The time has finally come to say goodbye to the world’s most well-known Pokémon trainer… Ash Ketchum. After 25 years of leading the Pokémon anime series as the leading protagonist and face of the franchise, Ash has finally achieved his dream of becoming “the very best, like no one ever was”. With his (and Pikachu’s) victory in the Pokémon World Coronation Series Masters Tournament, Ash has proven that he is, in fact, the world’s greatest Pokémon trainer… which means his story has finally come to an end. The transition to new characters for this long-running show will most likely be a bittersweet feeling for many fans of the series, even if you haven’t watched an episode in about twenty years… the adventures of Ash and Pikachu have entertained gaming and anime fans across multiple generations, and their final curtain call is sure to make even some of us “mature” gamers seek out a tissue to wipe away some tears and claim we are suddenly struggling with “allergies”. For years these characters have been building to this moment, taking us from Ash’s humble beginnings in Pallet Town through a journey that has played out in countless gym battles and tournaments across multiple regions. It was a long, slow climb to the top of the mountain for this iconic pair… and as Ash and his Pikachu are finally going to ride off into a well-deserved sunset, it is only fair that we reflect on the path he took to get there.
One of the reasons Ash’s stories resonated with a global audience over the years is that NOTHING came easy for him… this poor kid might have been the central character of the story, but he certainly lost almost as many battles as he won. He didn’t simply receive his Pikachu and suddenly become a conquering hero… he had to grind through constant opposition, starting with low-level Pokémon and their insufferable trainers who frequently upstaged him and forced him to grow and learn in order to advance. Ash was a protagonist who EARNED his way into the top spot by slogging through match after match in the shadows… many times losing over and over again until he learned the lessons that would help him move forward. Sure, at times it was painful to watch, and he was often his own worst enemy. But it was through his fortitude to keep pressing through these repetitive, monotonous, and sometimes boring battles that helped him achieve the goal he had set for himself many years earlier. And because he had remained faithful and fought through those smaller, private challenges far from the limelight of a cheering audience, he finally had his moment on the grand stage… a moment he was finally ready for.
In our video games as well as our real lives, a very similar pattern exists… the “hero’s journey” may seem to promise excitement and adventure, but shortly after receiving our mission we are immediately asked to go clean out a basement filled with rats or deliver a random letter to someone in another city. For hours we GRIND through less exciting quests that don’t seem to have a lot to do with the main story arc… finding someone’s lost horse may be a kind thing to do, but I am not sure it is going to stop the imminent nuclear meltdown that I was sent to prevent. But in many of these instances, the game will NOT allow us to move forward until we have spent some time performing these mundane and seemingly disconnected tasks. But while these small battles may not seem to have a purpose connected to our calling to save the world, they have a deeper purpose that is essential to the success of our journey.
These small battles take many different shapes and forms in our real world, from cranky automobiles to challenging co-workers, from personal health struggles to persistent relationship issues. And when we feel compelled to move forward in our lives and take on bigger challenges and higher-level missions, we can often resent these annoyances and complications that we are being forced to “grind” through… and in many ways we may feel they are the things that are preventing us from achieving our destiny. Many times, I know I have been guilty of looking at these unpreventable situations and constant “thorns in my side” as areas that are restricting me from becoming the best version of myself and achieving the goals I have set. I tell myself that if I only had more money, less back pain, more time, less distractions, better tools, etc… but the reality is that these “small things” that I am currently battling with are pushing me closer to my destiny than I realize. They are simply the local “gym battles” I must successfully endure if I want to be trusted with the “stadium battles” that await me.
