When your favorite team is in a race for the division title and playoff berth, the daily pressure of September baseball can be utterly nerve-racking.
As of Sunday night, my hometown Colorado Rockies trail their arch-rival Los Angeles Dodgers by 1 ½ games with 7 games to play, and trail the St. Louis Cardinals by 1 ½ games for the second wild card position. A bad final week could leave them looking up at their rivals at season’s end.
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However, a robust finish to the season could still leave them with their first division title in 26 seasons of baseball. It would be a lofty prize for a team that has had very little success in its first quarter-century in existence.
As Christians, we can learn a great deal from a baseball pennant race. The kind of mentality it will take for the Rockies, or any team, to capture this prize is also, I believe, a mentality fundamental to living a life of resilient faith.
In a pennant race, the only thing a team has control over is that day’s game. They cannot focus on what other teams are doing on the scoreboard, or who they will be facing tomorrow or a week from now. Their focus has to be in the present only, honed in on what it will take to win that day’s game – to complete the task that is immediately in front of them.
The same is true with faith.
Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow, because we have zero control over what situations will arise past today. We do not know what’s coming tomorrow, so do not worry about it.
Instead, we can live courageously and victoriously today, because the God we serve is much greater than any foe we will ever encounter. The One who took the nails already holds the crown and sits on the throne.
The Lord has equipped us with everything we need to face this day victoriously. We have His Word to instruct us how to overcome any obstacle our adversary might present us, so there is nothing in the world to fear (see Romans 8:38-39). We have open communication through prayer when we feel overmatched. And we have the blood of Jesus Christ, which has already overcome the world.
You’re accountable for your actions
We are not responsible for how other people act, but we are accountable for how we respond to our circumstances. We are also accountable to be prepared spiritually for what each day will bring, to train ourselves through Scripture and prayer each day so we are ready to face that day’s opponents.
A coach of any winning team will tell their athletes to focus only on doing their own job, and do it to the best of their ability. If you are constantly pointing fingers at others for where they are failing or not pulling their own weight, then you will never be properly focused on the tasks the Lord has for you to do.
A team can never be successful with a locker room full of blame and empty on accountability, and a Christian can never grow if they are constantly focused on pointing out the shortcomings of others rather than critically examining their own hearts and needs for spiritual growth.
You will never be prepared for today’s battles if you are constantly “scoreboard-watching” the actions of others. Take care of your own business and let other folks take care of theirs.
Don’t dwell on the past
Just as we should avoid looking forward or pointing fingers at others, we should also take care not to get caught looking behind us.
Paul writes, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14, ESV).
This is dangerous on two different levels.
If we become enamored with our past successes or accolades, it can cause us to become complacent, leading us to let our spiritual guard down. We begin to feel as if we can face the trials on our own, rely less on the Lord, and become blindsided by an adversary we’re not properly prepared to confront. It happens often to successful sports teams, and it can happen to us, too.
But we need to avoid the trap of getting dragged down by our past failures, too.
Teams or athletes accustomed to defeat face the peril of reflecting too much on past collapses in high-pressure situations. Focusing too much on failure can leave them feeling defeated before they even take the field. A defeated attitude will invariably lead to timid, fearful and hesitant play. They stop trusting themselves or their teammates to come through in the clutch.
We can fall prey to the same defeated attitude if we are constantly focused on our past sins, which have been covered over and washed away by the cleansing blood of Christ. Paul tells us to look forward because when we are covered by the grace of Jesus Christ, we are already victorious.
Our past sins no longer define us. We do not need to chained by addictions, held back by fear, or captivated by anger and bitterness toward those who have hurt us. There is nothing stronger than Jesus’ death on the cross and triumphant resurrection. If death itself has been defeated, there is nothing in our past that should be able to define our present or our future.
Paul writes to Timothy, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:6-7, ESV).
Remember, Jesus already won the victory. So don’t look back, don’t focus on others, and do not worry about what you cannot see coming.
If we take these faith lessons from teams that are successful in the clutch, we can face each day with courage. Keep your eyes focused firmly on the prize that awaits. It is a crown more beautiful than any of us could ever imagine.