Should the Christian life primarily be viewed as intense (focused, passionate), or primarily as relaxed (peaceful, trusting)? Trudi and I regularly invite college students to our house for dinner, and this was the question we discussed during a recent dinner.
As we conversed, students at the table brought up a variety of Scriptures, some of which seemed to point one direction, and others that appeared to point the opposite direction. Such as:
“Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). Intense.
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Relaxed.
“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13b-14). Intense.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6). Relaxed.
“Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:62). Intense.
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind stays on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). Relaxed.
“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:4). Intense.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Relaxed.
“So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27) Intense.
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Colossians 3:15). Relaxed.
We kept talking. More verses, more thoughts … but we still didn’t seem to be making much progress in answering our central question: Should the Christian life primarily be described as intense or relaxed?
Then, one of the students at the table made a comment that I think might stick with me for the rest of my life. He said, “When I played high school tennis, my coach used to use the expression relaxed intensity to describe how we should play our matches. The best players are those who play hard, but are also mentally calm.”
A cross-country runner told us that his running coach talked about preparing for meets in a similar fashion. You have to run as fast as you can, but remain in a relaxed state of mind throughout the race.
This conversation about tennis and running reminded me that my high school basketball coach often chided us about the need to play hard and loose. Hard and loose. At the same time.
Brain exploding. Light bulbs turning on. What a wonderful way to describe the Christian life!
Besides, I love the sports analogy! Drawing upon sports to illuminate an answer to this question seems fitting, since the biblical character we often first think of when talking about passion and intensity is the Apostle Paul, who loved sports analogies. Did you notice that three (out of five) of the above-listed examples about intensity were sports analogies from Paul (1 Timothy 6:12; Philippians 3:13b-14; 1 Corinthians 9:26-27; cf. 2 Timothy 4:8; Galatians 5:7)? But did you also notice that three (out of five) of the relaxed examples above were from the Apostle Paul (Romans 14:17; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 3:15)?
Paul didn’t seem to think that we had to make a choice between one or the other.
Perhaps we should stop viewing the Christian life as primarily intense or primarily relaxed. Maybe we should try to link these ideas. We intensely press forward, while always resting in the One who sustains us. We never permit zeal to wane (Romans 12:11), but constantly rejoice in hope (Romans 12:12, the very next verse).
Thus, filled with faith and fervency, we fight the good fight of faith. Using the words of my insightful student—words that he learned from his high-school tennis coach—we press forward with:
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