It’s ok to admit it. We have all done it at some point. Maybe it was your first time and you wanted to look cool to your friends. It could have been a moment of frustration or a lack of familiarity that led to this unenlightened choice. Perhaps it was a moment of weakness when you were alone in your home and you finally felt the freedom to try it without judgment. Or perhaps you simply didn’t know better and did it right in front of others, to their immediate horror and dismay. But it happened, and I have done it too. I have button mashed my way to victory on Tekken and many other fighting games over the years, and as much as I hate to admit it there was something intensely satisfying about dominating a more seasoned opponent who knew all of their combos by simply spamming my controller and getting exceptionally lucky.
It all started in childhood… trips to the arcade on the weekend in which I would slap my quarters on the cabinet of the local fighting game du jour and wait patiently for my chance to take down my more cerebral opponent with an unpredictable attack pattern that had more in common with attempting to kill ants on the buttons than an actual strategy. (For those of you of a newer generation, arcades were places where video games were played in public as a social experiment, and quarters were units of physical currency that powered these machines. Pictures of them can now be found in history books and if you are lucky you may spy one on the ground outside of Walmart). As I grew older I did achieve a higher level of sophistication in my playing style, but more often than not my default fighting game plan is to mash buttons first and learn the actual moves later… or never, whichever comes first.
I admit I am an ashamed member of Button Mashers Anonymous. I understand this is blasphemy to most fans of fighting games, and even those who have similarly danced in the moonlight here will publicly express disdain at my admission. But in my defense… if I can crush someone with Eddy on Tekken simply by spamming his kicks it is very hard not to give into that temptation when I know I am outmatched. Maybe that’s not a great defense, but it’s the best one I have. The only other option is to do all of the hard work learning a character, practicing with them, learning which combo ends with a juggle set-up and which has more frames of animation and… you know what, I think I will just stick with good ol’ Eddie Gordo thank you very much.
The funny thing is many times my walk with God approach is not much different from my fighting game approach. I am well aware of all of the essentials necessary to maintain my relationship with God and I have an embarrassing level of resources available to support me in following Him the right way. But if I can get a similar result simply through spontaneously mashing my way through situations, it is so tempting to just wing it. I mean after all, I’m just trying to make it to heaven. I’m not worried about the style points. But there is a fatal flaw with that thinking that I would like to delve into as we consider what button mashing looks like in the real world.
The history of Saul, the very first king of Israel, is well-known to be a tragic story on par with a Shakespearean epic. But it didn’t start that way… in 1 Samuel 9 it actually begins as a classic “diamond in the rough” tale. Saul is the very definition of tall, dark, and handsome as he enters the scene. He is actually described as the most attractive and tallest man in the land. But as a member of the lowly tribe of Benjamin, he did not have a status of significance and he is literally searching the countryside for lost livestock when we catch our first glimpse of him. His ascension from just a dude running errands to becoming royalty occurs in a whirlwind of activity that deposits him into the throne with a list of urgent issues to handle before he even has a chance to file his change of address forms. Let’s see how he does…
In 1 Samuel 13 we find King Saul two years into his reign when he enters into conflict with the Philistines, a nation that he would be at war with for the entire duration of his life. Saul actually provokes the conflict when his son attacks a garrison of troops stationed in Israeli territory, and this does not sit well with Philistia. They rally their war machine and put together 36,000 chariot and cavalry troops as well as an unnumbered multitude of front-line soldiers to march on Saul and his 3,000 man militia. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out this doesn’t bode well, and Saul’s bravado disappears quickly as all but 600 of his troops run and hide from the inevitable slaughter. As the enemy prepares to engage in battle, Saul impatiently waits for the priest of Israel to show up and present the customary sacrifices and prayers to God before engaging in battle.
Prior to moving forward with any action of significance it was an expectation that the favor of the Lord would be sought by the priest of God and a sacrifice offered as well. But Samuel, the very prophet who chose and announced Saul king in the first place, was taking his sweet time getting there and Saul got antsy.
Rather than wait for Samuel to come and seek the blessing of God on their over-matched endeavor, Saul button mashed his way through the situation by offering all of the sacrifices himself. Why is this a problem? Because the Lord had very strict protocols on who offered sacrifices and how they did so and Saul did not meet the criteria to perform these functions. Demonstrating that he failed to understand the heart of God and focusing on only the outward result, Saul finishes his impulsive act of impatience just as Samuel finally shows up. Needless to say, Samuel is pretty upset and challenges the king quite directly on why he didn’t simply follow the process God had laid out. Saul’s response reads an awful lot like one of mine, “When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, then I said, ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord.’ Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.” Let’s unpack that just a bit..
On the surface Saul’s rationale seems almost justifiable. Samuel was running late, the enemy invasion was imminent, and without the blessing of God Saul knew that there was no hope of victory. Out-numbered, over-matched, and out of time Saul grabbed the controller and frantically pressed buttons hoping he could fake his way into survival. But God is less interested in outwardly obedient actions and more concerned with the attitude of the heart, and this is where Saul is found lacking. In all points he looked like a king, sounded like a king, and took action like a king. But those fancy three-button combos didn’t impress the Lord one bit because he knew there was no substance underneath the facade. Saul’s rush to offer the sacrifices showed that he didn’t truly have faith that God was in control of the situation. He saw God’s favor as something to be compelled through an action rather than received through patient faith. He underestimated the Lord who had an innumerable number of angelic warriors at the ready and saw only that God had not met Saul’s deadline for action.
Sounds familiar to me, how about you? I know many times I have shown the outward obedience of praying and waiting for an answer, but inwardly I am churning and my mind begins plotting a course of action “just in case God needs my help”. And when, by my definition, His response seems to be running late there are so many times I have simply taken action and made a decision that I would regret in the future. Truth be told, I have become a proficient button-masher in my life choices because sometimes cleaning up my mess seems preferable to the challenge of patiently waiting on God. But by winning the battle Saul not only loses the war, but his reign as king. Samuel pronounces, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” And Saul would go on to demonstrate throughout his days that he never learned the lesson the Lord was trying to teach him, as he continued to impulsively follow his flawed instincts to button-mash instead of seeking God’s guidance and following His commands.
The Lord sent Samuel to select a new king and he found a replacement in David. He was still flawed to be sure, and he made several decisions that are impossible to reconcile. But he was described as “a man after God’s own heart”, which is to be preferred even over outwardly displayed obedience. As Christ Himself lamented that the people praised God with their lips but their hearts were far from Him, God makes it clear that it is not how things look externally but what is in our heart that he judges us by. I will admit that this is still a daily struggle for me and I am even wrestling with this as I write this sentence, but I know that if I continue to seek the Lord’s blessing on my decisions after I have made them instead of patiently waiting for Him to show up I will continue to simply jump from ditch to ditch, never moving forward. And I am aware that He is quick to forgive, but that is not exactly Plan A. After all, just because He forgives our sins that does not mean that we don’t have to deal with the ramifications of our choices.
As I mentioned, this is still a daily battle for me but I hope that this has opened your eyes to areas where you may be skipping the painful but necessary waiting/learning season and heading straight into battle on a wing and a prayer. The Lord orders our every step, and the timing on his button presses may seem like they are too late but He has the perspective to know how each match ends. The secret to a life lived under His perfect plan is to pursue HIM, and all of these other challenges and problems will work out as He intends them to. If Saul truly trusted the Lord, he would have waited on Him even if his enemies had a sword at his neck. I’m putting my controller in the hands of the Creator today, and I’m going to do my best to resist the urge to snatch it back. See you at the character select screen… I think I will skip Eddie this time.