Monday, August 8, 2016

Big Words: Striving Together

"Our Father, in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debtors,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one."

Our Father...
In looking at our first big words, phrases that are filled with meaning from the Lord's Prayer, we looked at the implications of "Our Father" and declared that it isn't about us as individuals, but instead we are family.

Today, we press into that theme a little farther. What does it mean that we are family, what are we called to?

Every Group that Gathers Has a God-Given Purpose
Have you ever really stopped to think about purpose? I don't think that most people really do. When I went to Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream during our family trip to Florida, they had a 3 point mission statement painted onto their wall. Watching their employees hand out tiny spoons of vegan peanut butter cookie ice cream with tired expressions, I wondered how much that mission came to mind in their everyday work. In what ways did their mission form them?

But really, every group that gathers has some sort of God-given purpose. Schools are to educate in both academics and (hopefully) in wisdom, choice-making, and character building. Families are to care, comfort, support and lay foundations for life.  Churches are to point people toward Jesus and walk along the journey to know Christ better together. And tennis families are for...

Smacking balls around the court? Beating down an opponent? Physical fitness? Fun?

Yes (well, maybe not "beating down") but I believe sports in general are about much more than that. And I read an article last week that gave excellent words to the purpose of sports. The article was called "Striving Together: A Call for Redemptive Sport."

Sports Put You in Difficult Situations
One of the wonders of tennis is that it puts you in such difficult mental situations. Ever been down 0-40 on your serve? Ever had to run a bajillion sprints in practice? Or how about when yesterday you could paint the lines with your forehand and today almost every one sails into the fence? Oh, and don't get me started on what do you do with a doubles partner who is lazy and complaining. And you can add onto these the opponents who get under your skin or seem to be cheating you out of points. It's enough to drive you up a wall.

All sports tend to do this. They challenge us. That's why they are part of the educational system. Good educators know that challenges are the only real opportunities to grow. 

So how do we respond to those challenges. Well, to be real honest, our team (and many teams I've coached and seen) tend to respond in one of two ways: laziness or frustration. We either stop trying or get so angry at ourselves that we can't work through it. 

And so what happens when we react with laziness or frustration? Nothing. We don't end up overcoming the challenges. We've either stopped trying or become too tight and mad to succeed. But also, we don't grow as players or as people. Nothing happens.

So how can we better respond to difficult situations?

Strive Together
We strive. Strive is a short word for perseverance. We refuse to give in to frustration or laziness. We pick up our feet. We pick up our focus. We pick up our intensity. And we relax and tell ourselves we can do it. 

Then we do it together. We have our family of tennis brothers around us to encourage us (and we encourage others). We push each other. We make each other laugh and relax. We call each other back to focus. We make sure everybody knows that if you make the attempt, if you dig your heals in and pull with all your might, we'll definitely love you. Even if you fall flat.

Because in the end, the purpose isn't success.

The purpose is the striving together.

Striving with God
Faith is like this too, you know. We get caught up in thinking that growing in faith is about having more answers, being more sure, knowing more Bible than anyone else, or even in just feeling somehow like we have it all together. 

But that's not it. Faith is about being in relationship with Jesus. And the relationship with Jesus, just like sport, is about striving together through all the difficult situations of life and the growth that comes out of that. 

But think about this... when God chose a name to give to God's people, the family God was going to partner with to bring light and love into the world, God decided to give them a new name. Names in the ancient world were all about purpose. Moses is means "drawn through the water," and he draws God's people through the Red Sea. David mean "beloved" and he was the one who showed God's people how to love God. Elijah means "Yahweh is God" and he was the one who preached God in the midst of idols.

So what name, what purpose did God give to the family? He called them Israel. And Israel means?

Struggles with God.

You see, that is the purpose in and of itself. We struggle with God. We go through struggles with God. We are striving, straining, persevering with God. 

So what do I do?
1. In tennis and faith, keep striving. Resist laziness and frustration, and the giving up those lead to.
2. In tennis and faith, encourage others and be encouraged. Strive together.
3. In tennis and faith, strive with God. Invest in a relationship, with God and others. Together.

What's next?
Next in our series, we'll leave the myriad of "Our Father" implications and begin to look at "hallowed." Can't wait to strive together with you guys!

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