Role-playing games are great because they provide a tangible gauge for progress. If I want to know how well my character is progressing I simply have to look at his level. Progression in a role-playing game is easy. Sometimes I wish spiritual growth was more like a role-playing game. Here are a few reasons why.
It Only Takes Time
I played Oblivion for over 100 hours and my character was the head of the Mages’ Guild, the Fighters’ Guild, the Thieves’ Guild and the Dark Brotherhood. I also managed to save the world from an invasion by evil demons, all in about 100 hours. I have easily invested 100 hours into my spiritual development and I’m not the head of anything. In fact, sometimes I think I’m not better off than I was a decade ago.
If spiritual growth was more like a role-playing game I would be the Grand Master Christian of the universe, glorifying God with every step and making disciples with every word. I’ve spent almost every Sunday of my life in church, which is like 1,392 hours. Add camps, youth group and conferences on top of that, and I’ve easily put over 2,000 hours into my spiritual development. But here I am, still wrestling with God and trying to satisfy my own desires while seeking after God’s heart. If I invested 2,000 hours into a role-playing game I would totally own – and be socially inept.
You Never Take a Step Back
In a role-playing game I’ve never had an amazing experience and progressed to the next level only to stumble back to where I began. When all of my characters reach level 12, they stay at level 12; they only have to worry about making it to level 13. I think gamers would throw up their pale, atrophied arms if their characters actually regressed. What kind of hero achieves so much only to regress to a more pitiful state?
Heroes may not do that but I know I do it all the time. I’ve had plenty of amazing experiences which have propelled my spiritual development. Camps, conferences and mission trips have pushed me to the next level in my spiritual growth. However, once I get back home, the inevitable seemingly happens. Instead of staying at the new level and looking to the next, I take a few steps back and regress to my former state. I can’t help but think if I was a dwarf warrior, an elf mage or a human archer, that my spiritual growth would only move in one direction, instead of the back-and-forth which seems to plague it.
Your Friends Grow With You
When I played Final Fantasy III on the Super Nintendo the different characters wouldn’t level together. If a character wasn’t in the party, then he or she wouldn’t gain any experience and wouldn’t advance to the next level. This has changed in more recent role-playing games; now characters all level together whether they are in the party or not. So if I don’t like the elf archer who just joined up, he can still gain experience even if I never use him. How awesome would that progression system be for you and your friends?
Imagine if you were having a really great year. God was really working in your life and you really felt yourself developing spiritually. Wouldn’t it be awesome if, because of your growth, all of your friends started to grow at the same pace? Even if they weren’t really investing in their spiritual development, your friends could just hitch themselves to you and your progression. Then, when you were in a spiritual funk, you could just depend on someone else for your growth and development. That would be awesome but I would worry about becoming the spiritual growth moocher; that’s way worse than a French fry moocher.
Spiritual growth will never be as easy as leveling up in a video game. That reality can be very frustrating when I look at my life and realize I’ve been at the same place for a long time. It’s at those moments when I feel like I need to do better, be better, try harder – but that only leads to more frustration and disappointment. In those moments I need to look to Jesus and rely more upon his grace. Grace not only saves us from our sin but empowers us to change. That kind of grace-induced change won’t help us save a video game world, but it will help us grow and make a difference for God’s kingdom in the real world.
What encourages you to continue pursuing spiritual growth?