The Rules of Engagement

American tennis professional Andy Roddick, a perennial world top ten player between 2002-2010, was known for his blistering serve. He could hit the serve over 150 mph. I was in Cincinnati in 2002 for a professional tennis tournament and had a chance to see that serve up close. Roddick was practicing on center court the day before the tournament began. I was just behind the court when he began practicing serves—in my direction. My friends and I had to duck a few times as balls came whizzing past us. 

One of the highlights of Roddick’s career occurred in 2003 when, as a 21 year-old, he won his only grand slam tournament, the US Open. That was in September. He attained the world #1 ranking the following November. 

His rise to stardom came with great commitment, perseverance, patience, and some real obstacles. At age seventeen Roddick almost quit competitive tennis after experiencing a losing streak on the junior circuit. His coach encouraged him to focus on the game for a few more months before hanging up the racquet for good. Roddick stuck with it and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Andy Roddick’s journey as a professional tennis player illustrates “the rules” of engagement for a tennis player, or any athlete. Those rules include: 1. playing tennis is a process; 2. it’s a heart issue; and 3. it’s a team thing. 

No one decides to play tennis and the next day, week, or month wakes up a good tennis player. Becoming proficient involves understanding it’s a process. It takes time. So does evangelism. 

Jesus’ parable of the soils in the Gospels (Luke 8:4-15, Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20) sheds light on this reality. We’re called to sow gospel seed, which is the Word of God, and that takes time. The soil is the condition of a human heart, as Jesus explained, and is where the seed lands. As one Bible commentator notes, “The soils do not represent individual moments of decision as much as a lifelong response to God’s Word.”

I was in college the first time I heard the gospel. My initial responses were outright rejection of that message. However, people kept coming, and the Holy Spirit kept working on my heart. Four years passed between the time people began witnessing to me and the day I trusted in Christ in 1987.

Tennis is also about the heart. It takes a heart commitment to learn, grow, and develop. There will be obstacles along your journey. For Andy Roddick, it was facing a losing streak. Yet he made a heart commitment to continue and overcome. 

As we’ll learn, personal evangelism also requires a heart commitment. We know there will be many obstacles in our path to sharing the gospel with others. Commitment will help us overcome those obstacles. 

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

This key verse regarding the witnessing endeavor packs a punch. The prerequisite for what we share and the spirit in which we share is in alignment when Christ is on the throne of our hearts.

Central to God’s redemptive plan in delivering people out of bondage to sin into freedom in Christ is HIS heart to seek out and save the lost. In Luke 19:10 Jesus said, “…the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” – that’s you and me at one time, and now those people we interact with on a daily basis in the marketplace who have not yet trusted in Jesus.

Finally, tennis is a team thing. We may think of tennis as an individual sport. Yet, the reality is there is always a team behind the athlete, like in the case of Andy Roddick. There are coaches who teach, family who encourages and supports, practice partners, and other athletes on a similar path. In fact, at the professional level, there is what is known as the “entourage.” The entourage may include the coach, hitting partner, fitness guru, sports psychologist, nutritionist, massage therapist, agent, and others. 

Personal evangelism is also a team thing. We, the church, are engaging the Great Commission together—with God and with one another.

Jesus said to his disciples at the beginning of his earthly ministry, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).  And just before ascending to heaven at the end of His earthly ministry He stated, “Go and make disciples of all nations…and I will be with you always” (Matthew 28:19-20).

One of the mysteries of the gospel is that while God is all-powerful and is the author of salvation, He chooses to use people like you and me to bring other people to Himself.  For we, the church, are integral to His redemptive plan.  In fact, the Lord commands us to be actively involved in His redemptive work.

The implication of this reality is that we can neither shirk our personal responsibility to witness nor feel overwhelmed that we have to do the work of evangelism alone. Because God in His grace is sufficient to enable you and me to do our part in the evangelistic endeavor!  The Apostle Paul wrote “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God,  who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant…” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6).

Understanding these three “rules” of engagement, these overarching principles, will serve us well as we think about our effort in reaching the lost for Jesus Christ: 1) evangelism is a process; 2) evangelism is a heart issue; and 3) evangelism is a team thing. Over the next three weeks we’ll unpack each of these.

Now, if we don’t get these so called “rules of engagement” straight, our efforts will be hampered. Yet, when we engage our respective spheres of influence with these in mind, our experience will be more satisfying, our relationship with God will grow deeper, and our service to others will be more effective. 

“And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” – 2 Timothy 2:5 

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