This was written on Tuesday, October 1, which will help some of you make sense of my use of “today” and “yesterday.” 😁
Hang in there with me on this one for a few minutes, ok?
For me, today is one of the saddest days of the year. It is a precursor to what is – for millions like me – the official Saddest Day of the Year.
Today there are no baseball scores to look at. No boxscores to peruse, no special in-game heroics videos to watch. Yesterday was a day without baseball. Of course it all changes starting tonight, as the month-long playoffs begin. But once they conclude, what is true about today will be true for several months. And there’s a touch of sadness in that.
Prior to 1964 I had absolutely no interest in sports. But that all changed in 1964 when I became a Baseball Fan. I lived in a suburb of New York City, and and my favorite team was the New York Yankees. My favorite player was Bobby Richardson, their second baseman at the time. Bobby had come to speak at the church where my parents and family would eventually come to know Christ.
In 1980 we moved to Philadelphia, and for a variety of reasons I switched allegiance to the Phillies and have been an avid fan of baseball in particular and the Phillies in particular. And if you are a baseball fan, yes, this has been a very long year.
I still collect baseball cards. I participate in a fantasy baseball league. I try to listen to at least part of each Phillies broadcast. I scan those boxscores in the morning. If I have opportunity, I watch “Quick Pitch” on the MLB Network. If I had to go on a desert island and could only take two books, I’d take a good reference Bible and the most recent Baseball Encyclopedia I could put my hands on. I even think I we might be able to play baseball in the age to come. (I’ve almost got that worked out. Maybe someday I’ll reveal my madness.) In short, I love the game.
You may be wondering what this has to do with being a pastor. I’ll confess it has nothing to do with preaching, church administration, or caring for the flock. But baseball and the variety of ways in which I enjoy it is a gift from God, and it has had an impact on my life and hence, my work as a pastor. I really do believe that.
Maybe baseball doesn’t seem like a gift of God to you. I can pray for your repentance. 😇 But God has given us a countless number of recreational pursuits that are valid, good, and actually quite necessary.
What’s your thing? Reading? Gardening? Hiking? Football? Stamp collecting? They are all gifts of God. Can they be abused? Yes they can. They can consume an inordinate amount of time. We can become too emotionally involved. As an example of the latter, I know of a young man who had to be taken from Lincoln Financial Field, where the Philadelphia Eagles football team plays, to the hospital because his upset over the way the Eagles were playing resulted in chest pains. We all know that’s a bit over the top. And while it is possible to enjoy our interests to in an unhealthy way, it is also possible to enjoy them in moderation.
Here’s what Paul wrote: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. – 1 Timothy 6:17 ESV (Italics mine).
Yes, it’s one verse. And yes, it can be twisted so that what is clearly sinful can be wrongfully called something God gave us to enjoy. But the fact is that the good things in our lives are good gifts from a kind and gracious God.
Here’s where this intersects with pastoral ministry: sometimes we get so caught up with the burden of the work we do that we burn the candle at both ends. If you do that – or are heading toward a lifestyle of doing that – no matter how noble your motives, you’re going to flame out. And then you’ll be no good to anyone. Don’t believe it? Based on what I’ve read over the years, pastoral burnout is alive and well and doesn’t appear to be going away soon.
Of course you should not be lazy in your ministry. Work hard at being a faithful shepherd. And of course you shouldn’t be obsessive with hobbies and interests. But don’t ignore them either. If you don’t have some kind of recreational interest, let me encourage you to find one.
Younger pastor or older, you need some kind of diversion to take your mind off of the pressures of ministry. You need this for your own mental and emotional well-being. You need to enjoy some of the gifts God has given to us. If you don’t, you’re likely going to reach a day when you are no longer effective in ministry. And that would truly be a very sad day.
For you fellow baseball fans, author David Hart wrote this piece in First Things almost a decade ago. Get a tissue. You might shed a tear.