Praying for Baseball

We have a guy in our church who is a great baseball player. I was a pretty good baseball player until I saw a kid get plunked in the eye by a pitch. Not cool. After I saw what a baseball does to an eye, I decided there was not a batter’s box big enough in the Dizzy Dean world that could hold me. I began to push the batter’s box envelope. Actually, the umpire told me that my feet had to be somewhere inside the batter’s box; simply touching the batter's box was not sufficient. I didn’t want to lose an eye, so I stood as far away from the plate as I possibly could. My coach kept telling me that if I didn’t stop stepping out when the ball was pitched that he was going to put concrete in my shoes. So as soon as the season ended I retired from baseball, saving my eye and a perfectly good pair of shoes.

I don’t think Kurt is scared of getting hit in the eye, which helped him land a scholarship to the University of Georgia. This year he was a red shirt. Taking a red shirt is not easy for a great athlete because it means you sit out for a year. For a year you play no games, you just practice. When Kurt got the news about taking a red shirt I told him to work on baseball, but more importantly to allow God to work on Kurt. When they make a movie about Kurt, I am sure what I told him will be an important part of the movie. That being the case, I want everyone to be clear about my line. I said to Kurt, “This may not be about baseball, this may be about God.”

After Kurt finished his red shirt year at UGA he signed to play a summer of baseball in Texas. He plays for a team with a Christian ministry group called Athletes in Action. To put it simply, Athletes in Action takes baseball players and turns them into missionaries. They not only work on baseball, but they work on the spiritual development of the athlete, and the athletes spend time in the season working for God.

Since Kurt was new to the team he naturally started the season getting the least amount of playing time. I am sure that will change once they see Kurt play. If they are going to use my line in the movie, Kurt’s playing time probably needs to increase dramatically. But a couple of weeks into the season Kurt had only eleven trips to the plate. In eleven at bats he had only gotten one hit and the team had lost every game but one; not exactly Hollywood material. So I woke up one morning and very clearly felt led by God to pray for Kurt. More specifically, God led me to pray for Kurt that he would get into a game and he would get a hit. God was telling me to pray for baseball.

I’m sorry, but baseball seems like a really dumb thing to pray for. When I played baseball I prayed for a guardian angel to protect my eye. But that is technically praying for my eye, not necessarily praying for baseball. I just didn’t want to die playing baseball; I cared very little if I ever actually hit the baseball. Which given my lack of faith and relative distance from the plate, probably explains why I never got a hit. But on this morning, God wanted me to pray for baseball. Honestly, it felt cheap.

When Jesus taught His inner circle of men to pray, His initial focus was on amazing things. He asked that His Father’s name be “hallowed.” That means prayer in God’s name is to be deeply reverenced. It means in prayer, the place where you are praying can instantly become holy ground. In prayer, right prayer, our location changes and we connect with Heaven. Understanding that He was in the presence of God, Jesus asked that God’s will be done on earth, just as it is in Heaven. Jesus taught us that in prayer our will is to bend to the point that it agrees with the plans and purposes of God. To me, depending on your translation, Jesus’ first twenty or so words in prayer are deep.

Once we are focused on God’s Kingdom, once we are truly pursuing the heart of the Father, He invites us to tell Him what is on our heart. In the scheme of “Kingdom come”, my next meal seems awfully mundane. I guess if you were not sure of your next meal, “mundane” may not be a proper way to describe your feelings about food. But eating, for most all of us, is fairly routine and basic; sort of like praying for baseball.

There was a time, a long time, years of time that I lost spiritual sensitivity. I had experienced some success and as a result God and faith, became purely academic. Just before turning thirty I had mastered most of the things that it takes most pastors a lifetime to figure out. I was good. I was prideful. I was no longer teachable. And now, it was up to me, at thirty, to show the world what I knew.

For the next four years nothing worked. Seriously – nothing.

In my soul, nothing seemed to be happening. I no longer sensed God’s leading in my life. When I did sense God was leading me, no one else seemed to agree. It was a very hard time, spiritually cold. I felt like, for a guy who had figured out the meaning of life before he turned thirty, I was accomplishing nothing. Nothing worked. When “nothing” is “working”, that’s bad.

“Nothing” is a brutal taskmaster and offers only one lesson. Without the favor of God in our lives, we only accomplish more and more nothing. I learned what Jesus taught us in His thirties, “Without Me you can do nothing.” When I awoke to the realization that everyday was truly new, that faith is not academic but mysterious, that in everything I needed God’s leading and blessing, my soul began to feel again. I began to seek God in everything. I went from finding God in nothing to seeing God in everything.

And now He was asking me to pray for baseball. I guess there was still a remainder of academia in my soul, because this seemed superficial. How can the Kingdom of God possibly be found in praying for baseball? But I did it. I skeptically prayed for baseball. Prayer is about bending my will to God’s will, so today I will entertain superficiality and pray for bats and balls both of which can seriously damage an eye. But I did pray for baseball, but I prayed for it last. I had this great list of “kingdom” stuff to pray for first. And last on the list, almost as a chuckled afterthought, I prayed for baseball.

“God, please let Kurt get in the game today, and please let him get a hit.”

The next morning I checked the stats for the Mineral Wells Steam online. Kurt had started his first game of the year. He was up to bat three times; all three times he hit the ball. He went three for three. So I called him immediately. He answered.

“Well, looks like somebody was on fire last night.” “Way to go man!”

“Yeah, I was really seeing the ball last night.”

As soon as I heard Kurt share with me about the miracle of his vision my head swelled as I would now unlock for him this new mystical secret of the universe – that God had a thing for baseball. And God had chosen me, His vessel, His sensitive vessel, to pray for baseball. And I immediately and passionately prayed for baseball. As far as Kurt is concerned, from the way I told it, I prayed about baseball for hours. I probably need to pray about that.

And then Kurt taught me something about God. He said that that morning his coach had been telling the team “it’s not about baseball.” (There goes my line). They were missionaries in Texas to share Christ with people at baseball games. But unfortunately, if they did not win baseball games there would not be people in the stands. In the game that night, Kurt had three hits and The Steam won their second game. They need to win so they can witness.

I don’t know the coach of Mineral Wells, but I wonder what he was thinking about that morning. Probably the same thing he thought about and prayed about each morning after the last ten losses. If we don’t win, we can’t witness. And God led me to pray for a baseball player I knew to help ease the burden of a baseball coach I didn’t. On that day, God bent my heart, my will, to agree with not only His will, but with the will of a coach who was way ahead of me in understanding God and baseball.

Kurt told me, “Brother Brian, you know, this is not about baseball.”

And now I have come to the realization, since everyone is now using my line, it is fairly certain I will not even be mentioned in the movie.

In prayer a baseball diamond becomes holy ground. In prayer a line drive over second base becomes an opportunity to share Christ with a kid who came to watch baseball. Prayer ushers in the presence of God. A moment of prayer before a mundane meal can be a point at which Heaven connects with your kitchen table.

I learned that day to be sensitive, spiritually. More specifically I learned to be careful about how I feel about praying for baseball because God is obviously a big fan.


AP Mattox said…
BB< This is good stuff, keep 'em coming! AP

Popular Posts