There are two things that you must know about Hoos people and springtime. One, the mowing begins. We pull out the trailer and the big mowers and get ready to cut the grass. A confession: I say “we” loosely. Number two thing about springtime, the favorite sport begins. We pull out the cleats and the ball gloves and we hit the field running. Again, I say “we” loosely. Some of us pull out the lawn chairs, pack them permanently in the back of the van for the remainder of the season, and walk rather than run, with an armful of snacks and drinks to the ball field.
A couple weeks ago at our women’s event, I was sitting in the congregation listening to my sister in Christ teach a lesson on “championing others” and “getting off the bench” as the Body. Her point was clear: believers need to be using their gifts because there’s no time to be sitting and warming the bench. She quite plainly called us to get in the game because each one has something to offer and each of us has something to gain from the active uses of our gifts.
And ever since that message, I’ve been indulging myself in an analogy of her point to the sport of—you guessed it—baseball. Let me summarize it before we go any further. There’s the bleachers. There’s the bench. And there’s the at bat. Each spot has specific descriptions—detailed explanations– for those that hold it. Of course you know what the challenge is going to be—be someone who is at bat, an active participant in God’s work. That’s the challenge.
Let me first give you some proof of my own clout on the subject. As a mom of five players and an athlete myself (back in the day, people), I’ve got a pretty good handle on what someone in the bleachers does, what someone on the bench does, and what the players do. The similarities for us as Christians, as believers, in relation to the ministry and work of the Church to the people of God, is strikingly the same. And I’ve got some years behind me in that realm as well. Let me share and I’ll let the Lord do the rest of the work.
The bleachers. Let’s start with the bleachers. This is where the spectators sit. On hard, uncomfortable boards or pieces of metal, mind you. But that’s not the point. The spectators are not playing, they’re just watching. Their role is to survey the game being played. To observe from the sidelines. The action of the game affects them (they have a response to what happens during the plays), but they do not necessarily have any effect on the game itself.
The bleachers hold the crowd. The crowd cheers when there is a victory and they sympathize when there is a defeat. They, at times, get frustrated with the coach, with the team and dare we say, that frustration sometimes leads to outright anger. Either expressed or suppressed anger, depending I guess on the person’s ability to get a grip and keep closed his or her lips. In my case, unfortunately at times, it’s a lack of both. (Please, no comments from my GR peeps. A mom sometimes has a right to lose it!) And what are we doing here, talking about me anyway? Let’s quickly move on. . .
Here’s the thing. . . the spectators in the bleachers have two important characteristics that we cannot overlook. One is a lack of investment and two is a very limited commitment–in respect to the team, the game and the outcome of the game, all facets of it—the people, the process and the product. The ones in the bleachers have not given up their time, their talents and their sweat and tears for the sake of the team or the game. And because of this, their commitment to the team (and the game) can only go so far. They are openly and obviously disconnected with what goes on behind the scenes, before and after the game. They haven’t engaged in the grueling practices alongside fellow teammates. They haven’t bonded with the others in a spirit of fighting the good fight together. They haven’t been at the mercy of the coach’s demands, doing what he asks them to do obediently with a grin-and-bear-it, ever growing tenacity. The spectators, the people in the bleachers, when it’s all said and done, can give or take a win or loss because, well, they weren’t that involved in the first place.
Are you as hushed as I am over these things as they relate to the people and work of God, dear fellow Christian?
We can do nothing but move on.
The bench is the next spot to examine. This is where we find the bench warmers. The obvious difference between the bleacher-seat holders and the bench-warmers is that the former are not players and the latter are. Benchers are a part of the team. They are more than just onlookers from the sidelines. They are in the group huddle before and after the game, and whether the match was a win or a lose—they are right in the middle of the celebration for the victory or the humiliation of the defeat.
Each individual bench-warmer has made a commitment to the team. Each has endured the practices and put forth the effort required to be called “player.” They are invested. However, when it comes to game-time, for various reasons, they sit. For whatever justification the coach deems, whether it be an injury, a lack of specific talent needed to get a certain job done, or the simple realization that the warmer is not quite ready for the actual pressure or play of the game at this point in time, the bench warmer sits the bench. They don’t get in on the action.
Hmmm. [Let’s add a pause for contemplation before I make a disclaimer.]
At this point it would be good for me to mention the obvious limitations of the analogy I am making between a baseball team and Christians sitting on the bench. Let me briefly explain that I am in no way reducing the role of a bench player on a team. The reality is that bench players are no less valuable than the starters. Each member is an important part of the team and each has an important role. Bencher or starter.
The presupposition in my comparison, really, is that we understand that bench-warming believers are in fact, those people who choose to sit on the bench—to table their talents–instead of playing the game. They have the tools and do not use them. How do I know that they have the tools? Because the Word of God assures me that they do. How do I know they don’t use them? Umm, because I’m in the church regularly. But we’ll get into that as we close with some application points.
