The Ever Decreasing Circle: PUBG, Fortnite and Pressing Forward (1 Kings 19)

So it seems this is officially a thing… the battle royale concept that has spawned two incredibly successful titles and will likely influence or birth several more if the video game industry lives up to the parity it is so well-known for.  I will give credit where credit is due.  Both Battlegrounds and Fortnite are well made titles with an easy drop-in concept to attract new players and a long learning curve to keep veterans busy for hours, days, and perhaps years.  This is gaming’s version of the “Hunger Games”… drop a bunch of people into a giant warzone with nothing but the clothes on their back and fill said warzone with weapons and armor.  Matches vary from a mad scramble for equipment to the never-ending struggle to find a safe spot to survive in, and only one will claim the chicken dinner that awaits you at the end.  Frantic, unpredictable, and spontaneous are the names of the game as every match plays out entirely differently each and every time.

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I will confess this is not exactly my cup of tea, and I will tell you why.  It is all because of that stupid circle.  You know… the one that is slowly decreasing the size of the battlefield to press the combatants together and keep them from simply holing up somewhere and passively waiting out the finish of a match.  If you haven’t played the game, let me enlighten you… as the game moves on the game space shrinks and you must race to stay within the ever-constricting parameters of the gaming area or you will perish outside of it.  This means you can never simply just get comfortable in a well-fortified structure and snipe your way to victory.  You can’t simply hide until it is all over.  You are constantly moving to stay within the circle and your foes are doing the same.  And as the game reaches its climax the few remaining players are pushed ever closer to each other to insure that it is impossible for the conflict to remain unresolved for long.

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If I had my way, my life would play out a lot like the most boring match of PUBG or Fortnite EVER.  I would procure only what I needed to survive, find a comfortable little place to make my own, and peacefully ride out the match in blissful happiness as the sun sets over the trees.  I will be honest and say that I don’t actively search out conflict or even most growth opportunities because of the inherent risks and dangers associated with taking such chances. It is so safe and warm inside, why risk my meager collection of things and stuff?  Unfortunately, such thoughts are the breeding grounds for complacency in both life and our walk with God, and He has a pattern of taking people out of their comfort zones through an ever decreasing circle of His own.

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Elijah was one such man who experienced this.  Now, you might say “WHOA.. hold on.  Elijah was one of the most powerful and well-regarded prophets in the entire Old Testament”.  And if you said that, I would agree with you and also ask you to please stop saying “WHOA” in all caps.  It’s kind of weird.  But even Elijah, a man mightily used by God in so many ways, hit his point where he simply wanted to get away from the battle and call it a day.  Interestingly enough, it happened right after what might be considered one of his greatest triumphs.  Elijah has just finished calling fire, yes ACTUAL fire down from heaven and then slaughtered hundreds of false prophets who were misleading the people of Israel.  It was a pretty amazing scene that culminated in a mighty victory as the people’s hearts returned to God (at least for a moment) and the drought that had plagued the land was lifted.  Elijah was riding a pretty good high and had just updated his social media accounts with pictures of the whole thing.  Good times were being had by all… and then all hell broke loose.

Jezebel, an evil queen who hated God and Elijah, immediately put out a hit out on Elijah and set a 24 hour target for his execution:

1 Kings 19:1-4 And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword.  Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.”  And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!”

I have walked this path many times, and I have a feeling you have walked a similar one.  Fresh off of a great day, maybe an incredible success at work or a major milestone at home, and then the bad news HITS.  The circle closes in on you as a bill you hadn’t planned for is due immediately.  A friend calls and you get in a huge and unexpected fight.  Maybe a family member or even you yourself are suddenly diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.  From the dizzying heights of success to the pit of despair in 30 seconds.  And simply sitting where we are at is not an option… as much as we would like to simply sit here and cry we can feel it.  We can feel the circle constricting around us so we do just like Elijah did… we RUN.

Where are we going?  Nowhere in particular.  What do we plan to do when we get there?  I dunno… maybe throw a pity party and ask God to let us die?  If you have never been here, cool.  It must be nice.  But I sure have.  A LOT.  Hot on the heels of every happiness has been a lake of discomfort that immediately challenged me and kept me from simply building a white picket fence around my current sanctuary and instead compelled me to keep on moving.  And that extreme swing from ecstasy to agony is completely normal, completely human, and completely able to be overcome.

First, an important truth.  The truth is Elijah didn’t really want to die.  How do I know that?  Because if he wanted to die he would have stayed his happy butt right where he was and let Jezebel kill him.  He wanted to live… he wanted to move forward but the circle was freaking him out a bit.  And then he ran off alone, leaving his support group behind just as we many times do as well.  So often we isolate ourselves in our pain instead of allowing God’s love and warmth to be shared by a fellow disciple.  And once Elijah ran into the desert, alone and afraid, he found God and His provision waiting there for him… with a new mission meant to take him even further out of his current discomfort zone.

I love how tenderly the Lord reached out to his fearful servant.  He remembers that we are but dust, and he simply asked Elijah, “What are you doing here Elijah?”  And after Elijah gave God his “Woe is me” speech, God gave Elijah his marching orders for his next three actions and moved him back into the play area.  Jezebel never got close to harming Elijah despite her threats.  God still had plans for him, and the circle that was closing in around him was simply guiding him to his next destination and all of the things God had left for him to accomplish.

I still don’t like the circle.  It doesn’t ask you… it doesn’t prod you… it simply compels your forward progress without emotion or prejudice.  But without this constant pressure towards the end goal it would be easy to get distracted from the things that are of eternal significance.   And it may seem many times in life that a similar feeling surrounds you, never allowing you to reach a point of comfort.  But this is not some uncaring, emotionless force pushing you forward.  It is the hand of a loving God who knows where you need to be and how to get you there and planned this out before you were even born.  Those things that feel random in your life were carefully orchestrated before you even had fingers to feel them.

So I encourage you to keep moving, even when you just wish the world would stop spinning for a second so you can catch your breath.  Keep pressing forward when you can’t see the forest for the trees.  He has a glorious destiny that He built specifically for you.  Ignore the death threats,  the hate mail, and the trolls who want to distract you from your purpose.  The circle is not there to ruin your life… it is there to push you forward to the place you where your life truly begins.

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