I’ve heard it said that when life gives you lemons, it’s probably because there’s a terrifying boss in the next room with 1million HP and its only weakness is lemons.
Bosses in video games are designed to mark the end of a level or section of the game with an extra challenge. This challenge is there to test what you have learnt in the game up to that point. Maybe you picked up a new weapon or ability in this level, and mastery of that is required to defeat the boss. Maybe all you need is lemonade.
My recent experience of video game bosses has been one of trial and error (with probably a greater emphasis on the error). The first attempt is usually a “suck it and see” kind of approach. I’ll go in expecting to lose but that’s okay because I might also learn something about the boss; its attack pattern, its weaknesses, anything else I can glean which will help me form a strategy to beat it.
What follows is often multiple more attempts with varying degrees of success. I might nearly beat the boss one time, then the next time I might die in a few seconds! Many times I’ve had to leave the game and come back to it later, and some times I’ve nearly quit altogether. Eventually, through many attempts and much patience, I win and move forward in the game.
Experiences like this in games teach us about a valuable quality which is often neglected in our instant-access world: perseverance.
The Bible has a lot to say about perseverance. The Old Testament is littered with stories of people who had to persevere: Abraham who waited decades for the son he was promised; Jacob who worked for seven years to earn the right to marry the woman of his dreams, only to be tricked into marrying her sister instead (and then worked another seven years to marry the woman he’d wanted from the start); Ruth who stuck by her mother-in-law through multiple bereavements, leaving behind her home nation to start a new life with her; David who was told he would be king but had to endure years of serving under King Saul who repeatedly tried to kill him out of jealousy; the many prophets who persisted in passing on the messages God gave them despite being rejected and persecuted for it; I could go on.
In the New Testament we see characters like Jesus himself, who “for the joy set before him endured the cross” or Paul, who never gave up his task of spreading the good news of Jesus despite being tortured many times. Paul writes this about perseverance:
“I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14, NIV)
The thing Paul says he is pressing on towards is perfection. That’s a high standard! It’s not something that can be achieved in this life, and yet we are encouraged to press on towards it all the same.
You may wonder why that is. Why is it that the Bible encourages us to press on towards a goal that is not possible to achieve in this life? The answer is simple to say, if not simple for everyone to accept: because this life is not all that there is.
I used to look at people who played hard games and wonder why they kept going, kept trying. Why not just find something easier? How can there be any enjoyment in losing over and over and over again? Then I tried one of these games. I came to my first boss and I lost. Badly. What happened then surprised me. I expected to feel annoyed, disappointed, frustrated, and to put down the controller or switch to an easier game.
Instead, what I felt was a very powerful sense of determination. I was determined to beat this boss, so I tried again. And again. And again. Then I went to sleep, but I tried again the next day, and when I eventually won I experienced an incredible sense of accomplishment the like of which I’d never felt before while playing a game. At that moment I got it.
Paul writes about ‘winning the prize.’ There’s an end result of our perseverance. There’s something greater to come from our ‘pressing on.’ There’s a reward to come, which is there for us to receive.
Life can feel like a really hard video game sometimes. It’s permanently set to ‘ultra hard’ mode and there’s no one set tutorial or strategy for success. Being a Christian doesn’t necessarily change that, but what I’ve found is that there is a greater purpose to this life when you’re following Jesus. It’s not simply about getting into heaven when you die, although that’s part of it; it’s discovering the reason why you were made. It’s learning what it is to live life ‘to the full’ – something many of us are searching for beyond anything else.
We persevere in this life, sometimes being rewarded for that but ultimately knowing that our greater reward is still to come.
Further down in that same passage, Paul writes this:
“We are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Saviour. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord.” (Philippians 3:20-4:1)
How important is perseverance to you? What keeps you going? Let me know in the comments.