Football, Formation, and Faith: What’s Practice Got to Do with Pentecost?
More than you may know!
“The abiding presence of the Spirit is the signature gift of Pentecost. A gift that invites us to experience the empowerment of God’s Spirit. This experience within the life of the believer delivers a host of life-giving outcomes that uniquely equip us for devotion within the context of community.”
Yet individualism is the perversion of this great truth. Individualism begins and ends in the worship of self as the only and ultimate value. Individualism causes us to act individualistically. For that, the only tools required are selfishness and short-sightedness.
Even though we are awash in the tide of individualism, we know – in our gut – that we need other people in our lives. The invitation to be connected to a life-giving community is one that always beckons.
An Ancient Ache
Tim Keller notes that this ancient ache to be a part of a community is good – it’s even connected to our experience of joy, when he says,
“God made us in such a way that we cannot enjoy our joy without friends.”
We long to enjoy our joy with others!
So, we act on this ache.
We respond to this invitation
Taking steps toward others, however, requires trust. Our first steps are timid. We divulge parts of ourselves that we believe will be readily accepted and received. Slowly, we wade into the deep end and become more vulnerable. We not only divulge more, but we hope for – crave – more in return.
Then it happens: we get burned by someone.
Or, someone breaks a promise. Or, worse still, someone – God-forbid – expresses a differing political opinion than the one we dearly love.
You get the picture.
Things get messy and relationships get difficult. The old patterns of fight or flight begin to assert themselves. The internal tide of individualism gains momentum. In motion with this tide, we begin to behave individualistically. Slowly but surely, we pull out. We excuse our cowardly retreat and call it self-protection, or self-care.
Fight or Flight Mentality Will Always Stifle Formation
Our individualistic tendencies cause us to blame others. As we nurture and act on this blame-shifting, self-preserving behavior, the hope of formation, or lasting change – which happens best over time, within the context of community – diminishes. Sadly and ironically, when we choose flight or fight, we miss the moment when growth best takes place.
Last week, as I continued my reflections on Football, Faith, and Formation, I suggested that devotion is a central component of formation because community (or team, leaning on my football analogy) is the specific context in which and from which formation takes place.
As extreme individualists, this is a difficult concept to grasp. Indeed, many of us recklessly believe that lasting change can take place in isolation from others.
We’ve been duped.
It’s time to consider communal experiences for examples of how formation takes place. The communal experience I’m considering is the experience of football, specifically High School Football.
The practice or rhythm I’m focusing on is devotion.
My son experiences devotion on a daily basis. It’s a devotion that many athlete’s experience regularly. And, though is felt by the athlete, it is actually more intuitive for the believer in Christ.
One might, in fact say, that devotion is our (the believer’s) native tongue!
That’s why devotion is the bedrock of formation.
The Power of Devotion and the Promise of Pentecost
Devoted means, to be faithful to, to attach oneself to, continue in, keep close company with, or – my personal favorite – to persist obstinately in.
Each definition assumes some subtle truths we might easily overlook:
- Conflict and Pain are Often the Experience of Life. The first definition, to be faithful to, for example, assumes a context in which faithfulness is required. We all long for relationships in which we can be faithful to others and ones in which others are faithful to us. We want to know that when the road gets tough, our friends are going to stick around! Therefore, devotion, as a bedrock of formation, prepares us for the pain that often comes along with meaningful community. It’s a practice, or better – posture – that assumes life with others is filled – at times – with pain and strife!
- A Covenantal Attachment. Next, devotion is framed as an act of attaching oneself to another. Again, the word assumes a context in which stickiness is going to be necessary. Stickiness the type of devotion that’s imagined by the wedding vow. The vow is nothing short of a public proclamation of one’s desire to be sticky with another. Stickiness is not easily broken and always keeps the relationship secure. Derivatively, devotion can never be practiced in isolation, it must be practiced within the context of community. The language of devotion implies a rock-solid commitment designed to stand the test of time and trial. Terms like faithful, close company, and attachment stand out as signatures of communal experiences. They also sound very much like the Gospel and the promise of Pentecost!
- A Reliance on Grace! My favorite definition of devotion is, to persist obstinately. This doesn’t mean that we remain persistently obstinate in our assumptions or wishes. Rather, it means that we hunker down and work through our problems with others. This language sounds very much like what the Apostle Paul calls the Fruit of the Spirit. I believe that, above all else, the Fruit of the Spirit is the signature gift of Pentecost.
This last assumption begins to move us toward the heart and hope of the Gospel as it relates to lasting change.
By reminding that the pervasive biblical reality – at the heart of the Gospel – is the experience of the Spirit’s abiding presence within. This abiding presence of the Spirit makes union with Christ not only possible, but probable (cf. Romans 8:16). The indwelling presence of Christ perfectly empowers us to practice devotion within the context of community.
If the abiding presence of the Spirit is the signature gift of Pentecost, then the singular mark Pentecost is the Fruit of the Spirit in the life of the believer!
Next week, I’ll pick up on this theme and begin to unpack how football experiences more of this reality, particularly devotion within community that offers the hope of lasting change, than the church.
Disrupting to Renew!