On June 19, 1917, Augustus Hopkins Strong attended his 60th class anniversary at Yale. Dr. Strong had been the president of Rochester Theological Seminary for 40 years, resigning in 1912. This was a great Baptist school while he was there. He is famous for a three-volume Systematic Theology that he wrote.
Out of the twenty survivors from the class of 1857, six gathered for dinner. With wives and children the number was 17. Strong describes what happened like this:
No grace was said. Mrs. Holbrook afterwards remarked that her husband did not request me to ask a blessing for fear it would throw a gloom over what ought to be a happy occasion. I thought it a sad indication of a very common view of religion held even by Christian people, namely, that religion is a mournful thing to be kept out of sight whenever possible instead of being the joyful recognition of the Giver of every good and perfect gift.
As I read this I thought of softball season coming on at Bethlehem. We will have five teams plus a soccer team. Most begin playing this week. I think this is great. When I was in high school I played third base on our church men’s fast-pitch team. I still have a trophy which I got one year for being a good sport because some Methodist gorilla ran over me at third base and I didn’t swear.
Those were great days. I enjoyed every minute of it. I expect to play again in heaven (or in a retired pastor’s league). But our coach did not share Mr. Holbrook’s notion about prayer. In fact, it never entered any of our heads that to pray before our games might “throw a gloom over what ought to be a happy occasion.” We prayed every time and, if anything, it made our playing happier.
God wills that there be recreation. It’s like sleep. The Bible doesn’t command it. But the Bible is clearly in favor of health (Jesus made people well, not sick), and it assumes we will have the sense to know what food and sleep and recreation we need to stay mentally and physically fit. But, like sex, softball has more than utilitarian value. In the proper bounds it is a gift of God that fills a God-given desire and is to be “received with thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4-5).
In other words, since God wills recreation, he also wills to be in on it. It is crazy to think that God would create in us certain desires, ordain the innocent means of satisfying them and then spoil the whole thing if we pause to ask his blessing on it. On the contrary, he will not spoil the fun; he will enlarge it and purify it, so we don’t go home feeling crummy about how we acted. He will transform the game into a little slice of joyful life and turn the field into a diamond of grace.
So pray with all your heart, and play with all your heart, and not matter what the score, Bethlehem will always be the winner.