As you might imagine, it's accuracy in rebounding the ball made me jump and dive for a lot of catches. This helped me on the field when I needed to snag line drives, but my throwing accuracy was only so-so. And hitting? I was probably somewhere around .250 in my little league career. Not exactly the Mendoza Line, but nothing to crow about either.
Even though I knew my weaknesses, I kept practicing with that bounce-back. I didn't tape off a box on a backstop or hang an old tire to get better command of my throws. I spent more time on Mike Tyson's Punch-Out than I did swinging in the batting cages. Those wild throws and swinging strikes embarrassed me, even when no one saw them. So I kept practicing what I knew I could do well.
Okay, in terms of my life as a Christian, this analogy breaks down. But I did think about the bounce-back this weekend when John Privett from Lifehouse Church taught through Luke 5. Then he read verse 16, "But he (Jesus) would withdraw to desolate places to pray." John stopped and asked, "Now why would Jesus need to take time to pray? Why did he need to go off by himself in solitude?"
Lots of people object to the "do-this-don't-do-that" image of Christianity. In a way, they should. We're saved entirely because God offers to remove our sin and also credit us with the righteousness of Jesus. If we've accepted this forgiveness and receive His grace, we don't have to earn God's favor by doing all of the right things.
This went entirely against the four-point "what it means to be a Christian" lesson I learned in Sunday School. We would count them off every week: 1. Accept Jesus into your heart (always confusing concept) 2. Pray 3. Read the Bible 4. Go to church.
Maybe the list could have been cut in half and simplified. 1. Repent 2. Make Jesus the Lord of your life. Or maybe 1. Become a Christian 2. Try to live the way Jesus taught his disciples to live. I don't know. Maybe that's not helpful. But I think it gets more to the point.
Whatever the case, Jesus is my example. He knew God was pleased with him (Matt 3:17 and 17:5), so the fasting, prayer, and times of solitude weren't ways in which he made God happy. I think Jesus did it for at least two reasons. First, I'm sure it helped his growth and the strength of his relationship with God. When Luke 2 says Jesus grew in wisdom and favor with God, I doubt this happened without any action on his part. Earlier in the chapter, he's in the Temple keeping up on discussions with the Bible teachers as a twelve year old. The kid hadn't even been Bar-Mitzvah'd! How did he get to that point? Wouldn't it make sense he spent time in the Bible?
Second, I think Jesus practiced these spiritual disciplines because they didn't fit in with the demands of his schedule. It seems he wants to get away and pray right when there's the most demand for him. With so many people to heal and so many messages to teach, where does a guy find time to sit and pray in peace? He had to make time. He had to say no to demands.
There, right there I thought about the bounce-back. I rely on what comes easily. I study the Bible. I pray. I worship. These are all acceptable. People tell me I do these things well and I know God is already pleased with me.
But then again, I don't necessarily see growth in other areas of my life. If I say I want to be a more humble person, then maybe I should practice doing something good without announcing it. If I want to grow in wisdom, maybe I could learn how to spend time with men who will actually challenge me and help me mature. If I want to have more joy, maybe I should learn how to celebrate my relationship with Jesus and demonstrate it once in a while. All of those things might be hard or embarrassing, but I need to show some initiative.
Sometimes you have to get over yourself and ask someone to play catch with you.