The Undefeated Adversary… Never Enough Time: “The Endgame” (Part 2)

We all know the sound… I can’t fully articulate in a manner that will adequately convey it, but when we hear it, we just KNOW. Let me try… it goes something like this, ” Do doooo doo do dooo doo do dooO doOO DOOO DOOO!” See, I told you that it is hard. That was my attempt at using words to describe the sound of the music speeding up as Mario’s time begins running out at the end of a level. You are welcome to try yourself… I promise it is harder than it looks. But as soon as I mentioned it, you could hear it in your head, right? That horrible sound of time running out in a game, made most famous by the timer reaching one hundred ticks and counting in the original Super Mario Brothers game on NES. In that moment everything shifts as we become fiercely aware of a countdown that shifts the entire mood of the game. The previously slow, steady, cheerful soundtrack in the background is replaced by a more urgent, sped-up version that immediately causes the hair on my arms to stand up on end. Even if there is more than enough time left to finish the level, I begin running towards the exit and skipping everything along the way that isn’t mission critical. I jump over non-essential enemies instead of engaging them, I cease my obsession with collecting every coin and hitting every “?” block, and I focus on the one thing that matters most… successfully reaching the end before my time runs out.

Over my years of playing video games, I have bested foes both large and small. I have outfoxed intellectual adversaries, out-gunned massive armies, soared over previously impassable canyons, and saved multiple universes in the process. Even the bosses with the cheapest and most unfair tactics have eventually been left in the dust as a combination of painstaking research and perseverance finally granted me the victory that eluded me in my first hundred tries. And after years of trying, failing, and eventually succeeding in these games, I have found that the most challenging adversary I have ever faced is the one that still remains undefeated. Of all the obstacles I have encountered, my least favorite opponent isn’t a character… it is the CLOCK. As a matter of fact, I tend to avoid ANY game that features a timer or any sense of a time clock because they stress me out. I like to take my time, explore every nook and cranny of a game, and move at my own pace. If I want to feel the weight and pressure of running out of time, I have my real world to do that for me, thank you very much. From the slow but sure countdown in the right hand of the screen of just about any Mario adventure to the ever-encroaching moon bearing down on us in Majora’s Mask and even the real-world clocks in games like Animal Crossing, time is rarely on our side. Time is the ultimate non-renewable resource in our video games as well as in our real-world lives… and once it is gone, we can never get it back.

I have said the phrase “Never enough time” often enough that it should be the title of my posthumous biography. I am not saying there should be one written (honestly, it would be pretty dull), but if there WAS one, that would HAVE to be the name of it. Between remaining gainfully employed in an actual job, the mundane realities of maintaining a home, the joys of spending time with family and friends, and the deadlines associated with writing and recording articles and videos to share in our spare time… there is just NEVER enough time to do it all. I have a feeling most of us feel that way on a regular basis, whether it is relationships, school, work, hobbies, health priorities, or any of the other million ways that our time is invested or absorbed… time simply marches on emotionlessly and methodically, levelling the playing field for all of us as a boss fight that cannot be avoided, negotiated with, or paused. Over the thousands of years of recorded human history, time has ravaged every empire, toppled every world leader, and it still stands undefeated as a juggernaut that will not be denied.

This past week, the very well-known and respected voice actor and thespian Lance Reddick passed away at an age that I would consider relatively young. As I processed his tragic and surprising passing, I was forced to reflect on my own mortality and the usage of the remaining time I have left on this planet. None of us know if we have hours, days, years, or decades remaining on this planet… and maybe that is for the best. If we could see the time counting down in the corner of the screen and hear the sound of the music speeding up in the background, that may cause more stress and anxiety than we already carry. But one thing we all know for sure… regardless of our age, with each passing page of the calendar we all have less time playing this game than when we started.

Now that we are aware that our time is both exceptionally limited as well as moving forward regardless of our preferences, we must carefully choose what to do with whatever amount of it remains. Fortunately, the Bible has captured some of these very open and honest “endgame” moments from those who were painfully aware that their journey was closer to the finish than the start. And by taking a closer look at what they prioritized and what mattered most as they approached the event horizon of their time on the planet, we can gain insight on how we can maximize the time we have remaining to us as well. Let’s start with the final recorded words of the Apostle Paul, who realized in 2 Timothy 4 that he had reached the final lap of his race.

2 Timothy 4:6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.

So, with his impending departure on the front of his thoughts, what did Paul have on his mind? As we look through this last letter to Timothy, we can see some very clear patterns emerge:

