Looking back on my playing career, I realize now more than ever how much of my character was shaped by the game of baseball. Clearly, God was in control, but he used the game as part of making me more like him. It’s for those reasons I’ll never apologize for being a baseball fan, or for coaching, or for using the game as a means to share the Gospel of Jesus. The Holy Spirit did tremendous work in my heart and mind during my time as a player, and I believe this is one of the great answers to “Why do we play?”

Why do we play? We play for what it does inside us.

Up front, I’ll let you know that my approach to the inside work done in us is unapologetically focused on God’s work in us, not some “warm-fuzzy” disconnected from Jesus. Honestly, these character traits mean very little apart from Him. It is only as these are developed by him in us that they have significance and lasting effect.

As God used the game in my life, here are three things he developed in me.

1. Commitment. Anyone who is part of a team recognizes that commitment is foundational to it all. Each player must commit to being where he says he will be, doing what he says he will do, and honoring the length of his commitment to his coaches and teammates. If done the right way, sports like baseball require a tremendous level of commitment from the players, which serves them well beyond their playing days. After all, how cliche is it to hear that young people just aren’t committed to anything anymore? I say it’s not true, at least not true of those whose playing days required something of them. In my life, God used the game to show me how important commitment is and to reinforce my commitment to him and his calling on my life.

2. Work Ethic. From what I learned, there are two types of workers: those who will do what is required when someone is watching and those who will do what is required and more, even when no one sees or cares. Just as in life, baseball affords each player a choice in this matter. I’m grateful to have played for coaches who made hard work an integral part of the program, who paid attention, who called me out for a lack of work ethic, who refused to let me slide by when I could give more. Ultimately, though, work ethic is something that comes from the inside. It cannot truly be imposed. It must be developed and valued in your heart and mind. And, solid work ethic can only truly be sustained by God’s Holy Spirit. He alone can make it part of who you are, whether or not someone is watching and whether or not you gain immediate reward from it. He alone can help you see what your faithfulness to hard work (in whatever area of life) can do.

3. Endurance. I wasn’t much of a runner. In fact, I hated running. Sprinting was fine, but the long distance stuff? Well, I’m just not built for it. I didn’t have the endurance for it. So, I’m thankful that running endurance wasn’t God’s primary concern for me when I played. It was an endurance far more important. It was the endurance that kept me going when I got frustrated, when I failed, when I was injured, when things didn’t go my way, when I felt like giving up. It’s the endurance that is developed through adversity and even unfair circumstances. It’s the endurance that I need as a husband, father, pastor, coach, friend, and follower of Jesus. I learned to endure as God allowed me to play baseball. I learned to keep going, to not give up, to look difficulty in the face and move forward, to know what it feels like to fail and get back on my feet, to understand that I won’t always get a hit or win every game, but that the sun will still rise tomorrow and that my hope and source of endurance is Jesus himself. It’s his example I learned to follow (check out Hebrews 12:1-3).

Commitment, Work Ethic, and Endurance. I could list more, but those stand out. I’m thankful that I played to learn that. I’m grateful that the Holy Spirit taught me so much through the game and continues to do so.

Why do we play? We play for what it does inside us.

What about you? What has God done inside you through playing the game?