Take a close look at that photo. That’s a foul ball he’s hitting. This is not the “hit a grand slam for Christ” post you may have been looking for. This post is about protecting the plate. In baseball, when you’re two strikes down, you keep fouling off the ball until you get the pitch you need. It means accepting that you don’t need to hit a grand slam on the first pitch. It’s called “protecting the plate” and we can learn something from it whether we like baseball or not.
We like to think about hitting the home run. We go to church and hear about missionaries and people inserting themselves into the lives of the local homeless. We read about Richard Stearns leaving a cushy corporate job to be the CEO of World Vision and we see massive impact. We see the Charlie Rose interview with Bono and hear about Bill Gates taking on a mission to literally end poverty.
Wow. Talk about knocking it out of the park. We quietly think to ourselves, “I can’t wait to knock it out of the park like that someday. Can’t wait to get that chance.” We build this amazing vision and put it so high up on a pedestal that it actually becomes unattainable. Don’t get me wrong. I love big dreams. I need big dreams. But the dream of knocking it out of the park never happens if you don’t step up to the plate and start swinging.
I recently had breakfast with an amazing guy. It took some convincing to even get him to be open minded about how amazing he is, even though everyone around him seems to see it. We were talking about a big opportunity he had sitting in his lap, but there was concern that he would need to ditch his life to pursue it, quit his job, the whole bit. Ironically, this was about twelve hours after I wrote my last post “Cliff Diving.” His wife was, understandably, concerned. Would they be able to pay the bills? Would they lose the house? But she told him to pursue it if needed to. He has the support of his family, friends, and church. But he was worried. What if he stepped up to the plate, took that pitch, and blew it?
He’s a huge baseball fan. He lives the game. I asked him, “Do you know what you just described?” I explained that he had his smartest runners on base and his best hitter standing at the plate as the go ahead run. All of the pieces in his life had been put perfectly into position. This is something that happens so rarely in baseball and in life that you just don’t pass it up. You don’t want to blow it. You fear blowing it. You freeze.
“The guy at the plate is you, brother. And you’re the best man for the job.” He started quietly fighting back tears. His calling, his mission, were welling up inside of him. Drawn to the surface and fighting to get out.
“You know what God and everyone around you is saying right now?” His face fell and his shoulders dropped almost as in defeat. “Don’t strike out?” His answer captures perfectly the source of paralysis of our church today. He was convinced that this was his one shot, that he needed to knock that first pitch out the park or he was a failure.
God doesn’t set us up for failure like that.
I got excited. I saw hope where he saw fear. With a beaming smile I said, “No! The whole crowd is telling you to swing! You get three pitches. Stop putting the weight of the world on the first pitch! If you make your first move, and it fails, what happens? What actual real-world disaster happens?” After he thought about it for a while, there wasn’t one. There was at least a year of preparation work that needed to be done on this new opportunity before leaving his job would even be on the radar. He needed to step up to the plate and start swinging today, without worrying about whether that first swing was going to win the game. If he missed, he would swing again. Human mistakes don’t derail God’s plans.
We all do this. I do this. We step back in fear of an opportunity because we put so much weight on the first swing. If we don’t knock that first pitch out of the park then we have blown the most amazing opportunity we’ll ever get. So our natural response is to simply walk away from that amazing opportunity.
Stop shutting down your life of service because you’re afraid of what will happen when that first pitch comes across the plate. Resolve yourself today to get up to bat and stay there as long as you need to, swing after swing, until you get that pitch you need. Don’t sit on the bench terrified of what you would do with your first swing, worrying about what would happen if you missed. Stare down that pitcher and make one thing perfectly clear: You have no intention of walking back to the bench.
Here I am. I’m swinging. I’m writing posts. Again and again. Sometimes I connect. Other times I’m just fouling it off. But I’m at this plate and I’m not leaving. I’m not going to let my need to be perfect win out over God’s need for me to be heard. What first step can you take to get up to the plate and take your first swing? Today. And ask yourself honestly, all grand visions aside: What happens if you swing and miss? It’s not the disaster you’ve built it up to be in your mind. So get up there. Start swinging. Miss a few times. But stay at the plate. I’m in the stands cheering you on.
We were built to be heroes.
It’s about time we started acting like heroes.