Spiritual Lessons from Baseball 4

Baseball is a cruel game, and a game that defies predictability. The best players strike out at the most inopportune time. The bottom of the line up comes through when you think there’s no hope. You see it all the time.

This past week in my boys little league playoffs, I saw the clean up hitter go down looking in the bottom of the sixth inning with his team down by two. I saw the best hitter on another team ground out with the bases loaded to end the inning. At the same time, I saw a triple from an unlikely hero, and a kid get his first (maybe second) hit of the season to drive in a run. Crazy. And it’s not just little league. Remember Billy Buckner – the Red Sox first-base man who let the ball roll through his legs in game six of the world series? Yeah, for his career he had only 128 errors on more almost 14,000 chances. In other words, he messed up less than 1% of the time! Inopportune time for a solid player to make a mistake…but it happens.

When I was a baseball novice, I’d look at who was coming up in the lineup and say, “Oh good, we got this,” or, “Nope, we’re done.” I’ve seen to much now – baseball is fickle. It’s unpredictable.

The spiritual lesson here is that sinners and saints be equally unpredictable. In the Christian sphere we place certain saints on pedestals. We hold them up as exemplars of godliness. That isn’t all bad – it’s good to have examples to emulate (see 1 Cor. 11:1). But, we have to remember, just as baseball hero’s strike out, spiritual hero’s stumble and fall.

The difference between a great ball player and a not so good one – they don’t allow the errors, strikeouts, etc, to become habit. They’ll figure out what they did wrong, and make adjustments. They won’t dwell on their failure, but learn from it. You have to have a real short memory in baseball. You made an error in the field, you better shake it off cause you’re up in the bottom half of the inning.

So it is with the saint. When a saint stumbles and fall, they don’t wallow in self pity and become morose. They have short memories – enabled by the grace and forgiveness of God to leave past failures in the past.  They learn from their stumble – what led me to this uncharacteristic sin? Did I neglect prayer? Have I not been regular in meeting with God, with his people? What string did the devil pull when he was tempting me and why did it work? They’ll learn, but they won’t be fixated. They’ll learn so that their journey to Christ-likeness isn’t derailed, but advanced.

I like what  Daniel Doriani says in Putting the Truth to Work. He writes,

“Character changes slowly, but change it does, so that no single action is absolutely predetermined by it. It is possible to do something that is out of character and so to violate our nature. Yet when we do so, we may begin to change who we are. Aristotle, with pagan wisdom says, “We become just by doing just acts.” CS Lewis, with Christian wisdom, says, “Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you…into something different from what it was before. And taking your life  as a whole, with all you innumerable choices, all you life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature.”

The saint may do something out of character, something hellish. He must guard against it become habitual and a part of his character. On the other hand, those of us who don’t feel very ‘saintly’ can, by slight increments, be formed into the holy ones we are. By God’s grace we can, little by little become what we are – turning from sinners to saints. There wonderful hope in that.

The number nine hitter can make adjustments and get better! The liar can become a man of integrity. The scoundrel, a person of faithfulness.