25 November, 2021

Oct. 10 | Application

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Playing Hurt

By David Faust

Cal Ripken Jr. played in every Baltimore Orioles game from May 30, 1982, to September 19, 1998—a record 2,632 consecutive Major League Baseball games. During that span of 17 seasons, Ripken kept playing shortstop or third base despite sprained ankles, a hyperextended elbow, and a twisted knee caused by a pile of players during an on-field brawl. Before the 1996 All-Star Game, an American League teammate slipped on a platform used for a photo shoot and accidentally slammed his forearm into Ripken’s nose while trying to catch his balance. Ripken’s broken nose was reset in time for him to play seven innings, and he was back in the Orioles’ starting lineup after the All-Star break. In 1997 he played for six weeks with a herniated disc in his back. Doctors said the pain would be intense but playing wouldn’t cause permanent damage, so Ripken stayed in the lineup and the Orioles won their division that year.

Ripken showed up and did his job day after day, season after season. Fans nicknamed him “The Iron Man.” Baseball experts believe his consecutive games record will never be matched. One sportswriter observed, “His Hall-of-Fame career is a testament to the grueling demands of baseball greatness, the subtle rhythm and constant fire required to compete.”

Successful athletes keep playing in spite of minor aches and many battle their way back to health after suffering major injuries. Likewise, serving the Lord requires perseverance through pain. The apostle Paul compared Christ followers to athletes in strict training, runners who refuse to quit till they finish the race, and boxers who take punches and keep swinging till the fight is over (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 2 Timothy 4:7). Paul knew what it felt like to be “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

Bible verses like these challenge the immature part of my soul that rebels against discomfort. I want life to be easy, but it’s not. I would rather avoid painful situations, but I can’t. I want ministry to be fun, but often it’s not. I hope to make it through each day with minimum aggravation, but that’s not realistic.

Bearing one another’s burdens often means leaning into stressful situations. If you’re a church leader, your job is a complex combination of caring, comforting, correcting, confronting, and challenging. If you try to heal the wounded, instruct the seeker, and motivate the complacent, you can’t dodge all conflict and criticism, and you won’t enjoy the luxury of sitting on the bench until game conditions are perfect and you feel 100 percent.

Reflecting back on his long career, Ripken said, “I always felt that I still had a contribution to make even when I was 90 percent, or 80 percent. I pushed myself, and sometimes I had some of my better games when I was under the weather.”

Christ our High Priest “learned obedience from what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).

The late Wayne Smith, longtime minister at Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky, preached a sermon called “Playing Hurt.” He declared, “You either play hurt or you don’t play at all.”

Jesus played hurt, and because he did, victory and celebration are ahead for all who stay in the game.

Personal Challenge: Right now, what hurt is tempting you to give up? In your personal journal or on a piece of paper, write a prayer that does two things: (1) honestly expresses your pain and (2) asks the Lord for strength to persevere and “stay in the game.”

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Image of Cal Ripken Jr. in 2007, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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