Assurance and Success

Assurance and Success

It’s another early Sunday morning and it should shock nobody to know that I’m thinking about baseball, life, and spiritual matters. It is a little bit odd to me to realize how often I think of baseball metaphors these days. Until I started going out with Jody, now my wife, I never watched or thought about baseball at all. I remember sitting with her and asking silly questions as we watched my step-son John Webb pitching for Manatee Community College. I didn’t know what a strike was at that point. Now John is playing winter ball, and I’m reflecting on the world series. How things change!

The headline on MSNBC read Cardinals “shocked the world” to clinch Series, or actually just one of the headlines on that and many other news services. Nobody expected the Cardinals to win the series. Nobody expected them to be in the series. A few times, we were thinking they wouldn’t make it to the post-season. As it happened, however, they not only won, but won in a convincing way.

So what happened? Well, I’m no expert, even now, having learned what I know of baseball of the last eight years watching John, and occasionally bugging him with questions on the phone, but I have observed human nature over the years and I think the Tigers got used to winning in the post-season. They said the right things about overconfidence, but I think it slipped in anyhow, and when they went up in that first game against the Cardinals and realized that the reality was not going to be the same as the predictions, that assurance (or over-assurance as it happened) went away, and then desperation set in.

Good players make silly mistakes when they’re shaken, and that’s precisely what Detroit did. Don’t take anything away from the Cardinals who pulled together as a team, worked hard, played well, and clearly kept their mental attitude together. But the Tigers helped them out, and did so with the type of errors they should not have made. Despite all their comments about knowing the Cardinals were a tough team and they would have to work for it, I think deep down they believed the predictions. They thought they were going to walk all over the 83 win upstart team that was tired from a seven game series with the Mets, and then it didn’t happen.

There’s something interesting about assurance or confidence. It has to be in precise balance. Overconfidence is deadly. Underconfidence is deadly. Only confidence will do. Once you’re off to one side or the other, it’s hard to get back in balance. That, I think, was the key element of the Cardinals win, and something for which Tony LaRussa is to be congratulated, along with several of the leaders on the team: They managed to go from underconfidence to precisely the right level of assurance and performance. That’s not easy to do in baseball, or anywhere in your life.

Hebrews 10:35 reads: “35Don’t throw away your boldness {or confidence, assurance}, which has great reward.” Don’t throw it away!

But the secret is that there are two ways to throw it away–under and overconfidence. You can observe this with students in a class. The ones who are very, very confident are often the ones who don’t study and get into trouble. Then there are the ones who are so underconfident that they don’t believe they can get anything done. Somewhere between are those who have the right amount of confidence, so they study as much as is necessary, but don’t kill themselves doing things that are not necessary.

Good confidence, and good boldness and assurance involves three things. Realistic, but not pessimistic goals, realistic estimation of what is necessary to attain those goals, and lastly, reliance on the right things.

In the spiritual life especially, assurance involves the one in whom we place our trust, Jesus, the “pioneer and perfecter” of our faith. But both in our spiritual life and in our day-to-day living, we also need to look at ourselves to see whether we’re moving forward. A pioneer goes before, but no matter how well the pioneer prepares the way, the person behind still has to decide to follow, and still has to count the cost and prepare to pay it. Overconfidence results in underpreparation.

In our spiritual lives, one key way in which we can keep our confidence level in balance is through spiritual disciplines. I don’t have a formula for this. For me, it’s devotional Bible reading and time for prayer primarily. For others there may be other formulas. How do you know? Discover what spiritual disciplines help keep your mind in balance. Pursue those.

Don’t let anyone steal your confidence–in either direction.

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