Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Holding Out...Forever

Joe Sargent/Getty Images
The NFL season is in full swing. I know that’s more of a baseball metaphor, but “the NFL season is in full tackle” doesn’t really get my point across. One of the nice things about the start of the actual season (versus the coverage of the preseason) is that most of the stories we read about the league deal with what’s going on on the field. Who won last week? Who’s playing well? Who isn’t? Which teams are living up to expectations, or down to them? Who is under- or over-achieving? A major reason that the NFL preseason is so tiresome is that, having come to the (correct) conclusion that the “games” are absolutely meaningless, the press turns to off-the-field and procedural stuff to feed the ravenous monster that is football fandom. So we get interminable stories about “Twitter beef,” which practice squad player might get cut this week, and—perhaps least interestingly of all—why certain players are “holding out” and when they might come back.

Every year, there are players who “hold out.” This, in short, means that a player is dissatisfied with his contract and is therefore refusing to show up to work until he is offered a new one. The mechanism of this is usually that Player A willingly signs a contract only to see that, in the subsequent weeks or years, Players B and C, who are demonstrably less talented than player A (at least, in Player A’s opinion), sign better contracts. More money, more guarantees, more, more more. Player A gets frustrated and demands a new contract, refusing to play until he gets one.

We fans are then subjected to the never-ending rumor mill: is the team going to give in? The player is under contract, after all, so they don’t have to cave to his pressure…but they want to look like a team who “takes care” of their players so that future players might sign there in free agency. Does this player “deserve” the more lucrative contract he desires? No one says anything publicly, because it’s against league rules, so we get reports from people “close to the situation” or people “familiar with Player A’s thinking.”

It’s exhausting.

But this year, it got me thinking. Thinking, actually, of a classic hymn. Joseph Hart’s “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy” (1759) includes this powerful verse:
Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.
These NFL hold-outs are trying to do the impossible: wait until everything is just right before they put their pads on. Christians know that “just right” doesn’t exist…at least, not outside of Christ.

The thinking is related, isn’t it? The football player wants to get what he deserves before he comes. Too many people think similarly: we want desperately to become deserving before we approach God. We want to be assured that we will hear those coveted words: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). In both cases, though it works itself out slightly differently, it’s all about deserving. Joseph Hart, though, knows that deserving is beyond our sinful grasp. We are “lost and ruined by the fall.” If we were to hold out—to wait until we are better to try to approach God—we’d never get there. We’d never feel good enough, prepared enough, righteous…enough.

But in God’s economy, “deserving” isn’t something that’s expected of us, it is something that is given to us. That “well done, good and faithful servant” is a benediction spoken to Jesus Christ and then given to us in that indelible moment on the cross when all of his deserving became ours.

In the hold out of our sinful lives, God comes to us while we pout at home, fixated on what we do or don’t deserve. He comes to us while we are in our contract dispute, while we are his enemy (Romans 5:10). We needn’t tarry, after all…in Christ, we have already been declared worthy. In and on account of Christ, we deserve all that God can—and does—give. Our hold out, in fact, is already over!

Another verse of Hart’s hymn:
View Him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies;
On the bloody tree behold Him;
Sinner, will this not suffice?
Indeed, it will suffice. And it does.

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