long one.  The painful one.  The one that seems to be nothing more than a waste of our time and our precious energy simply to survive it.  But your path IS your missionary journey… you just can’t see it yet because it isn’t over yet.  Like Paul, you are still making your “arrows” in your journey right now.  Sometimes that arrow takes you somewhere you never planned (or wanted) to go.  There will be times the arrow doesn’t even seem to be moving.  But the process is too important to skip through, and that is why we don’t receive a fast travel option.  The Lord sent Philip on a long walk simply to reach one man traveling to Ethiopia in Acts 8.  Philip didn’t get to fast travel there… he had to WALK.  But it placed him in a position to intersect with that man at the EXACT point and time that he was ready to receive the message Philip had for him.  It may seem long and unnecessary from your perspective, but stay strong during this long, long, loooooooong walk and resist the urge to fast travel.  It is the path, not the destination, that holds the story that will be your testimony.  What’s that you say?  There’s a public event incoming on Nessus?  Hmmm… I think I will take the scenic route and just walk there this time…

 

 

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Yes, But How Many Rupees Can It Hold? A Question of Capacity (2 Kings 4:1-7)

When you think of great games and your favorite parts of them, a few things come to mind.  Interesting characters with realistic dialogue, incredible graphics that transport you to another place or time, and an epic soundtrack that sweeps you up into a story that grips you from the title screen to the closing credits.  We celebrate dynamic combat systems and physics engines that duplicate reality, but for years there has been an unheralded but incredibly necessary part of our gaming experiences that makes up an important backbone of most games… the inventory system.  It’s not exciting, and in many games it may look like a poor man’s version of Oregon’s Trail, but it is necessary and when executed correctly adds depth to the strategy and decisions that ultimately determine how your experience plays out.

For years our protagonists operated without a concern for how the size or weight of the physical items they were carrying would impact them.  They could carry infinite amounts of weapons, food, keys, or other equipment without any regard to how this would burden them from running, jumping, and fighting their way through the level.  But finally game developers caught up with the limits of the bottomless duffel bag, the infinite wallet, or the absurdity of a character somehow carrying fourteen rocket launchers in their pockets.  For goodness sakes, I am pretty sure as I was wandering around in Oblivion I was carrying at least 60 different 500 page tomes while climbing mountains and swimming through rivers.  Fun certainly, but not terribly realistic.

Games finally began to launch with real inventory management systems which began creating limits to the size and weight of what a gaming character could lug around with them while traversing their planet of choice.  Players finally had to make some hard choices… should I carry more healing items or make room for some heavy weaponry?  What can I sacrifice so I can carry this necessary quest item I just found?  With limited capacity the decisions that are made to determine what is necessary versus what is superfluous are vital, and the wrong choice in a game may result in mission failure but the consequences in how we deal with our limited capacity as real-life human beings can be much farther reaching in their impact.

In 2 Kings 4 we find a widowed woman in a state of crisis.  With her husband deceased and her family severely indebted her two sons were about to be placed into slavery in order to pay off the debt that the struggling family had incurred.  The prophet Elisha asked her what her current capacity to pay off her debt was, and she was limited to only a small vessel of oil.  Elisha instructed her to get as many containers, pitchers, bowls, and whatever else she could get her hands on from friends and neighbors and specified that these must be EMPTY.  Once she had gathered them together, she was instructed to fill them with the oil that she currently possessed.  She continued pouring until she ran out of empty containers to fill, and when it was done she had enough oil to sell to pay off her debt and even live off the rest.  A remarkable miracle to be certain… but what does this mean to us?

Let me keep it real for a minute.  I tend to read my Bible on my phone because it is convenient and it is typically with me at all times.  But this can be a snare as much as a convenience, because on this very same device that houses an app that opens up a digital version of God’s Word lies all of the distractions that threaten to fill my vessel with anything other than his oil.  Emails pop-up compelling action, text messages bombard me with a variety of requests ranging from the urgent to the pointless, and sometimes, on very rare occasions this object that is still technically considered a “phone” actually completes its original purpose and rings with an incoming phone call.  Probably just someone offering yet another week-long cruise that surely has no negative repercussions as long as I act now…

I would like to say I come to the Lord with an empty vessel for Him to fill, but more often than not I am already packed full of thoughts, items, and a menagerie of tasks that prevent me from having an inventory screen that He can actually fill.  And sadly enough, I often treat my time like my loadout in a video game, meaning I simply cut items out to make space for the presence of the One that I claim is the most important of all in my life.  I drop a few meaningless items from my bag (maybe some time surfing the web or reading the back of a box of cereal) and add some time with God in its place.  And then I wonder why I carry such a heavy burden and feel so little of God’s presence, love, and joy in my day-to-day life.

When I ask the Lord for more of His presence in my life I remember that it is critical to note… the widowed woman in 2 Kings 4 was not provided more oil than what her capacity was to contain it.  When she reached the limits of her vessels, she reached the limit of the oil.  Many times I reach out to God in prayer and ask Him for guidance, wisdom, or provision, but when I don’t provide an empty vessel for Him to fill I limit His ability to answer my prayers and requests.  And the oil He plans to use is readily available to me in the form of His Word, but it only truly activates when it is poured into an empty vessel prepared to receive it.

The more space I make for Him in my daily life, the more He will be able to pour into me and pour out through me to others.  So before you ask God to be more present in your life, you must truly look deep into your inventory and ensure you have made space for Him to appear.  If you feel like you can’t hear what the Lord has to say, consider if you have too much in your way to give Him the room that He needs.  If you make room for the oil first, you will find that it absorbs into everything else that you are carrying…