I’m not an athlete. People who know me would confirm that readily and likely with eye rolling agreement. But I love athletics. I enjoy watching physically talented people who passionately commit themselves to their sport. I admire their dedication to training, to doing whatever is necessary to be the best.
There’s a training exercise in tennis that I find especially intriguing – not just because I can’t play tennis to save my life, but because of the larger meaning that it provides me as I seek to follow Jesus. This training exercise focuses on readiness. Players face the coach and run in place on the balls of their feet. They watch for the coach’s signal to move to either left or right, up or back. Until the coach gives the sign, the athletes hold in readiness. That’s a crucial skill, to be able to hold yourself in readiness. There’s a big difference between being on the balls of your feet and sitting back on your heels – it can mean the difference between points won or lost.
It’s not easy to hold yourself in readiness. You have to be alert, your entire body engaged and prepared to move. You have to be focused, intent on watching for the necessary sign. You have to be willing to act, following the signal the moment it arrives.
All this is true for tennis players, and it’s also true for followers of Jesus. We have to train ourselves in readiness. We have to cultivate a heart that holds itself in readiness. We need to be alert, engaged with our entire beings – not just our heads, not just our hearts – our whole selves, held in readiness.
It’s a matter of focus. You can’t be facing inward and be ready – you’ve got to be facing outward. You can’t be worried about your own desires and preferences and be ready – you’ve got to be concerned with what’s going on beyond yourself.
The ability to hold yourself in readiness. Important in tennis. Crucial in following Jesus.
A church volunteer I encountered recently described himself as ‘that donkey tied to a tree in Jerusalem, just waiting for Lord to have need of him.’ That guy knows how to hold himself in readiness.
Jesus closed his parable of the ten bridesmaids with this reminder: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:13). This isn’t just instruction for the end of our life, it’s instruction for the whole of our life. We are to live our lives on the balls of our feet, holding ourselves in readiness.
How do you hold yourself in readiness? What new experiences have you encountered because you were ready? What have you missed because you weren’t?