For now, let’s get back to two last descriptions of the players on the bench. First, they know the team plays. They have been at the practices and they have read the playbook. They have listened to the coach teach them about all of the rules and practices of the game. They have heard his instruction. Secondly, the players on the bench no-doubt have a deep desire to be where the action is. They are close to the game, but still in the dugout. At times you can catch them standing at the fence that separates themselves from the field, with their faces planted firmly and their fingers gripped tightly to the metal wires. They are longing to be out there. But they’re just, not.
Our last spot is the “at bat.” Here we find the players in action! Engaged in the fight for the win of the game, these players have much at stake and even more to gain. Everyone’s eyes are on them—will they strike out? Will they get walked (for whatever reason, that’s a “BB” in the scorebooks)? Will they get hit with the ball for pete’s sake and have to listen to chants that say, “wear it, wear it”? Will they succeed? Will they disappoint the team? Here’s the reality. Sometimes these players swing and miss, sometimes they swing and hit. Sometimes it’s a single, a double, a triple or even a home run. And sometimes it’s a pop fly that gets caught and they get out on what could have been a great hit. Honestly, being at bat in the batter’s box is a vulnerable place to find yourself in. But it is, in fact, where the action (and the productivity) is.
And without players “in the game” and batters up to bat, there’d be no baseball game.
So what about my analogy? What can we, as Christians, learn from these descriptions?
About the bleacher seats. If you are a believer and you are watching from the sidelines, you’re kind of in a dangerous spot. You know just enough about the status of the game, as each play plays out, but because of the distance between you and the people and the process, you only have half the view. And sometimes you are deceived into thinking that half the view is the whole view, when in fact, it is not. You may be prone to judgment calls, without all the facts. You may be tempted to holler at the coach from time to time, thinking that you know what needs to be done. You may be encouraged and delighted by the battle wins, but without a personal, prior commitment and investment to the team, those victories don’t really mean much that much to you.
Bench warmers are a bit more invested, but as we said earlier, believers occupying this spot are choosing not to fully commit. In lieu of that, let me give you a verse to chew on (bubble gum or sunflower seeds only, please).
“Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) These are Jesus’ words to the disciples, who wanted to sleep while the world was waiting to be changed by this powerful Savior. In this verse, we are told by Jesus Himself that our flesh is weak. Our. Flesh. Is. Weak. When we feel weak in our ability or our motivation to get in the game, we can counteract that present reality with an even greater truth . . . God’s Spirit in us is willing. That Spirit distributes gifts (see Romans 12: 3-8, 1 Corinthians 12 and 14) that are meant to be used to further His Kingdom and give Him glory. God Himself completes the working out of those gifts, we just have to be willing. And besides, wouldn’t it be absurd to catch a player in the dugout taking a snooze? Friends—players–there is no time for napping.
Furthermore, there’s nothing more painful than being a bench-player who longs to be out on the field, who has the equipment needed and the supernatural talent to succeed out there, but finds himself gripping the wire with fear or inhibition. Isn’t it time to just do it? Like Nike says. Get on deck, in the batter’s circle, and when the ump says, “Batter up,” you walk confidently to that box knowing that Christ has got your back. He’s the One that put you on the team in the first place. He’s the One who will coach you through the game.
If you’re a player already in the game, keep your head, your focus. Turn to the playbook daily and offer up your best at every opportunity during the game. Look to your teammates for encouragement and support when you get discouraged. Remember that there is no “I” in “team.” Enjoy the camaraderie, through the thick and the thin. Listen to your coach and when He asks you to do something, do it in complete faith. Learn invaluable lessons from those who have gone before you. Have no confidence in the flesh. Remember the trials so they can make you a stronger player. Recount the victories when you’re in the midst of a defeat. And, my dear fellow players, be fully engaged in the ballgame! Do this all “for the gospel’s sake, that (you) may share in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:3) and for nothing less!
There are a two more things that I left out when I told you about Hoos people and springtime. One is that I’m going to enjoy watching these kids grow in responsibility and in work ethic every time they get on those mowers and take off to the next yard. Their dad is teaching them well.
Two is that I’m (unashamedly) going to admit that as their mom, I’m looking forward to seeing the cute Hoos-boy ball caps with the curls coming out of the bottom. And that Hoos-girl’s catcher’s mask with the two braids coming out the back. For as far back as I can remember, these kids have always loved the game. It was the first sport we introduced to them when they were tiny tots and their passion for the game has undoubtedly rubbed off onto their friends and neighbors over the years.
So let it be with us, Church. Contagious passion for the work of the Lord. The diamond IS ready. The game HAS started. Now let’s, my friends, “Play ball!”