When watching children play baseball, I find that the coaches are often reminding them of the importance of running as fast as they can to first base, once they hit the ball. Many new players want to watch the ball, instead, as the other team runs it down and fields it.
As a result, their attention is divided, and – as they slow down – their risk of getting thrown out increases. When the batter thinks that he or she will get out at first, there’s a strong temptation to pull up, and slow down for what seems inevitable: a return back to the dugout.
However, especially at younger ages, the unexpected can happen: a ball that looks foul remains fair, a fly ball is dropped, or the throw to first base is missed. Regardless of what may be happening in the rest of the field, the batter’s job is to run to first base as quickly as possible, and to trust the first-base coach to provide instructions on what to do next.
In an uncertain, fallen world, it sometimes seems like we are not going to make it. Problems that weigh down on the follower of Jesus Christ sometimes make it feel like we are not going to make it home. We see the opposition (forces of evil that fight against us – see Ephesians 6:12 – and who try to rally others to their side), and we fear that we will be tagged out long before we can finish rounding the bases.
Jesus knew that this would be the case – that trouble would beset His followers. However, He also knew that the winning team has already been identified (Revelation 20:14).
These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33 NASB
So, what do we do instead, when our human nature wants to run the other way, or our hearts feel like giving up because we’ve hit a slow grounder right to first base?
The first thing we can do is to listen to our coach. In life, the leader of the winning team is Jesus Christ:
If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.
John 12:26 NASB
Like a veteran player who has experienced the game of baseball for many years, and returns after retirement to lead others, Jesus knows what it is like to endure the challenges of life (see Hebrews 4:15). Unlike a human coach, though, Jesus sees throughout time and space, right into the hearts of everyone, and doesn’t just guide us towards what will probably work. Instead, He knows exactly what we must do in order to achieve the best outcome. Our role isn’t to try and figure everything out; it is to listen to Him and to do it, while He figures out the gameplan.
The other thing we can do is to run. The writer of Hebrews describes our goal in life metaphorically as a race:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB
Sometimes our life feels like a marathon, whether we’re just getting up to speed, or hitting the wall as the miles march on, or even if the finish line is in sight. Other times, a few days or weeks feel like a 90-foot dash in a baseball game, where we strain to reach a target before the window of opportunity closes.
In all these things, the purpose we have in life is not to out-perform other people, nor to somehow carry the team on our own. Instead, it is to keep running – to keep doing exactly what we are called to do. Whether we have a glamorous role (like a pitcher or home-run hitter), or an less-dramatic one (like a center-fielder or a batter asked to make a sacrifice bunt), we just keep running and doing exactly what the coach asks of us. We don’t look back, or freeze on the baseline in fear – we just keep going. And, by doing our part, we help out the entire team.
This passage in Hebrews also makes a key point – our focus is on Jesus, not on hanging on to things that will slow us down. We don’t watch the other “team” as they try to stop us; we just focus on Jesus and His instructions.
So, whether you feel like you are excelling at the peak of your career, or struggling to outrun the throw at every turn: trust your coach, keep your eyes on Him (not the distractions around you), and focus on the goal. When you’re on the winning team, you have the ultimate victory celebration to look forward to!