Yesterday afternoon, Rafael Nadal and John Isner, two of the world's top tennis players, squared off in the championship of a tournament in Cincinnati. They spent a few hours hammering serves, diving for balls, and smashing great shots in front of thousands of people in the stands and hundreds of thousands of TV viewers. It was a spectacle. Professional tennis is a great spectator sport.
Meanwhile, I was playing tennis with a good friend in Urbana. We are the same age, and he always beats me because he stinks a little less than I do. I joked to Joel, my opponent, "You know, each of us has the advantage when the other guy is hitting." We were playing in front of no one, moving like three-legged deer, hitting the ball with the authority and confidence of inebriated monkeys. It's a good thing no one was watching. Old man tennis may be a spectacle too, but it's not a spectator sport.
This morning I'm reflecting on the power of being watched, and I'm asking myself a few questions: Is my life a spectator sport? Is anyone watching? Does the size of the audience matter? Does my level of play--the consistency of my life--remain the same whether I am alone with God or in the company of many? I think they call this integrity.
As a pastor, I know I am being watched. People expect certain responses and behaviors. They watch my interaction with others, or with my family, and they form opinions, good and bad, about my character and my worthiness for "ministry." I don't know if it's fair, but it's normal and I've come to expect it. People who know me well realize how normal and screwed up I am, but I confess that there are times I find myself acting a certain way just to impress strangers who might be watching. I want to please the crowd and make it look like I am something more than I really am. It's stupid. Poser.
On the other hand, there are lots of times when I fail to live up to my own expectations in the privacy of my own heart. Those are the days when my integrity is more embarrassing then old men playing bad tennis. While nobody else may see the nonsense being played out on the court of my interior life, I see it. And more importantly, my Heavenly Father sees it. He is the truest, most discerning audience of all. And while he convicts me of my failure and desires my improvement, he also loves me in spite of it all. His mercies are new every morning. I am thankful that he watches me not with judgment, but with forgiveness, compassion, and maybe even a sense of humor. It's an audience I can play before without fear, no matter how bad I look.
I hope you can play better than I do, and I hope you hear the encouraging applause of your biggest fan no matter how well or how poorly you think you are doing.