One: Nobody bats 1.000. In baseball, the very best offensive players only get it right about a third of the time; the rest of the time they are out (sometimes down and out). In this Christian life, clinging to the solid truth that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) can mean that we have a better handle on our propensity for “striking out” and will, perhaps, be better able to cultivate a temperament suited to understanding, forgiveness, mercy, and grace.
Two: Comparing batting averages is a waste of time. Baseball players don’t advance by comparing their stats to someone else’s. Baseball players advance by focusing on their own game. Besides, all comparisons do is fuel either pride or despair. The Kingdom of God functions on neither. In the Kingdom, we do best to look to our own standing before the King. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye” (Matthew 7:3).
Three: We don’t have to swing at every pitch. Batters know that lots of different pitches will come their way. They need to discern those pitches that have the best chance of connecting and going somewhere. They do that based on their experience and their coaching from those wiser than they. In church life and ministry, it seems that everyone is an expert–except that they’re not. Do I believe that God can bring ideas to and through anyone by virtue of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit? Absolutely! Is that the way it happens (and has happened) throughout two millennia of church history? Not regularly–God speaks to and through leaders and then expects those leaders to lead. So, we lean into the wisdom of those called, gifted, and equipped for ministry leadership–checking their ideas against Scripture and testing the spirits. But every idea that comes our way is not worthy of engagement. “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1).
Four: Especially never swing at a pitch in the dirt. Batters are sometimes fooled by a pitch that looks like it will be in the sweet spot but then trails away (often bouncing in the dirt near the plate). Sometimes the pitch is so “off” that the batter can tell it’s going to be in the dirt from the time it leaves the pitcher’s hand. Two things happen when you swing at a pitch in the dirt: (1) you look stupid and, (2) you end up covered in dirt. In ministry, the sheep will sometimes throw a pitch in the dirt–a snarl, a cutting remark, a baseless accusation, a tome of complaint, a general disdain. Sometimes they’ll do it accidentally; oftentimes purposefully. When we swing at those “pitches,” we end up covered in dirt and looking stupid. It is so tempting to engage the defensive machine and blast back…perhaps “charging the mound” in indignation. It is the wise person who knows when to simply let the pitch go by. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
Five: It’s at least a nine-inning game and it takes as long as it takes. Fans sometimes chafe at extra-inning games or pitchers who take their time between pitches. Sure, some of that pitching motion is strategy, an attempt to throw off batters’ timing. But much of it is simply the rhythm of the game–integral to the test of endurance that is baseball. It’s at least a nine-inning game and there are 162 of them in the regular season. A team’s prospects at the beginning of any one game or at the beginning of any one season are not always predictors of the final outcome. I once watched a 16-inning battle at Fenway Park that saw the lead switch several times before the home team finally nailed it in the bottom of the sixteenth inning. People seated next to me left in the eighth inning because they thought the game was over. Ha! In church life we must get used to the reality of endurance that is simply the rhythm of the Christian endeavor. “…the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22).
Six: Sometimes you have to sacrifice for the team. Many a superior hitter goes to the plate with instructions from the coach to try to get put out–to hit the ball somewhere they know it will likely be caught but which allows the runner(s) to advance into scoring position. Church life is full of these moments. Moments when we can choose to “swing away” and attempt to grab personal glory or when we can choose to make the “sacrifice” that offers the “team” the best prospects for Kingdom impact. “Now, to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).
Seven: Getting to play in the minors is better than being in the stands at the majors. Ask any player which they would rather do: play or watch. The answer? Invariably, they want to play. Too many in the Christian life these days are attracted to the bigger and the better–but all they want to do is watch. Playing is always better–even if it’s only in the pickup game down the street. “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full,” Jesus said (John 10:10). Nobody thinks (well, at least I don’t) that the “full life” is characterized by flattened and scarred backsides caused by sitting and watching others mixing it up on the field.
Eight: You need to be in shape to play the game. Who thinks out-of-shape players will do well? No one. Everybody knows that players who are in shape will fare better: fewer injuries, more stamina, that extra “something” that makes plays and wins games. The Christian life is joyfully rigorous and requires that we be in tip top spiritual shape: regular devotions, fervent prayers, supportive fellowship, genuine accountability. Without those things we will not be “suited up” for the game and will falter when adversity comes our way. “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13).
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