By Joe Castaneda
Have you every played four games of chess at once? I’m not a great chess player by any stretch, although I enjoy the game from time-to-time. Over the years, however, I have taught each of my children how to play and they love to take me on. Occasionally, like a few days back, all four of them will challenge me at the same time.
Despite my youngest being only 8, when playing against four opponents at one time, the challenge of each board is multiplied. During out last set of matches, I came away with a perfect 4-0 record, but I should have faced defeat on at least one board, and probably two. Afterward, while talking with my son AJ, I thought of some valuable life lessons learned while playing against my kids. Here they are, listed according to the order that each child fell to my less-than-clever chess strategies:
Don’t get cocky:
“Pride comes before a fall” Solomon wrote, “and a haughty spirit before destruction.” Tatiana, our oldest child, and the one who is the most competitive of the batch, often plays chess very aggressively. On about the 5th move of the game, I made a costly mistake due to the chess board we were using. (It’s from South Africa, and I confused the role of the Zebra with the role of the Water Buffalo. Makes perfect sense, now, right?) That mistake ended up costing me a Zebra (knight) and a Water Buffalo (bishop). I also lost a key position that left my king exposed.
Tati was very excited by her conquest, and while laughing at my mistake, she charged without caution into what she thought was a sure victory. The problem was, in her pride over one victory, she left her king without an escape route, and what should have been a smooth win for her, turned into a bitter defeat because she overestimated her position of control.
As a pastor for over 16 years, I saw so many people, adults and students, have significant spiritual falls after experiencing great victories. I see the same problem in my own life, too. Have you ever gone on a diet, lost a bunch of weight, and experienced the joy of health victories? Then, you convince yourself you can get off the wagon for a week-long vacation or a short season of celebration or a [insert reason here] and suddenly find yourself back at the same place you were when you started the diet originally. Statistically, you’ve probably even put on more weight than you lost!
That one minor victory gave you too much confidence, and you came to believe that the possibility of defeat was off the table. The problem is your own nature is working against you. Change is hard. Good habits don’t come easy. Because of the sin nature, your flesh is fighting against you and every time you have a victory in one area of your life the stakes get higher in the other areas. The enemy of your souls wants nothing more than for you to believe you’ve got it figured out and that victory is certain.
We definitely need to celebrate the victories in life, but we need to be careful that we don’t get so caught up in the victories that we lose sight of the upcoming challenges. Pride is a powerful tool in the hands of our enemy.
Don’t get distracted by the small stuff:
My daughter Celina, the 8-year-old, has actually learned the game pretty well. She can implement a little strategy and she can think a move or two ahead. It’s fun to watch her play.
However, when it comes to winning, she gets really hung up on the small stuff. Celian has an obsession with taking pawns. First, she starts the game with the goal to capture my king, but usually ends up losing her’s because of being distracted by the little pawns. My rook will be reeking havoc on her side of the board, and she’s gloating over the capture of a Trojan-Horse like pawn. Secondly, she is constantly comparing the number of captured opponents she has, with the number of captured opponents I have. She feels like she is winning when she has more pieces, regardless of the situation on the board.
I think a lot of the distractions you and I face come from the small stuff we encounter in life. Our daily disciplines and our movement toward key goals and dreams get derailed because of something the glitters, problems that we allow to redirect us or the proverbial “Squirrel” mentality that makes for a fun chase, but an exhausting and unproductive day.
2014 is the year for me to “run my race”, and Hebrews 12:1-2 talks about this very issue of distraction. The author writes, “Throwing off everything that hinders…” and “fix[ing] our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” In order to stay on course, I have to remove distractions and be willing to keep Jesus at the center of what I do. If I want to “win” at life, if I want to step out of the comfort of the boat and get on the water where Jesus is building His Kingdom (Matthew 14), then I have to stay on track. Goals and dreams become reality when I don’t allow the daily small stuff to get in the way of what God has put on my heart to do!
