I hope you have had the simple joy of playing what I consider the most influential hack-and-slash dungeon crawler of my early youth – GAUNTLET. This was truly a game ahead of its time. You had your choice of four characters (I always chose the warrior, because, well… I thought he looked cool), and with up to three friends you would explore rooms filled with treasures and monsters in search of the way out. As this was one of the first true co-op experiences of my life, I truly did my best to play nicely with my companions. Sharing items such as treasures and healing items as well as working together to solve the puzzles that blocked your progress was the key to not only success, but survival. But unfortunately, I was an immature young man. A mischievous young man. A bone-headed young man with a truly “special” sense of humor. A young man that simply could not resist the siren call to do what may be the stupidest thing you can do in this game. I intentionally shot the food.
|…it was an urge that could not be denied. I had to shoot the food.|
Why? Because I thought it was hilarious every time the voice of the game announcer would say in his accusing, staccato tone, “Warrior… has shot… the FOOD!” And despite the fact that I or my fellow players may desperately need the health that picking up the food would provide, it was an urge that could not be denied. I had to shoot the food. I MUST shoot the food. The compulsion could not be ignored. I had the ability to shoot the food, and the food was there waiting to be shot. It was sitting there so helplessly, ready to freely give life-enriching nutrients to anyone that would pick it up and consume it. And I was bent on smashing it, so I could hear the collective groans of my teammates, and the sweet satisfaction that the game was upset with me. Warrior has shot the food. I still can’t help but laugh just thinking about it. It was pointlessly self-destructive, as well as a socially limiting move on my part, but it was still soooo very satisfying.
Setting all the humor aside for a moment, I find a very difficult paradox in my life that I have a feeling we have all shared at some point or another. As people, we exist because of our bodies own desire for self-preservation. If you are reading this right now, then your body is currently doing everything in its power to keep you alive. Your lungs are drawing in oxygen through your every breath, while your heart is pushing the oxygen enriched blood through your body in a concentrated effort designed to keep each portion of your body alive and functioning. Your brain unconsciously protects you in everything you do – if you fall you will automatically place your hands in from of you to cushion the impact. If you grab something hot your hands will release it instantly without giving you an opportunity to take further damage. Our bodies are engineered to prevent our own demise.
|The person we see every day when we gaze into the mirror – that is who we must face down, this is the one who shoots our food.|
Unfortunately, one layer deeper I find a battle against my own best interests. Beyond the sub-conscious, there is a war that exists in my soul. A battle between what I truly know is right and good, and what a darker part of me would prefer to do. Let’s be completely honest for a moment. We give the devil credit for a lot of things that he has nothing to do with. The Bible tells us plainly that we are tempted to sin when we are drawn away by our own desires. While we do have supernatural enemies on this earth, they are not the biggest problems that we face. The person we see every day when we gaze into the mirror – that is who we must face down, this is the one who shoots our food. We are our own worst enemy. And I am in a daily battle with my doppelganger, the guy inside me who seems to want nothing more than to destroy all the parts of me that desire to serve my Creator with every choice I make.
The good news is that we are not alone – as a matter of fact, there is someone who has been exactly where we are, and he has some very encouraging words to say on the subject. The apostle Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, has been there. In the book of Romans chapter 7, Paul begins a discourse on the frustrations of trying to live for God when everything inside of him is fighting those efforts. I would encourage you to read the full chapter to truly feel the passion of his struggle with this, but in the interest of brevity I will summarize it here. Paul tells us that he finds himself doing the things that he hates in spite of his earnest desire to do what is right, and that there is nothing good that dwells inside of him. He carries an urging within to follow the ways of God, but he is victim to an internal war that is pulling him towards the desire to sin.
|“O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”|
His final cry is too perfect for me to do anything other than quote in its entirety – “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” So very powerful. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I have had very similar words fall from my lips as I realize once again that I have failed, and in that moment I feel as if I am the most wretched person that has ever lived. Despite all of my desires to do what is right I am here once again, staring at my sin and realizing I have let myself down, I have let others down, and I let the God who has done so much for me down as well. And in that moment I look inside and see a twisted, sneering face that looks a lot like my own, the party responsible for my most recent unacceptable behavior. And that’s when I truly feel the cry of Paul, as I realize I do not have some external source of torment that has tricked me. There was no snake asking me if I would like to try some fruit in a garden. Nope, the truth of the matter is I did it. Because my inner man, my “flesh”, wanted to. I shot the food.
If the cry of Paul ended there, then we would truly have no hope. Caught between our soul’s desire to live a life pleasing to our God, and our flesh’s selfish desire to gratify itself until our number is called, we stand at a crossroads in need of a bridge. Romans chapter 7:25 and chapter 8:1 answer the question Paul has raised – “Who will save me from the body of this death?” Jesus Christ is the One who has delivered us. And it is only through Him that we can gain the victory over the sinful desires that plague us each day. It is not your fault that you cannot do it on your own. Nobody other than Jesus could. So armed with this knowledge, Paul completes the thought. We are free from the condemnation that comes from the sins of our flesh, if we choose to follow the path laid out for us by the Spirit of God. Paul goes on to say that those who pursue the sinful and carnal desires in life will ultimately follow those things all the way to spiritual death, but those who crave the spiritual will find life as well as true peace. Only by denying the inner compulsions of our flawed minds and deceitful hearts and choosing to listen to and follow God’s leading will we find the ability to stand tall in a battle that we will face daily for as long as we live.
|It is a conscious walk, a constant and never-ending war|
So now armed with this fresh knowledge, I am setting out to defeat that side of me that intentionally sabotages me, that shoots my food and laughs about it, and would like nothing more than for me to give myself over to the various vices and pleasures that this fallen world has to offer. It is not a one step process, or a simple matter of saying a few prayers and reading a few more chapters of the Bible each day. I wish I could give you a solution as simple as that. No, it is a conscious walk, a constant and never-ending war, a battle for the thoughts of my own mind that will never truly end. So take courage in knowing that if you fight to do the right things every day, you are not alone. All of us do, and anyone that tells you otherwise is either in denial or hiding something. But we don’t have to face the same battles every day – Jesus is our Deliverer, and He can overcome any temptation, He can break whatever bondage you struggle with, and He is the only One who can and will help you defeat the enemy that dwells within your bones.
Take heart in knowing that while the war will never be over, you can win the battle you are facing today. It is both easy and difficult at the same time – you must make the conscious choice to deny the desires of your inner self, while calling on Jesus to deliver you in the way that only He can. He will never let you down. He has never lost. And He isn’t going to start losing today.