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Count it all joy

Oklahoma softball players offer joy as an apologetic

The Oklahoma softball team celebrates after defeating Florida State in the NCAA Women’s College World Series on June 8 in Oklahoma City. Associated Press/Photo by Nate Billings

Count it all joy
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The University of Oklahoma Sooners softball team recently won the NCAA Women’s College World Series—again. As a matter of record, they have now won the championship three years in a row, and in reaching this milestone the dominating team has accomplished a truly amazing feat. When an ESPN reporter asked three Oklahoma players how they kept their joy under the pressure of a long season, infielder Grace Lyons made a beeline to the gospel: “The only way that you can have a joy that doesn’t fade away is from the Lord. And any other type of joy is actually happiness that comes from circumstances and outcomes.”

Now, it’s typical to see an interview like this and think how wonderful it was for such a bold Christian witness to get the limelight.

But we should take note of the interview, not just for its boldness, but for the powerful Christian argument it expressed. What should make us stop and appreciate the profound answer provided by the ballplayers? The answer is simple: The Christians linked joy to the gospel and in doing so presented a powerful apologetic for the Christian faith.

The young athletes could have easily said something more usual:

“We just play our game, one game at a time.”

“We keep our eyes on the prize.”

“We just believe in ourselves.”

“It’s all a matter of blocking out distractions and noise.”

“We’re simply there for one another through the ups and downs.”

“We have a great coaching staff.”

However, with grace and eagerness and gospel-centeredness, there was no beating around the bush here. Jesus was the reason. These ballplayers didn’t have to provide even a hint of Christianity in their answers. They could have reveled in self-glorification, yet these members of the Oklahoma softball team intentionally chose to take another route. They understood the stakes in today’s society, and they chose to provide the ultimate answer for the hope that is within them.

In a world of political, socioeconomic, racial, and ideological polarization and hatred, Christian joy stands out as different.

But it wasn’t merely the factual truth of the gospel that was on display here. In fact, it was the conduct of the Oklahoma Sooners players that caught the attention of bystanders. The way we conduct ourselves as Christians truly matters. People are watching and noticing the peculiarities of Christian conduct—things that truly stand out in society as different. In a world of political, socioeconomic, racial, and ideological polarization and hatred, Christian joy stands out as different.

Player Alyssa Brito stated: “This game is giving us the opportunity to glorify God.” No matter what our vocation may be, or wherever we may be in this world, whether we eat, or drink, or whatever we do, we should do it all to the glory of God.”

The joyful disposition that these ballplayers choose to display is not merely joy in the heart, but joy that is exhibited and evident for all to see—even to an ESPN reporter in a press conference. Joy is powerfully deployed as an apologetic.

As Christians—as those called to be light and salt in our low-sodium world—we so often choose to let our circumstances weigh us down and suck the joy out of us. Yet, there is a lesson to learn from these collegiate athletes. These women on a college softball team, whether they win or lose, understand that softball and sports is not the end of the world. Softball is not their identity. Even to win a NCAA college championship, there is no real fulfillment in such a great, yet fleeting, achievement.

We do, in fact, need to keep our eyes up and live joyfully. In a fallen world, it’s very easy to walk in discouragement. It’s very easy to become pessimistic and believe that all is doomed. However, that’s just not true. Jesus is alive and we have a good and gracious heavenly king who rules with righteous, eternal leadership in our lives. Evil is not winning. In fact, the days of sin and death are numbered and heavenly joy truly awaits those in Christ.

Just because the gospel is true, live like it. Choose today to live in joy. Keep your eyes up. Show the world what a Christian looks like.

Cheston Pickard

Cheston Pickard serves as discipleship pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.

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