Don’t wait when it’s time to move:
My son AJ had me over a barrel after a dozen moves. He laid a trap and as I was moving quickly between boards I foolishly fell right into it. I lost my queen, my knight and a bishop and he gave up a rook and a pawn.
At least, I should have. Honestly, it was one of the best moves I’ve seen him make in all the games we’ve played together. The problem was, AJ didn’t move on it. He sat there and tried to keep me pinned down while he set up another series of moves. I actually left my queen in her situation for 4 or 5 more moves before I realized his caution was perfect for my survival. I flipped the momentum with a calculated sacrifice, saved my queen and then trapped his king with a queen/rook combo.
I wonder how often we miss opportunity because we “keep waiting for things to line up” when God has practically paved the path with giant arrows that say “Go this way now!” We keep waiting for more wisdom and information to come our way, when God has already given us all we need.
When Traci and I were considering moving from Salem, Oregon to Lake Ann, Michigan, I found myself in a situation where God had paved the path with those giant arrows. Then, after the Lord answered all my requests and satisfied all my concerns, I decided I needed more confirmation. I started a 3-day fast with my friend Danny Ray. Mid-afternoon on the first day of the fast, I realized that my fast was pointless. God had answered my prayers, had provided information and details to specific requests and used key people in my life to confirm His working. I was waiting when it was time to move.
I can’t even begin to explain the relief I felt when I finally called Ken (my new boss) and gave in to God’s clear leading. I didn’t need any more time or data or faith, I just needed to follow what He had already provided. AJ had a better strategy, he had played a smarter game and he had set up the perfect scenario for victory. Then, when he should have moved he waited for even better timing, which never came. His delay cost him the game. I’m thankful Traci and I didn’t sit back and wait any longer, we would have missed out on a great work of God in our lives, at our church and at the camp.
Don’t forget why you’re playing:
BJ is my eleven year old who plays a pretty crazy game, with little strategy and lots of impulse. Sometimes her lack of strategy makes it difficult to beat her, and tonight she was the last to fall. She got crazy obsessed with going after my queen, and sacrificed a lot to get her. The end result was she didn’t have anything left to protect her king, or enough strength to go after mine. She forgot that capturing my queen wasn’t the object of the game.
Too many of us are chasing after the wrong goals. We’ve forgotten why we’re playing, or what we’re playing for. We’re living life impulsively, chasing after secondary dreams, settling for lesser victories and content to not have what God really wants for us.
A few years ago I remember reading a story of a young girl who received a present from her dad, a gift of beautiful, but fake pearls. The young girl was thrilled and she held on to those pearls like a highly valued treasured. A year later, her dad approached her and asked for the gift back, saying he wanted her to trust him with the gift. He didn’t force her to give them back, but instead just patiently waited. Once a week, her dad asked for the fake pearls and the daughter constantly said no. Finally, after a year of asking, when the dad came into the room to tuck her in, the daughter sat on her bed with tears in her eyes, and the fake pearls in her open palm. “Here daddy” she said, “I want to give them back to you.”
With a smile her dad took the pearls, and gave his daughter a hug. Then he pulled out a little felt box and opened it up. Inside was a string of real pearls, a string he had been eager to give to his daughter in exchange for the plastic pearls that had come to mean so much. He was just waiting for her to trust him and to cling to what was really important. Trusting her dad was more important than holding on to the beautiful, but worthless pearls.
What’s holding you back on your journey today? Are you arrogant about the small victories, forgetting that more challenges are coming? Have you been distracted by the small stuff? Are you waiting for “the perfect timing” even though God has already cleared the path for you? Have you forgotten why you’re playing or what you’re playing for?
Living the Overboard Life requires a commitment to humility, a focus on the important details, a mentality toward action and an unrelenting commitment to an eternal purpose. Who knew chess could show us so much about living the Overboard Life?
Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!