"Batting fourth for the New York Yankees and playing centerfield, number seven, Mickey Mantle."

Few ballplayers have ever played the game as Mantle did. He launched home runs like missiles. As a switch hitter he was dangerous from either side of the plate. And, because of his enormous power, cautious infielders would take a few steps backward as he stepped to the plate. And, as if playing tricks, Mantle would often lay down a bunt. He ran with the speed of a cheetah-gracefully yet powerfully. His throwing arm held runners in check like a cop with a radar gun. He was as complete a player as ever was.

But getting Mickey to the "bigs" took more than raw talent. It also took the advice of someone whose feet were firmly planted on the ground.

During Mantle's first spring training, the 19-year-old farm kid from Oklahoma hit nine home runs in his first eleven games. The New York media dubbed him the next Babe Ruth. Mickey's name highlighted every sports page in America. And though he had never played a real Major League game, he was being declared a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.

Soon, this young man with the thick arms and southern drawl began to swagger. Baseball came too easy. His enormous talent had been matched by a new found 'tude. And the season hadn't even begun.

Then a postcard arrived from home: "Mickey, now that you've made the headlines, why not settle down and make the team. Strut less and focus more. Love, Dad."

There's a big difference between looking good in spring training and performing well over the long haul. That's true in any sport. Swagger won't get it done. Never has, never will. Performance is what counts.

That's also true in ministry. Performing - the Bible calls it "humbly or fervently serving the Lord" - is the residue that comes from "fighting the good fight" and "keeping the faith." It's the payoff for being "knocked down but never knocked out."

This is nothing new to the people of God. The storefront window of Scripture showcases both groups - the swaggerers and the performers:

  • Cain swaggered while his brother Abel performed.
  • Super-strong Samson swaggered but super-fearful Gideon performed.
  • Self-aggrandizing Saul swaggered while God-fearing Samuel performed.
  • The prophets of Baal swaggered while the Prophet Elijah performed.
  • Peter swaggered while Paul performed.

Putting each of these under a microscope reveals a common thread - performers have a laser-like focus on the eternal. But the swaggerers are prone to distraction.

Performers aren't defined by their bios. Business cards can't tell who they are. Their identity is in their obedience. Hebrews 11 is filled with men and women who performed "by faith." Their actions were by faith because the reasons for their actions weren't always apparent. And yet, they continued anyway, and always by faith. Day in, day out, their personal calendars always read the same: 

  • Noah - Build boat. Catch animals. Watch for dark clouds.
  • Moses - Pitch tent. Judge. Talk with God. Pack up tent. Follow pillar of fire.
  • Job - Assess profit/loss sheet. Itch. Scratch. Wonder, "Why me?" Trust God.
  • Jeremiah - Preach. Weep. Hide from king. Preach. Weep. Hide from King.
  • Paul - Plant a church. Travel. Straighten out a church. Travel.

They all performed by faith.

Performers aren't known by the sizzle of their ministry, but rather by their passion for following God. They rarely get their due, but getting their due isn't their goal. They know the agony of defeat more than the thrill of victory, yet the ultimate victory is always in their mind.

Making headlines isn't important to performers. Having made the team is.

The Psalmist said, "Zeal for Thy house has consumed me." The psalmist was a performer.

Blessings,

Ron Walters
Vice President of Church Relations

P.S. If you're looking for great preaching tools, don't forget Preaching Magazine. It's my favorite. Check it out at Preaching.com. Do your congregation a favor by subscribing.

Original publication date: January 29, 2010