When I was a kid, I played a game at camp where we had to find the other team's flag and bring it back to our side of the border line.
There were trees and a creek and lots of landscape between our home base and the other team. I thought the best strategy was to go get the flag. So, a few of us snuck up behind the home base of the other team to see if we could run in from where we were hiding in the trees and take their flag. But their flag was surrounded by guards, we were outnumbered and there was no way we do it without being caught. I felt defeated and discouraged. There was nothing we could do.
Then, one of my teammates said, "I've got another idea!" and she led us back through the creek, silently, secretly, until our feet were cold, soaked and muddy.
We snuck up on the place where our fellow teammates had been caught and we ran in undetected, tagged their hands freeing them from the 'prison'. Then because we had more people on our team now, we all ran to the other side, stole their flag, a few of us got caught but a few were able to run the flag back to our side for the win!
My teammate's idea was a game changer!
She saw another way. It was difficult, it took time, our legs were scratched and our feet cold and muddy and our shoes took days to dry out from walking through the creek. We went backwards instead of forwards and it seemed like a non-glorious way to win the game. But it worked.
When I was diagnosed with Endometriosis and told that I would have chronic pain and illness for the rest of my life, that was my moment of staring at a flag that I could not get. I wanted to be married, have three kids, continue involvement in sports and outdoor activities that I enjoyed. I wanted to do big and good and significant things for God and this world and I wanted to do it pain-free. But this diagnosis meant that my plans had to change. I could stand there and stare at the things that I wanted but it wasn't going to happen.
Do you know that kind of moment in your life?
There is something just out of reach that you really want, that your heart yearns for, good and valuable things, but you just can't have it. Something is in the way. Something is an obvious obstacle and no matter what you try you can't remove it. It is your reality, it is there, and it is what you must face and accept.
Jesus' disciples had a similar moment. in John chapter 16. Jesus had a deep conversation with his disciples. These guys had been with him, walking, eating, listening, talking and had devoted themselves to who Jesus was and what He was up to. They didn't always understand but they mostly believed and placed their faith in him. But in this strange conversation, Jesus began to talk quite plainly with them, straight talk about what was about to happen. They stared at him, I imagine, like a moment at a flag that was unattainable. They saw obstacles. They saw trouble. They realized that if Jesus was to leave them, they'd be lost. They couldn't believe that his life was about to end and that his death would actually be part of the great plan. They looked at the situation and felt hopeless, confused, scared and defeated! They thought they were going one way and now they'd have to go backwards or an entirely different direction.
But then, Jesus introduced a game changer.
He didn't say, "okay, okay, I can see this looks discouraging for you, okay, I'll make it easy."
He also didn't say, "Well, this is the way it is, figure it out, you're on your own."
What He said was this . . . "I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” John 16:33
This was the game changing moment!
This is that moment that we love watching in movies or reading in books. Someone quite unlikely to be a hero, stands up, finds courage, clenches their fists and walks toward the enemy. Fear appears in the enemy's eyes as they see this new found courage that was unexpected and doesn't match the person's size or abilities. But there is something internal, core and foundational that has transformed this person into something great!
This is what Jesus was doing with his disciples! And this is what He does with us! He says to you and I, (my paraphrase) "Yes, things are going to be difficult. You will experience pain, suffering, loneliness, loss and grief. I won't lie to you, this will happen. But have courage . . . stand up, brush yourself off and follow me in a new way! I will lead you through this, I will be with you, and I've already conquered this world and everything it has thrown at me. I know how to do this! It did not beat me! I will show you how and I will be with you!"
It has been 24 years and I still live with pain, still take medication, still go to the doctors regularly, know the lab techs by name and have to limit my daily activities in order to manage my symptoms. It has been difficult. But, I know deep joy, deep peace, purpose and life within this. God continues to be with me, present, close and consistently faithful. I am not alone. He shows me purpose and perspective even in the smallest things and as I keep my eyes fixed on Him, He gives me peace, and helps me throw off the things that hinder, those things that I think should be part of my life, but in fact, are not what God intends for me. Only He can show me that because I'm so inclined to make my own plans, solve my own problems and create my own solutions. He loves me with a deep, intimate and never-leaving love. I know it . . . because I'm still in pain, I still experience loss and . . . I have peace, unshakeable, deeply assured - just as He promised! That's how I know.
Is there a game changing moment that God wants to bring you? Is there something that you are standing in front of, wanting, waiting, scheming, trying to figure out, trying to get . . . but it seems impossible? Could it be that God has another way for you, another plan, another idea. It may involve pain and difficulty, but He sees you as someone who can stand up, brush yourself off and say, "Okay, show me a new way!"
Be courageous my friend . . . God is with you!