2 Timothy 1:3 I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day.

2 Timothy 2:1-2 You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

2 Timothy 2:22-26 Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth.

2 Timothy 4:1-5 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

The entire letter is worthy of review, but a few areas popped out to me that demonstrated what was a priority for Paul as he entered his final lap. First, the obvious… as his time ticked down, Paul sought to solidify his legacy by ensuring that he had passed on his knowledge to those who would be charged with carrying the baton after the hand-off was complete. He prayed for those he would leave behind with exceptional urgency (2 Timothy 1:3), he prepared them for the realities of what they would face and how they should prepare for their own upcoming battles (2 Timothy 2:1-26), and he impressed upon them the importance of what mattered most at the end of a well-run race (2 Timothy 4:1-8). Most notably, as Paul realized that he was writing his final chapter in life, we see that his focus was on what was eternally significant… not just for himself, but for those who would remain behind that he would no longer be able to reach, guide, or serve. Paul didn’t seem overly concerned with those things that would pass like dust in the wind, such as his hairline, his weight, his social status, the amount of money he had in the bank, the laws that Caesar was enacting, or the current real estate values. He saw only what mattered the most… and he set his eyes on using the time he had left to do only those things that would matter in the view of eternity. But let’s take a look at one more example of how we should approach our own personal sunsets… the record of a Man who knew EXACTLY when His final day would occur. And the way Jesus faced His final twenty-four hours before His crucifixion is one of the mightiest examples of what it truly means to “redeem the time”. And if we look close enough, we may find some similarities:

He washed His disciple’s feet: John 13:1-5 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God,rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. 

He prayed for His followers: Luke 22:31-32 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”

He provided reassurance: John 14:1-4 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”

He prayer for the strength to face His destiny: Luke 22:39-44 Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. When He came to the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

As they reached the end of their days, both Paul and Jesus looked towards the finish line with a greater sense of urgency… not with panic, but with purpose. Much like the way we approach a game once the clock unkindly reminds us that time is running out, the things that lacked eternal significance faded into the background as they made the most of the time that remained. Those extra coins? They won’t matter when we move into the next level. That collection of bricks over there? Sure, smashing them may uncover an interesting surprise, but all the power-up mushrooms in the world still won’t grant us more TIME. While there are certainly some “power-ups” that can make this journey easier, strategic decisions we can make that will prolong our time in the level, or “warp pipes” that will provide short-cuts past some of the obstacles that we will face, as we approach that final jump towards the “flagpole” at the end of the level, many of our previous pursuits will shrivel in importance and only the critical ones will remain.

The painful reality of our lives on this earth is that there will NEVER be enough time… so what we choose to pursue and how we invest our time MATTERS. Every hour we have been granted down here is more than just a gift to be treasured… it is an investment opportunity. We all have a perishable amount of time to play this game… so how will we decide to use it? Will we chase the coins that are littered around the level that we don’t get to keep (Matthew 6:19-20)? Will we waste our time engaging in fruitless battles with adversaries that may have been annoyances, but were not actually restricting our progress (Titus 3:9-10)? Will we spend more time worrying about the cosmetic aspects of our character that have very little impact on the actual playability of the game (1 Timothy 4:8)? Will we chase flagpoles that LOOK like the goalpost we are seeking, but are actually a distraction intended to misdirect us and waste our valuable time on less worthwhile pursuits of limited value (Matthew 6:31-33)? Or will we use our time to find and walk the best path, set the oppressed free, and burn our candle with a purpose… to guide and direct them safely to the other side?

As I consider my time left on this planet, I realize that I was wrong every time I said that “there is never enough time”. We all receive the EXACT right amount of time we need (Hebrews 9:27)… even if it is different than what others have received. The question is not if we have been given enough time, it is how did we invest the time we were given (Matthew 25:14-30)? Time will keep marching forward, that clock will keep ticking down in the right-hand corner of our screen, and the flagpole at the end of the level is not going to move closer to us. With the end of our race in mind, the actions we take today have an even greater meaning. And as Paul and Christ both demonstrated, our minds should be centered on “redeeming” the precious time we have remaining… serving others in love the way Christ chose to wash His follower’s feet, leaving a legacy of guidance and knowledge as Paul did for Timothy, and praying for those who we will hand our batons off to so they can successfully carry the torch forward in their respective races.

There will always be distractions, detours, unavoidable obstacles, and self-inflicted challenges that we will face as we press forward to make that final jump… and the path to get there as well as how our unique endgame looks will be different and personalized for each of us. Let’s be intentional with the time we have and invest it with a renewed sense of purpose… let’s serve others in love, pray for them with purpose, seek the Lord with intensity, and leave a legacy that will point others towards Him long after we are gone. And if we have less time on the clock remaining than we would prefer, remember that it is those actions we take at the end of the game that have the greatest resonance and often matter the most. Even if we wasted the first hundred ticks of the clock in a Mario level, it is how urgently and intentionally we use the final hundred we were given that makes all the difference. Jesus lived a life of incredible meaning and purpose, impacting lives everywhere He went… but His final twenty-four hours on this planet were the ones that had the most eternal impact, fulfilling His destiny on the cross and setting every captive who seeks Him free. The Apostle John was a loyal follower of Christ and one of His three most trusted friends… but His final recorded mission as his hourglass reached the zero hour was to receive and record the book of “Revelation”, the definitive volume on eschatology and the end of the age. In his final days of an incredibly powerful life of service to the Lord, Elijah was charged with setting the future in motion by anointing TWO new kings as well as his own successor, Elisha (1 Kings 19). Have you wasted some time on foolish or frivolous pursuits? Well, so have I… more than I can count. But that flagpole is still there waiting for me, and I intend to move with a greater sense of urgency and ensure I stick the landing. In the words of Mario’s speedy blue adversary… I gotta go fast (Sonic 3:16? Don’t look it up, it isn’t real). I can’t help how slow I started… but with the Lord’s help I will run until I hear that trumpet sound.

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