It's easy to think your performance is what glorifies God. As an athlete, you are tempted to hang your hat on how you play. So, how do you respond when your performance isn't enough?
On Friday, I took a regional jet to Manhattan, Kansas, to see my brother pitch against the Kansas State Wildcats. After landing an hour or so before the first pitch, my dad and I sped in our rental car to the field. What unfolded over the next thirty minutes left everyone stunned.
After issuing two walks, four hits, and four runs, Mitchell's head coach pulled him from the game. Though he faced one of the weaker hitting teams in our conference statistically, Mitchell failed to escape the first inning of work. It's as if he toed the line for a foot race, heard the gunshot, and fell flat on top of the starting line.
Entering the game with the nation's sixth-ranked earned run average, nobody expected an outing quite like this. By the end of the night, we were down ten runs, and had our hits doubled by theirs (9 to 18). Nothing seemed to go our way.
How we respond to failure reveals who and what we are made of on the inside.
Once Mitchell was pulled from play, he faced the toughest battle of the night. It's not easy to stand on the rails of your dugout knowing you could/should have done more. Yet, that's not the game God calls us to play. Why dwell in the past, even if it's immediate, when God gives us the present?
On Friday night, I saw God glorified behind the scenes, where few ventured to look. I learned more about the interaction between our faith and our works that night because of Mitchell's response to failure. Though I could not quote the entire conversation, I want to share a few extracts of the statements he made over dinner following Friday night's game:
"I could have pouted. I could have been upset. But that's not why I play. It's easy to think your performance is what glorifies God. It's tempting to look at the stats. But that's not why I play.
Times like these give me a chance to emphasize my why. This summer (referring to his summer spent in the Northwoods league), my why was wrong, and I got crushed. If I need to be humbled more, that's fine. Humble me more. But I don't play for stats.
God is glorified in our presence, not our performance. He equips us to go where He's called us to go, and finds joy when we are satisfied in Him.
If God is glorified in our failures, then I'm thankful for that. Praise God. I'm thankful and humbled, good days and bad.
The more I play, the more I realize how much of the heavy lifting God does. He takes care of us. He moves the mountains.
He's continuing to sculpt away at my heart. Although times like tonight aren't fun & it sucks to deal with the ramifications, I trust Him, and He is still good. He taught me my why, and He continues to take care of me...where would I be without His grace?"
God never asked us to be great because He already is. We don't have to ask for Him to show up in our works or performances because He already is active and present. Jesus fights our every battle, regardless of our awareness of God’s presence.
Though God never asked us to be great, He asked us to trust in His greatness. Because of His abundant love, mercy, and grace, we can face today. Though we might rise and fall, His greatness means we are in the safe hands of our Savior regardless of life's outcomes. Since God is sufficient and we are not, we humbly ask for His helping hand in our trials and triumphs.
As human beings, we face trials of various kinds. The sting of failure will wound each of us; yet, we are able to find joy in Jesus amidst our greatest struggles. Tim Keller claims, "Without the Gospel of Jesus, we will have to toil not for the joy of serving others, nor the satisfaction of a job well done, but to make a name for ourselves."
The joy we experience from knowing how Jesus defeated sin and death and will never abandon us, regardless of circumstance provides us with infinite hope to face our trials through His help.
Likewise, the book of James offers plenty of truth on trials and temptations. In chapter one, James explained how trials are meant to construct, not destruct, our faith in Jesus. Read the following verses carefully...
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing...
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him."
- James 1: 2-4, 12
God knows we will face every trial in the book. So, he gave James the word various to keep "smart-allecks" like me from finding gray areas in our struggles. Likewise, he never said "if" you face trials, but "when" you meet them to find joy. Lastly, he writes of trials like a refining fire, which produce a spirit of steadfastness in the Lord.
Trials aren't one-and-done for us. Sometimes, we struggle with character and trust flaws for a lifetime. For example, many of us fear failure, especially when we are used to success. However, the Gospel, which promises us the only worthy performance is Christ's death and resurrection, offers us hope. We don't have to let fear incapacitate us, because it is simply: False Evidence Appearing Real.
God freely gives grace upon grace for every single fear and trial we face.
When we take our fears and failures to the feet of Jesus, miracles can happen. We allow the perfect performance of Christ to plow our way. It takes time, but like a diamond placed under pressure, it’s worth the wait. Know this: there's no making without breaking, no blessing without effort, and no harvest without plowing. Jesus makes a way for broken pieces to be made whole again.
Society teaches us to toss broken things aside only to label them as "junk". But God views brokenness as the ideal state for His greatness to come alive in miraculous fashion. Miracles will follow the plow.
In essence, failure forces us to determine and emphasize our why. Just as Mitchell said, we can pout, fight, and argue, but our performance is not why God loves us. In fact, it's the opposite of why He created us.
You see, God calls us to face various trials in various places, but God isn't variable. Nothing, not even our most pitiful failures, can change the mood or the heart of God. He is constant in our confusion, constant in our struggles, constant in our failures, and constant in our wandering.
Though physical struggles may alter our activities, they cannot change our identity. Therefore, we cannot base our self-worth on any performance of any kind besides the beautiful display of love on the cross by our Savior.
As a Christian, to "emphasize your why" means to preach the Gospel to yourself. Simply put, if you don't know who you are in Christ, you will be in crisis. Don't let your performance, good or bad, validate your existence. Don't confuse your current, temporary condition with your eternal position in Christ. Instead, trust that God is good through any success or failure we might endure.
Because of this, God grants us peace from knowing how He operates like a surgeon, carefully selecting the perfect tool at the precise time to complete His work in us. All the while, He remains in steady, complete control of life itself.
God does the heavy lifting in taking the pressure off our shoulders and placing it on the tortured body of Jesus upon the cross we deserved.
We are blessed to be loved like this...life should be performance-based, but God made our existence about service, not success. Athletes aren't supposed to ask what sports can do for them, but what they can do for their sports. Friends aren't supposed to ask what others could do for them, but what they could do for others.
When we trust in Jesus, we live because we get to, not because we have to.
Do bad outings happen? Yes, and there will be more, especially in baseball. But God, being rich in mercy, equips those He calls to play the game. He readies us for every battle life throws at us when we place our trust in Him.
Though He never said it would be easy, He assured us we could trust in Him.
"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." - Jesus (John 16:33)
Thank you, Mitchell, for being an example of faith in a difficult moment of your season. I pray your story will teach others to emphasize their "why" in the various areas of life where they find their purpose.
Lord Jesus, let our worth and significance be found in your work on the cross, where your love was poured out for us in the form of blood. You are the only One worthy of our joy.