Jesus is God with us.
There are some moments where I can't sleep at night. Last night, I was up thinking about the scrimmage that we just played with Angola. I thought about the moments that inspired me, like Jonah sprinting around the court to get to 7 or 8 balls before getting an open court putaway. I thought about the moments that angered me (which I'll spare from saying here). I thought about the ways I'd been outcoached, or not said the right thing, or hadn't been focusing on the right things in practice. It would be safe to say that last night, I was a wreck of tumbling thoughts.
But I needed to sleep. I had woken up at 2:07 and couldn't fall back asleep, and now the clock was reading 2:49. I had to be up in a little more than four hours. Sleep was important.
I tossed, I turned, I adjusted the blankets, I went to the bathroom, I moved to the couch. I tried lots of things.
But the last thing I tried was the only one that worked. I breathed in the name of Jesus as a prayer, and then slowly breathed it out. I told Jesus that I needed sleep, that I needed my mind to be settled. And as Jesus often does, His Spirit brought a simple thought to my head: "You are my son, whom I love. In you I am well pleased."
At first, I protested. Well pleased? I had done a ton of things wrong that day. Angry, sarcastic, and unnecessary words to my team. A confusing lesson to my first Social Studies class. Impatience with the learning process. Getting the team home too late on a school night. How could you be well pleased?
The next thought I had was also simple: "I'm here with you now. Let's work on the rest tomorrow."
This season, we've been talking about what legacy we want to leave. We've been looking at the truth that we're always being followed by someone, someone is always learning from our example. And so, we do well to follow a good leader, someone who will encourage us and help us see what we can be.
We've called this the ladder theory. We're following someone and someone is following us. As we climb up the ladder, we improve. We grow. Whether in faith, life, or tennis, this can is true.
When this is working well, it's awesome. To give a tennis example, Jonathon rocks a drill, working hard and drilling his forehands crosscourt exactly as directed. Philip follows Jonathon's example of working hard, and even though his forehands miss their mark, he begins to realize what he's doing wrong and his hard work begins to correct it. Braden watches Philip, sees that he's engaged in the drill and decides to listen to Matt's instructions so he can begin to hit a target crosscourt. And so on...
But the question is, what happens when someone is struggling?
Typically, there are two responses to struggling...
1. DESCEND: A leader descends and tells you everything is alright.
2. COMPETE: A leader leaves you behind as they continue to push forward, and hopes you follow them.
There are problems with both of those responses. The problem with #1 is that you know it's not true. You know that you are not alright. You know that you are missing the mark, that you are experiencing doubt, that you are falling behind.
The problem with #2 is that without someone close to us, to lead us, we can quickly lose hope and motivation.
And the problem with both is that Jesus didn't operate in either of those modes.
Jesus is God with us, but Jesus also pushes us toward God.
In John 5, Jesus stops by a pool. Not to take a swim or relax, though. This is a pool where disabled people gather, because they believe that the waters will be stirred up by a spirit, and if they can be the first to race into the water, they will get well. There's a man there by the pool who has been disabled for 38 years (!) and can't get to the water. When Jesus walks down to him, and asks him if he wants to get well, he responds that no one will help him.
This man has been surrounded by people who are competing, using theory #2. People who are taking care of their own improvement and not worrying about others. But Jesus doesn't buy that. Instead, he comes to sit next to the man. To talk to him. To get to know him. To BE WITH HIM. And eventually, he offers the man healing.
So Jesus has descended.
But he doesn't just stop there. He doesn't just say, "Okay, dude, I healed you. Go back to doing whatever you do." Instead, Jesus goes and finds him again later and says, "Hey, glad you are still doing great. Now, let's do the next step to climbing the ladder. Let's stop sinning. Something worse might happen if we don't. So, let's take that next step."
So, Jesus is competing. He's ready to go up the ladder, but now, he's challenging this formerly disabled man to come along.
Jesus shows us that a leader, someone who wants to leave a legacy, both descends to be with those who are struggling and then encourages them to grow deeper in their faith, grow more mature in their actions, by doing these things together.
So, what's that mean in our context? Well, you need to be looking for those who are struggling, pulling up beside them and then both pushing ahead. That may be with confidence, so fill them up with encouraging words. It may be with effort, so grab them as a partner and work hard with them. It may be with lacking energy, so play as their partner or on their court, and encourage them to match your energy.
Or maybe it's someone struggling with something deeper. Well then, pull up next to them and see if you can pray for them. Write them an email and ask if you can do anything. Send a text of encouragement.
And remember that Jesus with God with us, always descending that ladder to be by our side, and then climb with us as we mature and grow toward God.