Read John 15:9-17

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. (John 15:12-15)

Are there levels in Christianity? Can you level up as in a video game? Are there graduation ceremonies and opening convocations? Are there different leagues? Are there servants and friends and children?

Although the traditional big three sports in this country are baseball, basketball, and (American) football, the sport that has the largest number of participants is soccer. There are rec leagues and select leagues and traveling teams that may drive an hour or two for games. There are regional and national leagues, where kids and their parents may fly each weekend for another national tournament. There is soccer in middle school and high school and university. There are lower- and higher-level pro leagues. Then there is international soccer.

Each league is way smaller than the last one. Maybe there are 1,000,000 American kids who play high school soccer, 100,000 who play soccer in college or university, 10,000 who play lower-level semipro or pro soccer, 1,000 who play in the MLS, and 100 who play international soccer. Just to make up some numbers.

Of course, the vast majority of soccer players play in rec leagues. These are casual, fun leagues that aren’t very competitive. The games are recreational. I used to enjoy watching 5-year-olds play soccer in the city rec league in the park across the street from my apartment. There would be a crowd of kids following the ball around, swinging their feet. When one of them connected with the ball, the the ball would move and the crowd would follow to the new location. Meanwhile, the goalies would be sitting in the grass, maybe looking the other way or playing with a bug they found in the dirt, enjoying being outside.

Occasionally there would be a kid who could control the ball a bit. He would kick the ball to the side of the crowd, chase it down, kick it again behind the crowd, chase it down again, and kick it in the goal past the keeper who was looking the other way. He might score several goals in a game.

A kid like that might graduate to a select team, a team where players have to try out, where there are coaches and uniforms and practices and games against other select teams. He would go from being the big star to the worst player on the team. But he would practice and improve. Eventually, if he practiced enough, he might graduate from that team to a premiere team.

Typically, what differentiated a kid like that from the rest of the team is that he would practice. He actually took a few minutes each day to kick a ball around. Maybe he had an older brother who would kick it around with him.

And why did he practice? He had seen his brother play in higher leagues. He saw soccer at the local university, with cheering crowds. He saw soccer on TV. And he wanted to be one of those players. He thought he could make it if he tried hard enough. He had desire. He had hope.

Hope is not just a feeling. The feeling of hope is only true hope if it spills out into practice. Just as the feeling of love is only true love when it spills out into helping your brother or sister in need. “All those who have hope purify themselves.”

I sometimes wonder whether the large majority of Christians are in the Christian rec league. Christianity is a social thing, an activity, entertainment. But the bug in the dirt is often more interesting. They don’t actually practice apart from going to games. They don’t set aside time each day to pray. They don’t have hope of being transformed to be like God. They follow the crowd.

Do you have hope? There is a test. If you have hope, you practice. You set aside time each day to pray, or to read a good book, or to read through the Bible, or to think about the life of Jesus and how that compares to your own life. And if it’s difficult, you keep practicing. Maybe you join a team with a coach who can instruct you and give you drills and check up on whether you are practicing. Or maybe, if you’re serious about it, you find an individual coach.

Or maybe, like most, you just prefer to play in the dirt and follow the crowd.

Categories: Meditation

Harry Plantinga

Harry Plantinga is a professor of computer science at Calvin University and the director of and