Among the many grand accomplishments of my life there rests a feat that brings me notoriety no matter where I travel. It would be impossible to count (mainly because zero isn't a number, if I remember correctly) the number of times I have been pulled aside in an airport or asked at one of my inevitable future book-signing events, “Weren't you the coach of the fourth-place five-and-six-year-old T-Ball Titans of the North Canadian Athletic Association in 2011?”
“Yes,” I reply, feigning humility. “But, I really can't take all the credit. I had a great group of boys that year ...” The fawning that ensues really is a bit embarrassing. The exploits of the Mighty Titans are the thing of legend. It was not unusual for teams to just re-pack their bats and juice boxes at the mere sight of these miniscule Mantles taking the field. Donning their striped polyester trousers of a length best described as “Sunday-Go-To-Meetin'” pants and their small-as-we-could-order shirts with numbers tucked into their waistbands, they were a fearsome sight. They took the field to raucous cheers from parents and to a coach's chorus of “No! Cole! Second base is over there!!” What ensued was a symphony of grace and dust during which no right field weed was left unpicked. They were a focused band of brothers intent on victory at any cost to personal safety as evidenced by the frequent post-game questions of “Did we win?”
I love coaching. I love coaching baseball. I love coaching these little guys. It was a bucket-load of fun just watching them learn the game and make the occasional play. For an hour on Tuesday or Thursday night, they were big-leaguers. Maybe I exaggerated their prowess just a bit, but we would celebrate each rolling hit and every ground ball that found a glove. As is usually the case, I think I learned more coaching these pee wee prodigies than they learned from me.
One thing that struck me as the practices and games wore on was the way a coach goes about developing his team. I had selected each of these boys to play on this team. Seriously, I actually made phone calls to track down some little guys that I had coached before because I knew they loved to play, had parents that would be supportive and helpful and who I knew wouldn't be trouble in the dugout. When we started gathering for practice, there was a lot of instruction about how to throw and catch. Which foot to step with and how to aim a throw were the efforts of the day.
However, as the season played out, they got the hang of those simple things and we were able to challenge them more. By season's end, we weren't spending time explaining which base was first base and which hand was supposed to be on top when they held the bat. To challenge them to get better, we would hit ground balls to them that had the potential to cause pain if they weren't ready to field them. We would hit fly balls that could black an eye or inflate a lip if they didn't put their glove in front of them. That was the only way for them to get better at what they had dedicated themselves to do. As a coach, I would INTENTIONALLY put these little guys in situations that could hurt them in order to help them develop in their abilities. Mind you, we weren't hitting regulation balls at them with full-size metal bats with an intent to play kiddie pinball. We were trying to simply take them to the next step of growth in their sufficiency on the field. I think that is what a good coach will do.
When I think about the work of a coach and how he or she brings out and hones the abilities of individual players, it concerns me that in our spiritual lives we hear the frequent refrain of “God wouldn't do that” when his children go through difficult trials. Maybe we've bought into a sunshine-and-lollipops Gospel or maybe we're just intensely narcissistic and can't fathom a good God who would allow his children to field a situation that takes a bad hop. In those times, we lose sight of a gracious God who knows that we are in a battle and who is intent on developing our ability to stand in the fight. Too often, we are solely taking up space waiting for the final out so we can get our Capri Sun and orange slices. But there is a game on. And our faithful Father is actively working to shore up our deficiencies – teaching us where we are weak and coaching us to stand in the faith. You may find that you have a particularly difficult time with one aspect of your “game.” I believe you'll find that to be the very area where God is hitting you the most grounders. Because He is good. Because He has a much bigger plan for you than your safety – He has designs on your VICTORY.
I think that is part of the reasoning behind the words James writes to scattered Jewish believers who found that the game was harder than they realized and it was lasting a little longer than they had anticipated. He tells them to (James 1:2-4) “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” God's design for His children is that they be “lacking in nothing”! What incredible news! To bring that about, our perfect trainer exposes where we DO lack and works it – through trials – so that we might develop steadfastness of faith. So that we might “endure to the end” and be saved.
Let's look today at where we are being tried and, rather than buying the lie that God is looking the other direction, take JOY in the fact that He is working out our lack that we might gain victory. Mighty Titans indeed.