"Is it possible for your skills to be below zero?" one of my teammates asked.
"Well, it's just that I'm standing in a particular zone, and the ball comes my way, and the rest of my team assumes I've got it, and I really do try, but it's always an 'oops,' so by me being there it's worse than if I hadn't been there at all, because if there was a gap, then somebody with actual skills would have run to that spot and gotten the ball."
So we played, and that's the way it worked. I don't think I have ever in my life hit a volleyball in a useful way in any game. I just don't know how to do it.
So it got me thinking--lots of people view Christianity as a sort of big volleyball game that they've been persuaded to play by being promised a big reward.
You get into position (church), familiarize yourself with the rules, and try to be ready.
Everyone is expected to serve, but some are better at serving than others--it just seems like some people naturally enjoy it and others don't take to it so naturally.
We spend some of our time looking up into the sky waiting for somebody important to come back.
You have to be active and give it your all. You sacrifice the body if necessary. But sometimes it just doesn't help. You encourage your team members by saying, "Good try, better luck next time."
And then sometimes you get a really good volley going and you feel like you're actually getting somewhere with this game.
You look around the field and notice that some people are really good Christians and others are just not. Maybe they need more training, maybe they need to try harder, or maybe they just don't have it in them. Only, in volleyball, the bad players are just "inexperienced," while in Christianity, they get the unsavory term "sinners."
Does that sound familiar? Have you ever thought of Christianity like that, perhaps unconsciously?
If that's your Christianity, then you have missed the gospel.
Christianity is not about being "better" or "worse." It's not about just "playing the game" in order to get a reward. If that's all it was about, I would avoid Christianity with more stubbornly than I avoid volleyball. (I usually don't play, because I just don't enjoy it, but it's not like I have a principle against it, so on occasions like this, I will get out there and do my best.)
A.W. Tozer says this in his book God's Pursuit of Man (also titled The Divine Conquest).
"By observing the ways of men at play I have been able to understand better the ways of men at prayer. Most men, indeed, play at religion as they play at games, religion itself being of all games the one most universally played. The various sports have their rules and their balls and their players; the game excites interest, gives pleasure and consumes time, and when it is over the competing teams laugh and leave the field. It is common to see a player leave one team and join another and a few days later play against his old mates with as great zest as he formerly displayed when playing for them. The whole thing is arbitrary. It consists in solving artificial problems and attacking difficulties which have been deliberately created for the sake of the game. It has no moral roots and is not supposed to have. No one is the better for his self-imposed toil. It all but a pleasant activity which changes nothing and settles nothing at last.
If the condition we describe were confined to the ballpark we might pass it over without further thought, but what are we to say when this same spirit enters the sanctuary and decides the attitude of men toward God and religion? For the Church has also its fields and its rules and its equipment for playing the game of pious words. It has its devotees, both laymen and professionals, who support the game with their money and encourage it with their presence, but who are no different in life or character from many who take in religion no interest at all.
As an athlete uses a ball, so do many of us use words: words spoken and words sung, words written and words uttered in prayer. We throw them swiftly across the field; we learn to handle them with dexterity and grace; we build reputations upon our word skill and gain as our reward the applause of those who have enjoyed the game. But the emptiness of it is apparent from the fact that after the pleasant religious game no one is basically any different from what he had been before. The bases of life remain unchanged, the same old principles govern, the same old Adam rules."
So there's a problem. If our understanding of Christianity is like the volleyball game I described above, we are fundamentally lacking in a grave way. But my internet time is over, so you'll have to wait for a follow-up post tomorrow to find out what Christianity is really all about.