March is well-known in the sports world for being the time of “March Madness,” when over sixty college basketball games are packed into three weekends. Over the years, I have enjoyed filling out a bracket for fun and watching how most of my predictions turn out to be completely wrong. And I’ve grown an appreciation for the pace, tempo, and energy of that kind of game.
But nothing in the sports world compares to my love of baseball.
Tonight is “Opening Night” for Major League Baseball. The first official game of the regular season is going on right now while I type. And I love it. It doesn’t matter that the game is the LA Dodgers vs. the San Diego Padres – two teams about which I really do not care. And it’s not that baseball is played on green grass, something which we haven’t seen here in central Michigan for about half a year.
No, I love baseball for lots of other reasons. Here are a few:
- The season is long. Each team will play 162 games, half at home and half as the “away” team. It will take all summer for storylines to develop and for champions to emerge. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
- Each game is long. There is no shot clock, no game clock, no pressure to perform in time. The game is leisurely, proceeding when everybody is ready to continue.
- Traditions are everywhere. The sights, the sounds, the warm-up pitches. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” The national anthem. The last strike. Baseball can be very predictable.
- Baseball can be very unpredictable. The last-inning comeback, the surprising plays, the breakout stars. Games can end in euphoria for some people and heartbreak for others. (I’ll always remember witnessing the Reds beat my Indians in Cincinnati on a walk-off grand slam to win by one run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.)
- Subtle choices make a big difference. When the batter swings, how far the baserunner leads off first base, whether the pitcher throws a fastball or a changeup. Little decisions often affect the outcome of the game.
- Watching a game in person lets you be part of something larger than yourself: the crowd.
In many ways, baseball mirrors the spiritual life. Consider these components of the life of discipleship:
- The journey is long. Reaching spiritual maturity and Christlikeness is not an immediate accomplishment. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14 NIV).
- Each day is full of opportunities to learn, serve, and worship. Any given day may not be leisurely, of course. But our growth is certainly affected by how willing and ready we are to participate in the work God is doing within us.
- Traditions inform our spiritual lives. Whether they come during Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, traditions give us a sense of rhythm in time. Traditions also carry forward spiritual truths from previous generations for our benefit.
- The unpredictable often influences the course of our spiritual growth. Euphoria and heartbreak are meaningful emotions, but the events that spark those emotions make us who we are.
- Subtle choices can be transformative. Starting a day with prayer, relying on Christ during hardship, remembering scripture before responding in anger – these are just a few of the small, simple decisions that make the Christian life unique.
- Believing in Jesus is not a solitary experience. We are called into community with other disciples; we call this the church. Commitment to a local congregation is of critical importance. “As it is, there are many parts, but one body” (1 Corinthians 12:20 NIV).
Friends, whether you like baseball or not, I hope and pray that you put forth your best effort along the path of discipleship. Let us love growing together as a church family as much as I love baseball!