A few months ago, my wife and I were sitting in our church's service, and the pastor was giving a message where he was looking at two types of fire: the "fire of failure" and the "fire of forgiveness". He was following Peter during Jesus' arrest, and after His resurrection. In talking about the fire of failure, he was looking at the passage Luke 22:52-62, and was talking about Peter following Jesus at a distance, getting to the fire, and failing by denying Jesus. But that's only tangential to what this post is talking about. While the pastor was talking about Peter following Jesus at a distance, my wife in all her brilliance and humor leaned over to me and said, "Peter is failing at the escort mission by falling too far behind." In order to not burst out laughing in the midst of the solemn Good Friday service, I just smiled and nodded. But I have not stopped thinking about what she said since then. And, won't you know it, while they may be absolutely terrible to play in video games, escort missions are a great example of how to live the Christian life. So, let's look at them.
What's An Escort Mission?
For those of you who have the blessing of never experiencing an escort mission, let me enlighten you on the horror. Better yet, check out this Outside Xbox video and laugh hysterically. I'll wait...Back now? Welcome to the horror. For those of you who didn't watch the video (I don't know why you don't like fun), let me sum up quickly: video games like to let you have fun. They let you have power fantasies, let you explore wonderful worlds, let you do silly and wacky things, let you experience stories, or just let you do something you wouldn't easily do otherwise. Video games are fun. But escort missions say, "you know what would totally be fun? Here's a character that you have to stay super close to, and (s)he is going to move super slow, and if you get too far away, GAME OVER. Fun right?" No game, not fun.
So...Why Is This A Good Illustration?
If I hate these things so much, why am I saying this as a good illustration about the Christian life? Am I saying life in Christ is terrible and not fun? Not at all. What I am saying is that escort missions, while not fun, can reveal to us two pitfalls that Christians can fall into: falling behind, and running ahead.
Like Peter in the Luke passage above, many of us who name Jesus as their Lord have times when we are following Jesus from a distance. We won't necessarily deny him (at least not yet), but we aren't really focused on him either. There is a lot of stuff between us and Him. In many escort missions, you can be behind the person for a certain radius. The problem with this is if you aren't careful, if you fall a little further behind, all of the sudden you've failed. You hit a bump in the road, or you get distracted for a second, and all of the sudden, it's mission over.
So many things in life strive for our attention. So many things can get between us and our goal. And so many things can distract us from our true job: staying close to Christ. Rather than staying close, staying connected, or as John puts it, abiding in Christ, we fall behind and get burned by the fire of failure.
Alright, confession time. When it comes to escort missions, I don't usually fail because I fall behind, I fail because I run ahead. I see the path that we are supposed to take and I keep pushing forward, running toward the goal. I'm going to run ahead and, because I am the big strong hero (or at least the awesome protagonist), I am going to clear the path for whatever lesser character needs me to protect him/her.
I'm sure that because you are all widely brilliant and extremely attractive readers, you can see the problem here quite clearly. I can run so far ahead that the person following me can't even see me anymore. I can run ahead, and an unseen enemy attacks, or an unseen trap or obstacle arises, and now I am cut off from my mission. I run ahead down the path that I think we should take, only to find out that the right path was a different one altogether. I lose. I failed. I was so caught up in my own goals, in my own awesomeness, in my own direction, that I lost sight of the mission. I lost sight of the fact that I was an escort, not a leader. My job was to stay by the side, to follow along the path, and to work with the person that I am escorting so that we both reach the destination together.
You know, one of the things that makes life hard is that we are often dictating how life should be and how the world should work. We create visions and systems and then, when we fail the mission, we think the problem is with the mission. There are rules to the universe. They don't always conform to what we want. But, when we play the game the way it is meant to be played, there is a lot less failure. Don't get me wrong! Life, like escort missions, can be tedious, boring, difficult, hard, painful, challenging, confusing, and sometimes just feel utterly pointless. But, it is a vital part of this vast, wonderful, glorious game that we have been loaded in. And the only way to win is to embrace John 15: stay close and abide in Jesus the Christ. Be like Isabelle with Snake: stay close, and be blown away by awesomeness!