We were the worst team in the league. All right, the second worst. We won one game the entire season by virtue of being the only team to score.
There was no reason at first glance for our team to do so poorly. We had all the right ingredients, and we trained just as hard as everyone else — or so we thought. Our teamwork was a bit loose and fractured at times, but that’s just what happens when a bunch of 9- and 10-year-olds play ball, right?
We practiced as a team a couple days each week, and all players were encouraged to take home their soccer practice and do drills in their spare time.
I never did. There were too many trees I hadn’t explored, too many fences I hadn’t snuck under, and far too many opportunities to take on my good friends in mock combat with wooden swords and makeshift bows. Even a good book was more interesting than kicking a ball around the field.
I would play soccer, but I was not interested in living the game. Practicing on Mondays and Fridays and playing games on weekends were fine, but that was the extent of it.
In retrospect, most of the team behaved that way. Even on the field, soccer was hardly our focal point. The goal-keeper would play with dandelions or lie on his back and watch the clouds – provided the ball was at least half a field away. Certain defensive players were sometimes more interested in kicking up the turf with their cleats than watching the plays. I, of course, was not among those laggardly layabouts.
The truth, however, is clear in hindsight. Our attitudes as individuals towards practice at home had leaked over into our attitude as a team towards the games.
Evangelicals are good at practice, and we live for the games. Sunday morning worship, Wednesday night Bible study, and, if you’re a “good Moody student,” at least a half hour or so in the Word every day, not counting prayer time.
We often equate the frequency and length of our devotional times with the quality of our relationship with God. We love practice.
Sometimes, though, the practice and the games become wearisome. It’s so much more fun to watch an episode of our favorite show instead of reading our Bibles and sleep in on Sunday mornings instead of attending church. But if practice is becoming a bother, my question is: how often do we do drills?
Drills are different from practice; all you need is yourself and the ball; or, if we apply the metaphor here, you only need yourself and the Lord.
Drills are simple, easy, practical. They don’t require silence or a quiet room or a Bible.
Drills are prayers that can be said in any situation, any place, at any time. Like the ‘arrow prayer’ in Nehemiah 2:2, shot up to a listening and loving God in the middle of a conversation, or like the Orthodox ‘Jesus Prayer’ “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner,” drills are short. They are memorable, and they are frequent.
Drills facilitate the believer’s saturation in the loving presence of the Almighty, an obedient, loving response to the Scriptural admonition to pray without ceasing.
They are the farthest thing from burdensome mental concentration on some abstract conception of the attributes of God. They are an active participation in the life of the True Vine, feeling the life-giving vitality of his presence flow through us, His Branches.
Practice getting you down?
It’s time to live the game.
This piece is considered a “standard” column in our print edition.
Adventurous Inconveniences: Seeking the grand adventure behind life’s little inconveniences
by John Osborn, sports editor