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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “The Washouts”

When kids are young, most adults in the Western world like telling them that they can grow up to be whatever they want to be–if only they try hard and devote themselves to that goal. At some point in life, however, we get a dose of reality such as was in a brutal scene in this episode. Scootaloo pointed out, rather angrily and bitterly, that she can never fully look up to Rainbow Dash as a role model because, due to her disability, she has no chance of ever becoming a Wonderbolt or even a flier like her.

The same is true for everyone in one sense or another. While in many cases it’s a matter of determination and will, the fact is there are some things we will never be able to do. Even if we like to sing, not many of us are ever likely to become pop stars. Even if we’re good at sports, odds are most of us aren’t good enough to get college scholarships let alone into professional careers. A lot of fanfic and amateur writers out there, myself included, will likely never be published other than for free on websites. And if a disability is involved such as blindness, deafness, or paralysis, that adds a whole other dimension.

Maybe it’s lack of sufficient talent, physical shortcoming, circumstances, or the advancement of age, but at some point in all of our lives we will realize that one (or more) of the doors that we thought was open to opportunity is closed.

And, at times like that, many of us may respond in one way or another as Scootaloo did with the Washouts.

It wasn’t simply the cool-looking stunts and death-defying feats that attracted Scootaloo to the group. What really sold her was that you didn’t have to be a great flier to be one of them. They represented something that her talents could do that would let her shine; giving her a way to live her dream of being a “cool” stuntpony. Because of that, Scootaloo overlooked everything else involved–such as the very real chance she could get seriously hurt and that Lightning Dust really didn’t have her best interests in mind.

Thinking of this brings to mind the end part of the Gospel of John in the New Testament, in particular with Peter and the disciples who, after the death of Lord Jesus, “went fishing” (John 21:1-3). For Peter, a former fisherman, the last few days had not been kind. After following Jesus for three years as one of his inner circle, not only of Apostles but the “circle within the circle” of himself, James, and John, he saw the man he had come to accept as the Messiah and that he had hoped would lead to a new age for Israel sentenced and put to death by both the religious and political authorities. This was a horrible shock for all of Jesus’ disciples, but him especially as he had a disastrous moment when he found himself put to the test at Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin. Only a few hours earlier he had vowed that he would follow Jesus anywhere, including to the death. Instead, exactly as Jesus had told him he would, he vehemently denied Him publicly three times. The event left Peter so crushed he wasn’t even there for the crucifixion itself. By the time Jesus was buried, Peter was probably feeling about two inches tall and that he had failed in every possible way.

So, as it turned out, Peter went back to what his old “talent” was and went fishing. Maybe because he was comfortable with it. Maybe it was because it was something he knew. Maybe because he couldn’t think of anything else to do with his life now. Or maybe because he wanted to do something he knew he was good at after seemingly failing at being a disciple of Jesus.

I mentioned in earlier devotionals that I had gone through a number of failures trying to become more active for God and find a ministry I could join. For example, trying to help out at food kitchens didn’t work out that well for me because my social skills were terrible. That wasn’t a decision I arrived at after one failure, though. I went back multiple times and tried to develop it, but it never got any better. This had only been one of several incidents in my life that gradually made it clear to me that certain things were just not going to work out for me or, at my current stage in my life, I was not ready to perform them.

When it came to wanting to be active for God, however, I was at risk (and still am in similar situations today) of making the same mistake that Peter or Scootaloo did. I became so obsessed with my failure, my closed door, or my missed opportunity I couldn’t get back that I ended up backsliding too far. In that situation and others, the risk is always the same…that I would lapse back into something that was comfortable and familiar, but also something that was either subpar to what I was pursuing for God, going nowhere toward his Kingdom at all, or, worse yet, carried a lot of rather un-Christ-like or self-destructive/defeating things along with it.

The problem is I still prefer to pursue those paths and interests in those situations because they make me feel better about myself. They are things I can succeed at and, more importantly, I know I can succeed that. And as a result, I continue to pursue those interests and life choices and gratify them, gradually becoming less Christ-like in my behavior, while what I wanted to do to become more passionate for God gets replaced by a false goal and lets the original one fade out or die.

This was evidently a danger to Christians even in the earliest times, as shown by the following passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:17-19) And, again, in his first letter to Timothy. “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:9-11).

