by Dale Reeves
This past week I had the opportunity to attend a high school girls’ volleyball game at Deer Park High School here in town. My daughter Courtney teaches math at Deer Park and one of her students, Abi Pettyjohn, attends our church with her parents Barry and Billie Sue. Abi is currently ranked third with the most blocks in the Cincinnati Hills League, and she’s only a freshman! I enjoyed hearing Abi’s dad announce the lineups for each team with his booming voice, as the Deer Park Wildcats prepared to play their “Volley for the Cause” match against Mariemont High School, with funds raised going to the fight against breast cancer.
We talk quite a bit about our need for community connections at Christ’s Church, and in Deer Park I see a very close-knit community of caring and support for others. One of the signs posted on their gymnasium wall says this: “The only time we look down on our opponents is when we are helping them up.” That statement speaks to good sportsmanship and respect for others—no matter where they come from.
God’s Got This
I asked Abi’s dad what he likes about volleyball and watching his daughter play. Barry responded, “I like watching Abi play volleyball because I see how it engages her and expands her circle of friends. When she makes a block, she lets her inner warrior come out and she fires up her teammates!”
Retired elementary teacher Mary Geisen shares some helpful thoughts in this blog entitled, “What Volleyball Taught Me”
“God never drops the ball. He catches our joy, distress, grief, frustration, and stress and guards it with His love and grace. As I serve the ball, God is cheering me on with words like ‘good job,’ ‘you can do this,’ and ‘way to let go.’ God is on the other side of the net reminding us of our worth, gifts, and enough-ness. . . . When the ball is released, God is in control of where it goes. . . . There is nothing He doesn’t know about us. The details that I am so concerned about are ones that God cares about more than I ever will.”
Playing Offense and Defense
As I watched Abi and her teammates compete in the gym the other night, I thought about some comparisons between the game of volleyball and the Christian life we are called to. The apostle Paul makes one huge distinction in 1 Corinthians 9:25, “All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize” (NLT). Some common terms from volleyball can help us strive for that heavenly reward that is promised to all who faithfully follow after Christ (Revelation 2:10).
A “dig” in volleyball means that a player dives on the floor in order to save a spiked ball from hitting the floor and giving the other team a point. Players sacrifice their knees and bones to make a “save” and keep the ball in play. The more we “dig” into the Word of God, the more we allow God’s truths to become ingrained in our lives, keeping not only ourselves filled with the Word, but also making us more capable of sharing God’s Word with others. Jesus does the “saving,” but he invites us into the process of reconciling others back to himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
A “block” is a defensive play executed by one or more players achieved by jumping in front of the opposing spiker, meant to deflect a spiked ball back to the hitter’s court. We know that the mission of our enemy, Satan, is to seek to “steal, kill, and destroy” the work of God in our lives (John 10:10), but we also know that God has given us the power to block all of his advances as we use the shield of faith God has provided for us. Just as proper timing is key to a block in volleyball, so also it is key when we are blocking God’s enemy from trying to thwart his plans for us or others. Our timing of resistance is whenever Satan comes at us. We are to be ready at all times because we are not unaware of his tactics (2 Corinthians 2:11).
A “kill” in volleyball is a spike that results in an immediate point or a side out. When we think about dealing with our spiritual opposition, we typically think of a strong defense. But, how often do we go on the offensive and strike a blow to the kingdom of darkness? Our God gives us the mighty power of prayer to go on the offensive. We are to “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere” (Ephesians 6:18, NLT), as we triumph over our nemesis by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony (Revelation 12:11).
The jump serve is achieved in volleyball when a player tosses the ball in the air and then jumps into it and strikes the ball with force in its downward motion. In order to win a match, competitors need to be able to serve effectively, making sure that the ball lands in bounds in the court. An ace is scored when the serve is hit with such force and precision that the opposing team cannot return it or pass it to a teammate. In the Christian life, we can serve others by helping with whatever needs they have that we can help fulfill, “setting” them up for success. We are called to help meet physical needs, financial needs, emotional support, and spiritual needs, as God has so gifted each one of us to serve others. The apostle Paul instructs us: “Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality” (Romans 12:11-13, The Message).
Thanks for the lessons, Abi! And go Wildcats!