Forge On

And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Matthew 5:30

No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.
2 Timothy 4:4

Many of you won’t have a clue what this is about. The idea of sitting in front of a screen clicking on things and building virtual worlds sounds about as exciting as watching paint dry. I’m sorry about that; if you can stick it out, there may be something for you here. This blog is mostly for my on-line compatriots, to whom I am bidding farewell.

I have enjoyed a variety of on-line games for many years. In fact, I first started on Facebook to monitor my kids but I stayed for their games. The games I find most appealing have a strong social / teamwork aspect to them. When there is a team/mob/guild/alliance and we have to work together to accomplish our purposes, I enjoy the games most.

However, there is an aspect of my personality that makes these games dangerous to me. I am obsessive. I care less about time, responsibilities, sleep, pretty much anything else, than I do about “one more, faster, better, stronger.” And that’s where I get in trouble.

The first game I really got into was Mafia Wars. It was more or less an individual effort, until they introduced a new time-based feature that required interaction from your friends. I quickly saw through the social aspects of the game design, that it was intended to keep you on-line as much as possible. I felt the draw, almost irresistible, to play continually to finish the missions and get stronger. Realizing my weakness, I abandoned Mafia Wars entirely.

During roughly the same time, I also played Mob Wars. The game was slow and uninteresting until I joined a very active mob. We had a Skype chat room (several, actually, for leadership, alliances and wars, etc.) and I left Skype up on my computer 24×7. I took a fast or two from the game to curtail my activity, but it remained my primary non-work enterprise.

(I should note that for most of my career, I’ve worked in places with no access to smart-phones and game web sites are blocked by the company firewall, so I haven’t been dragged into my obsession during the day. Good thing; I haven’t gotten fired yet).

However, as the game aged, it lost players. The social aspect of the game very much depends upon involved people. As it became more boring, I happened to click on one of the ad links and on a whim started a new game, Forge of Empires. Over the past three years, this game has become my new passion. And my downfall.

I know this game consumes my time. One Lent, I gave up the game, for 40 days, just to prove I wasn’t addicted. But as I joined an active and fulfilling guild, and I had mentors who generously helped me grow, I spent more and more time on it. I used to spend 2-4 hours on a weekend writing a weekly activity report for the guild. I tracked everyone’s progress and contributions. I had spreadsheet upon spreadsheet. This was on top of the 4+ hours I spent every night building my city and helping my guild.

There was a crisis of leadership in my guild, and all the senior people ended up leaving; the two key leaders quit the game entirely. I wasn’t willing to throw it all away, so with the help of my game best friend, we took on keeping the guild intact. It was a slow process, but we rebuilt. Not to the former glory, but we did manage to achieve the #1 guild ranking on the server. We also succeeded in bringing about the demise of the hitherto untouchable #1 guild. There was much to be proud of. For a clicky game.

However, for many months I have been wrestling with the call of God for me to use my time differently. I have good intentions. I also have bad habits. I sit at my computer, open my browser, and my evening is over. Nothing productive happens. I tried cutting back my involvement. I eliminated all my other cities and guilds in the game, and I took a major step back for many weeks. But when I finally came back, the old ways resumed.

For some people, the idea that God speaks is hard to accept. Joy Behar became infamous for calling people who hear God speak mentally ill. However, for the child of God, who has trained himself to be attentive to his voice, it should not be weird or unusual. In fact, the primary motivation for prayer, for me, at least, is not to bring my laundry list of requests to my doting grandfather in the sky, but to hear from my heavenly father. Frankly, what I have to say isn’t that interesting.

So this Sunday, it wasn’t at all odd or dare I say “mentally ill” when God spoke to me clearly during the morning worship service, and said, “It’s time to leave the game.”

The thing for me about hearing from God (and no, I don’t hear an audible voice; I live in my thought life and that is where he meets with me) is that there is no denying that it is real. This wasn’t “it probably would be a good idea for you to stop playing this game”. No, it was an unambiguous command. So as a child of God, a Christ-follower, a man who longs (or at least claims) to do God’s will, I have no choice.

I want to make this perfectly clear. I love playing this game. I have forged relationships with people around the country and around the world that I treasure. From time to time, God has even used me, in the game, to speak words of life. The game is not evil. I’m not bored. There is just more.

So for me, it’s time to take the axe to my right hand. It has to go. I have a higher calling, a greater purpose. Fun is fun, but it’s not what we were created for. It’s not what I was created for.

What’s next? I imagine I will spend some more time writing. There are lots of ideas that enter my head. I wonder if I really need to say them, if someone hasn’t already said them before, and better than me. But I also realize that I have an audience. You are reading this, where you might not be reading someone smarter than me. And I do believe that God uses what I write to speak life to those who read. But the main thing is that I need to make my actual priorities line up with my stated beliefs. My games have become an idol, and it’s time to tear them down, and give all of my worship to the one who is worthy of it.

If you don’t know God, if this whole concept of God speaking as if he is a real person is foreign to you, I’d love to introduce you to him. He has no greater desire than for you to be translated from the kingdom of darkness (where you were born) into the kingdom of light. He is so passionate about this cause that he sent his son to become human, to live among us, and to die the death that you deserve for your rebellion and hostility towards your creator. He did all of that so you could know him too, and learn to hear his voice.

If you do know God, is there something that he is calling you to lay aside? Not that it is intrinsically bad, but something that is getting in the way of you being more? God did not save you to mediocrity. Jesus died so that you could have life, and that more abundantly. Are you experiencing the abundance of life? If not, what is getting in the way?

Hearing God is one thing. Obeying him is another. I’ll miss you guys. Forge on!