In a more all-encompassing sense, there was Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13) in which He used a metaphor of seed on various types of ground to point out the types of people who hear the Word of God. Among the groups of seed that failed to bear fruit (a metaphor for those who heard the Word of God yet failed to be improved by it) was the seed that fell among thorns and was choked as it tried to grow. This represented people who were unable to be productive for God because of, in the words of Lord Jesus Himself, “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth”(Matthew 13:22).

This was a danger not only in the New Testament but remains a danger to Christians today, especially in the Western world where, ironically, we usually have far greater means available to us. While the passages above mostly focus on the pursuit of wealth, it can apply to anything that catches our attention and captures our devotion.

For example… Have you ever experienced a moment where you saw a Christian group, or any group, advertising something for a street cleanup or short term mission trip or ministry that involved some hours of a week, and you began to realize you couldn’t do it either due to lack of time or talent in that area? My guess is most of us who went through that, myself included, didn’t look for an alternative or try to find an alternate way to volunteer or assist the same endeavor, but (at least in the Western world) decided to do something that would make money to donate instead. Or maybe, at a juncture where we were looking at pursuing a life or, at least, long term choice that could make an impact for the Kingdom of God, we decided to take a job that we believed would benefit a lot of people instead. Or we tried to focus on getting ourselves secure in our life standing so that, in a few years from then or even later in life, we would have all the time we needed to volunteer.

While money does come in handy for many of these ministries, it’s people who eventually make them happen and people who form the personal connections involved. Furthermore, there are lots of ways to make money in the world–both good and bad. By making money the end goal of our endeavors, even if we plan to use the money to provide for other people, as Paul cautioned it’s very easy from that point to become devoted to and even obsessed with the idea of having financial security; forgetting the role of God in truly providing for us and that he gave us what we have in the name of being good stewards. Not to mention, so long as the ends provide money, a lot of things could satisfy that criteria and leave a lot of “wiggle room” for ourselves and our own pursuits.

Likewise, there are many jobs that benefit, or can benefit, people. Going back to Peter, people do need to eat, and there’s nothing stopping a fisherman from giving a portion of his catch away to whoever wants it after he’s taken care of his own needs. But was that what Peter could really do to help people? Or what he was called to do? Or would it have just been a substitute for something greater that was still open to him?

As for personal security, I know from experience that there is never a “stopping point” when it comes to material gain or savings. One will always think: “just a little bit more…just that one thing…if I can just pay that one item out…”. And one will never truly be able to feel happy over getting what they want because, so long as there is discontentment in life that doesn’t stem from material goods that we nevertheless attempt to satisfy with material goods, there will always be something else we want. Attempting to reason otherwise is a recipe for misery. (Case in point, I have one relative who I have grown increasingly worried will be a slave to his job until his dying day; because he eventually grew so scared of poverty and ruin not only for himself but his children and grandchildren that now he’ll work forever to ensure all of them are paid for, and keeps pushing off his retirement in spite of his declining health…)

The problem in all of these situations is the same problem that Peter faced: losing sight of the goal, which is Christ. The examples I listed above are all ways of “dealing” with that by shifting the focus to the way to get to that goal. It’s analogous to looking down and watching the path you’re walking on to see if it looks good without seeing if you’re even headed for your destination or off a cliff. In these cases, people wish to pave their own road to God rather than focusing on God first and letting him direct their paths. This is neither a situation where God is “your copilot” or “in the driver’s seat”…it’s a situation where we’re driving ourselves to some town and then texting God to see if he’s ok with us being there after we already rented ourselves a hotel room.

My suggestion for this week is for all of us to perhaps take some time out and sit down to think about our lives and where we’re putting our time, talent, and energy. Perhaps we need to stop and evaluate what we’re currently devoting the most time to and if, in fact, we need to consider whether or not we’ve gotten off track or enamored by the wrong thing.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, I thank you for the blessings you’ve given me in terms of my talents and means available to me, and I give thanks to you even more in light of whatever I find myself seemingly lacking in. I choose today to commit and trust these things to you along with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, and with all my strength. As I do, please guard me from concerns, worries, feelings of self-doubt, and anxieties that would choke me from giving you everything that is your due. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”