In Matthew 25 Jesus shared a parable about the importance of being faithful in “the small things”, comparing the kingdom of heaven to a group of servants who were entrusted with some money to invest on their master’s behalf…
Matthew 25:14-23 For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
While I have personally read this passage many times, the phrase “after a LONG time” stood out to me more this time than it ever has before. The “grinding” seasons we experience always feel like the longest ones we endure, both in our video games and in our real world. The amount of time we spend “saving the princess” in Mario is incredibly minimal compared to the exponentially longer amount of time it took us to run, jump, and squash hundreds of goombas and koopas to finally get there. But when these two faithful servants reached the end of that VERY long wait, they were rewarded due for their faithfulness in “a few things” with being made rulers over MANY things. And THIS is the principle that we see in action for both Ash Ketchum’s lengthy journey to Pokémon champion as well as the real-world obstacles we are facing. These “little things” we are facing aren’t preventing us from reaching our goals… they are our TRAINING GROUND. They are the places where we fight these smaller battles, proving ourselves faithful in the smallest of things so that we are prepared to bear the burden of higher-level challenges. In our games, it is the seemingly tedious monotony of these “grinding” battles that we develop the muscle memory and the fine motor “twitch” skills that we will need for the more challenging adversaries that await us. And while it may seem pointless at the time, it is through the patient farming of assets at the beginning of our games that we build up our supplies so that we can afford the game’s richest treasures and most powerful items when we finally uncover them.
Throughout the Bible, those with the mightiest callings had to start with proving their faithfulness in small, local battles before they could bear the weight of the larger destiny they carried. Joseph was challenged with acting as the steward of a home and a prison (from the inside) before he was placed in a position as second in charge of the kingdom of Egypt (Genesis 39-41). Long before David took on the giant Goliath to save his nation in front of the entire army, he engaged in some private no-holds-barred matches with bears and lions that were threatening his sheep (1 Samuel 17). The Apostle Paul spent three long years out of the spotlight, learning and teaching at a smaller scale, before he emerged to begin his worldwide ministry (Galatians 1:15-18). Even Christ Himself chose to traverse the tiny region of Galilee before He took His show on the road to Jerusalem to face His grandest stages and largest crowds (Luke 4:14-15). But whether the Lord is preparing us, our prospective audience, or both, one thing is consistently true… it is only through these day-in, day-out, grinding battles in these small and private places that our “sword and shield” capabilities are perfected.
Ash spent over two decades chasing his dreams of becoming a world champion, and now that he has accomplished that his time on the show is reaching its’ end. He was FAR from perfect… he was often brash, arrogant, precocious, and downright annoying. But as he pressed through these smaller battles and endured the rigorous journey without taking any shortcuts to the top, he slowly matured into the world champion he was destined to become. And as the story of Ash and Pikachu reaches its’ endgame, we can take a look back over their decades of fighting, trying, failing, and finally flying high and realize that they didn’t get there by accident. It was often messy and sometimes difficult to watch, but this small-town boy from Pallet Town finally made it. Through years of training up lower-level Pokémon such as his faithful Pidgey, thwarting the constant escapades of Team Rocket, and learning to not only be a great trainer but a RESPONSIBLE one, he finally became the champion he was destined to be. And in our local, persistent, daily battles with the challenges we face in our lives, the same is true. It is through proving ourselves faithful in these “small things” that our larger destiny will be revealed… one long, grinding gym battle at a time.
Let’s look at these “small things” we are all currently facing in some corner of our lives with a new sense of purpose today… the Lord didn’t place these obstacles in our paths, but He WILL use them to refine us so we can successfully carry the larger destiny that He DID design for us. They are not preventing us from becoming who we are meant to become… they are DEVELOPING us into exactly who we were created to be. And if we will allow these battles to be used by the Lord to shape us, we can see value in “the grind” even if it is still difficult to appreciate it right now. It might take a few months, a few years, or in Ash’s case 25 LONG years… but by faithfully enduring these events, we will find the path to our destiny was IN these battles all along. As Ash showed us through his journey from novice to champion, it is in the culmination of pressing through each losing battle, grinding through each daily challenge, and being patient in the process that we prove ourselves faithful in the “small things”… and realize that perhaps they weren’t so small and pointless after all. They were the part that made this final victory possible and meaningful. Thank you for the memories Ash… now if you don’t mind, I have a little dust in my eye I need to wipe. I’m not crying… YOU’RE crying. 🙂
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