Softball season is in full swing. Yes, that pun was intentional. With four daughters who love to play, I’ve sat through a combined total of 26 seasons of softball games. I’ll probably sit through 37 more seasons unless one of them plays in college. In that case, I’ll have even more.
I didn’t know much about softball when my oldest started playing ten years ago. I played one season of t-ball when I was little and that was the extent of my career. My skills weren’t impressive and didn’t show signs of improvement. My knowledge was minimal as well. Seven innings, three bases, single, double, triple, and hit the ball with the bat when the pitcher throws it.
I know a lot more now. I know the batter shouldn’t drop their shoulder when they swing. If they do, they’ll have a pop fly that’s easy for the other team to catch. I know the pitcher should release the ball at their hip and follow through with their lower arm up to their chest. Release too early, the ball will be too low. Release too late, the ball will soar over the catcher’s head. Don’t follow through with the arm, the ball will fly to the right. Unless the pitcher is left handed in which case it will fly to the left. I know the outfield players are important for backing up throws from the catcher to 2nd or 3rd base when an opponent is trying to steal a base. Here’s an important one – the catcher, not the pitcher, has the most control over the game. If they’re good, they have a picture of the whole field in their mind during every pitch and they know exactly how they’ll respond to each scenario without a moment’s hesitation. They often set the attitude and pace of the game by their actions.
I could go on but my point isn’t to write a softball technique manual. It’s this…
My skills are still lousy on the softball field. I know the batting position but I can’t hit a line drive. A pop fly hit in my direction would probably land on the ground beside me. I’d break my ankle if I tried to slide into home.
I’ve sat in my portable, folding arm chair and watched from the sidelines for all those seasons. I’m usually the one with the score book on my lap.
I’ve sat… learning and learning… but never doing a thing with it. My head is jammed full of softball knowledge but I've never put it into use to make a play of my own.
Churches are full of people doing the same thing. They’ve sat and watched the sermon and worship team for years. They’re loyal, dedicated fans of the church game who give a loud cheer when a great play happens such as a new adult small group, youth mission trip, or adventurous VBS week. They’ve never tried to be part of a great play out on the field, though.
Their experience is a lot of understanding about what it means to be a follower of Christ but no actual game time. They’ve never developed or tested their gaming skills.
On the softball field, those skills are batting, running, catching, and throwing. It involves a comprehension of the whole game and how it all comes together in one play. Following Christ is really no different. The Christian’s gaming skills are prayer, Bible study, discipleship, and living as a witness. They also need a good understanding of the whole game and how it all came together in one play on the cross.
I’ve heard a lot of teaching on prayer but it didn’t become an intimate, active conversation with a loving Savior until I started doing it. I learned how to make the play on the field of prayer when I set aside time every day to talk to Him. That’s when things became real as the power we wield through prayer humbled me.
I sat through a lot of sermons on Bible passages but never remembered much later. I remembered the plays of the game, though, when I started opening the Bible and studying for myself. The Spirit prompted my memory with a verse appropriate to a difficult situation. The hard parts of His Word started to make sense rather than appear as a contradiction as the whole picture began coming together in my mind. I realized I could help another player on the team as they struggled in a certain area just as others have been there to help me.
I’ve read a lot of lists of do’s and don’ts for a good Christian lifestyle; lists created by men to control others. Prayer and Bible study naturally create a lifestyle of good plays without a list of rules. Loving your neighbor comes a lot more easily. Trusting in God’s provision starts to make a lot more sense. We understand the importance of a faithful marriage between one man and one woman as we learn how it all aligns with God’s design. Until we’re on the field and making the plays, however, the list of rules won’t make sense.
I’m not the MVP of this game; many better players are out on the field with me. Paul was a pretty good player and yet he wrote, “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by God’s grace I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not ineffective” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10). The goal isn’t to be the star player on the team. The goal is to be a part of the team, to learn to make the plays, and bring honor and glory to the Coach.
Because then, when the game is over, we’ll be part of the huddle out on the field where He’ll tell us good job, we’ll put our hands together in the middle of the circle, and we’ll all yell His name as we rejoice in victory. We won’t still be sitting on the sidelines.