Last week, my publisher sent me the galley proof of Stark Raving Obedience. I spent all weekend going through the text, taking time out only for baseball and church. While reading, the Holy Spirit used my own book to convict me. Several times in the book, I encourage people to act on the truth they read in the Bible. All I could think about were the times in the past month where I didn’t obey, missed my opportunity, or misunderstood the cue.
The top, number one, inexcusable excuse for my shortcomings? Discomfort. You could call it a host of other things. “Fear of man” “Fear of rejection” “Lack of faith”, all of which might describe what happens when I’m well aware of God’s will and still bail.
During the past week, a few things happened to reinforce what the Holy Spirit brought to my attention. First, I read a comment on Stuff Christians Like from this girl. She quoted from Kierkegaard’s Provocations by way of Shane Claiborne. “But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it (the Bible) because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?” At first, I laughed and copied the quote for my own use.
Two days later, I decided to give myself a break from work. I drove a mile down the road from my house to Greer Stadium, home of the Nashville Sounds, a Triple A baseball team. I asked for a seat all the way down the left field foul line, five feet from the bullpen bench. For most of the evening, I listened to the relief pitchers and bullpen coach analyzing the game. If anyone looked over my way, they may have thought I was keeping score. Actually, I was writing down bits of their conversation. At one point in the fourth inning, the starting pitcher came to bat. He took two strikes in bunt attempts then swung for strike three. Minutes later, the bullpen coach told one of the relief pitchers to start warming up for the next inning. The guys on the bench tried to figure out why their starting pitcher wasn’t finishing a decent game.
Later, they learned what happened from the backup catcher. Apparently, after strike two, the batting coach signaled for another bunt attempt. The pitcher looked at his coach like he must have lost his mind. If he missed another bunt, strike three, a wasted at-bat, another out. The pitcher shook off the signal and motioned back to the coach that he wanted to swing. To the pitcher, the coach’s sign looked like idiocy. Suicide. But then again, the pitcher’s solution didn’t work, either. Coach was so angry he benched the pitcher.
One of the relief pitchers started laughing. “Man, if coach calls for a bunt, you give him a bunt.” Then after a moment, he started analyzing the situation. “I can see why they guy decided to swing, but coach was right. One out with a man on first and third is a great bunt opportunity. Either he advances the runner from first to second and gets him in scoring position or we somehow manage to pull off a squeeze play and bring the guy on third home. We might have taken the lead.”
I can’t say this was the pivotal moment where the Sounds began to lose the game. It is minor league ball, after all, which has enough errors to make me believe I’m watching theater. Even so, from that inning on, the team trailed the rest of the game and lost.
Immediately, I wrote this conversation on my program and made the connection to my attitude in prayer. There are days where God signals for me to pray for someone or tell them about Jesus. It’s not always so drastic. Sometimes He tells me to send an email or make a phone call that I forget about. But there are times when I absolutely know what God wants. He made it clear in prayer and scripture. Proclaim the good news of Jesus, pray for the sick, that sort of thing. But then I’m shaking off the signal or pretending holiness by asking, “God, do you want me to pray for this person?” After a silence, God says “No” and I feel justified in my nervousness. But maybe God said no because I’ve proved my lack of faith by not acting on the truth I know in the Bible. Maybe I just got benched for that game.
Now before you think I’m sitting in a chilly Nashville coffee shop moping about my failures, I want to assure you that God has used me to pray for and minister to more people now than ever before. Because of this, though, I’m noticing more instances when I don’t follow through on what God puts on my heart. It’s like the difference between walking into a wall and running full speed into it.
As I talked with God about my attitude when I run into the wall of discomfort, He reminded me of a parable in Matthew 21:28-30. “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go.” In the next verse, Jesus asks the religious leaders “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.”
We can find ourselves asking God to speak to us, to give us a sign, but then shake it off when He tells us something. There are lots of people who would ignore parts of the Bible that they'd rather not confront. I’ve found myself with that attitude in the past. The Bible is offensive. What if you really did live by what it said? What would become of you? I can tell you. It will ruin you. You’ll end up sacrificing everything. But take comfort in what Jesus told Peter in Mark 10:28-30. “Peter began to say to Him, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed You.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.’”
It may be hard to reconcile with the hundredfold embarrassment, persecution, or other trials, but the promise outweighs the cost. I’d rather be the son working for God despite the discomfort or supposed inconvenience. I’d rather bunt and stay in the game than strike out and watch other men do what I should be doing on the mound. When I’m running that marathon and hit the wall of discomfort, I can remind myself that the wall isn’t made of bricks. It’s made of lies and orange gelatin. It might hurt a little and feel gross, but God has enabled me to push through and keep going.