read 1 Corinthians 2. What keeps us amateur tennis players coming back is that sometimes we have our Wimbledon moments. We hit the ball straight, hard and true, the way Hemingway wanted to use words. We sense we were made to hit the ball like that. We know that if we could just live in the zone, we could set sail for the tour.
So on Wednesday I drove out to Queens full of hope. I was heading for the tennis courts where they once held the U.S. Open. I’d never played with my partner before, and she was good. If she was hopeful I’d be a help to her, however, her every hope was dashed in the first set. I hit every ball in the net. If it wasn’t in the net, it was out. It went from embarrassing to shameful. I argued with myself. I berated myself. I pleaded with myself. I told myself I was an idiot. I told myself I was wonderful. Nothing worked. My poor partner went from looks of empathy to avoiding my eye. She was embarrassed for me. So was I. I was dragging us both down. We lost the first set 5-7, and the only reason we got 5 games was because she dashed around on the baseline and hit every shot I missed. I knew what I had to do. It was clear. My only option was to finish this match with as much dignity as I could muster and quit tennis forever.
All of a sudden, out of nowhere, about three games into the second set, I suddenly started to SEE the ball. The ball literally moved into slow motion. It got bigger. It felt so different to see it that I discovered I’d been closing my eyes at the moment of impact before. That enormous, slow moving ball gave me time to adjust my body to where the ball actually was. When the opponent served the ball at my body, I had time to scoot myself out of the way and get a good swing in. I started slamming every ball low and hard over the net. It whizzed down the enemy’s alley. It threaded between them. It fell at their feet. It lobbed over their heads. We won point after point. We won game after game. We won the set. Everyone was stunned, including my partner. “Nice shot,” they kept saying, wondering what had happened to the loser player of set one. I wondered, too. We ultimately lost in the third set, but I didn’t care. I’d redeemed myself.
“If only there was a way to bottle that,” my boyfriend texted me.
I can’t bottle it on the tennis court. But Jesus bottled it for us in real life. Ready? Lean in, and Paul will whisper the secret.
Paul uses a backwards kind of argument here to try to propel us forward. He says he won’t use lofty words. He won’t be clever or persuasive. He comes in weakness. He comes timid and trembling. And somehow by not being clever, he is the cleverest of all because he propels us away from himself, away from human logic and toward God logic.
Paul is using the language of the zone. Before I got in the zone on Wednesday, I literally couldn’t see the tennis ball. I came to the end of myself. That, I think, is the key. Once I was in the zone, I could see it perfectly. Time changed. Space changed. I was present in my body. I was present on the court. That’s the life of the Spirit. We come to the end of ourselves, and that’s where we find the Lord. God’s Spirit in us enables us to see ourselves and others as we actually are, without any of our usual distortions.
That’s why Paul talks here about how you have to have the Spirit to understand the language of the Spirit. God’s deep secrets must be revealed to us. Only God’s Spirit knows God’s thoughts, so God gives us His Spirit so we can know His thoughts. Since people who don’t have the Spirit only have a “physical life,” Paul says they can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It “sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it.” But once we have the mind of Christ, we can understand these things. 1 Corinthians 2.
So what thing is Paul talking about? Here’s the secret message in the bottle: every day we wake up and think we have to rely on ourselves. And every day that fails to work for us, the same as it did every other day. The only thing that works was that God was crucified for us.
That’s what Paul here calls “the secret”. He says it’s the “mystery of God”. He says it was previously hidden and now is revealed. The thing that no eye could see, no ear could hear, and no mind could imagine has actually happened. It’s so secretive and mysterious no human could have invented it: God was crucified for us. This is the truth that God now “reveals” to us by His Spirit: “for his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets.” Because God lived the perfect life we can’t live, and suffered the punishment in hell we deserve, we can go to heaven. When we believe in Jesus we receive “God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.”
Hold it. If God’s truths can only be revealed, how do we make the transition? How do we move from thinking it sounds foolish to say God had to die for us on the cross to moving to the place where we have the mind of Christ? How do we get into the zone if we’re outside the zone?
The same as I did on Wednesday. By coming to the end of ourselves. Here’s where the cross provides the answer to everything, including the cross. Jesus died for us because we need Him. He died because we are weak, fearful and timid. I know you’re not. But I am. And for anyone who senses that underneath it all, they might be, too, there’s good news. Hold onto your weakness. Hold onto your fears. Hold onto your trembling. Cling to the moments of shame. Remember when everyone averted their eyes from you because they were embarrassed for you. Remember when you averted your eyes from yourself.
Those are the beautiful times. Those are the moments of our glory. They’re the times when we see the truth. They enable us to stop looking for answers in empty places and instead cry out for help to the living God who created us to be in a relationship with Him. That’s where our darkness of selfishness and self-centeredness gets transfigured by God’s light.
When we abandon the life of relying on self, we become recreated from the inside out by the advent of the Holy Spirit. Being in a relationship with the one who made us moves us from being clumsy Frankensteins into becoming the most graceful creatures we’ve ever imagined. We let go of being hard, harsh, sharp and angry. Instead, we let God make us gentle. We let go of relying on shifting shadows and receive the strength, poise and grace of God.
That’s God’s wisdom. It seems foolish until we let go of thinking we know it all and are willing to come to Him like little children. Human wisdom is easily forgettable. But God’s secret plan once revealed can never be forgotten. To get into the zone, we have only to ask, seek and look. We step into our weakness with gentle humility. Relying on ourselves backfires. The harder we try, the more we discover all our flaws, weaknesses and failings. We project our failings onto other people like mad and hate them for it. We find we’re weak, plain, timid and trembling and there, when we think all is lost, God fills us with Himself. It’s what we always wanted but didn’t even think possible.
People love to say God’s ways are mysterious. Paul says they’re not. He says the mystery has been revealed. The bottle was cracked open on the cross, so God can heal our cracks. The cross makes plain for us the Way. It moved God’s Spirit from blowing across the face of the earth, to being able to blow inside of us. If we cry out for Him, His Spirit blows the fresh exciting peaceful winds of His love into our hearts. He is the wind. We need only open our sails. And sometimes we can’t even do that. If we ask, His Spirit will unfurl our every sail and enable our ships to sail home at last.
posted by Caroline Coleman on June 28, 2013 in a Chapter a Day