I don't know a lot about baseball, but I know from bitter experience that a batter is out after three strikes. Miss the ball three times and your turn is over.
I am, by nature, a quitter. It doesn't take a lot of humiliation or bruises to make me walk away from a difficult situation. Many years ago, a dear friend told me I give up too easily. He was right, and that observation haunts me when I'm tempted to quit something I know I can do. A more recent friend and supervisor likened me to a bulldog, who will go after something until I get it. Perhaps I've learned my lesson. Better yet, I hear the words of another friend whom I haven't met yet: The apostle Paul, who said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).
Out of the dozens of plants and trees in our yard, two stand out as notable to me. One is a rosebush, the other a catalpa tree. Roses are the exemplars of elegance in the world of flowers, while catalpas are judged as junk trees. There are people that the world would classify as one extreme or the other.
The catalpa was there when we moved in 20 years ago. I like it because we had one near my boyhood home, and I loved the little "bananas" that it produces. I've come to appreciate the delicate white flowers that look like popcorn and flutter to the ground like snowflakes. They do make a mess, however--hence the "junk" characterization.
During a recent sewer line problem, the workers cut away a significant part of the catalpa's roots. One landscape company told us to cut down the tree because it was hopeless. We found another crew that recommended fertilizer, thereby saving and strengthening the tree. It is alive and flourishing today, and we enjoy it's breadth and beauty.
My wife planted the rose the first year we moved in, so it's very precious to us. She nurtured and trained it--teaching me what aphids and Japanese beetles are--and it added great beauty to our garden and life. A couple years ago, it broke in a storm. Lynda trimmed it down to nothing, and it looked pretty bad. The next year, it started to grow again, but another wind broke it down. I propped it up but down it went again. There was nothing left but a dead stump.
We would not give up: I prayed, she fertilized. We saw no signs of life--no potential for beauty--but we did what we could. This year, there is a fresh but fragile new shoot where it seemed the bush was shot.
The catalpa was alive but broken. The rosebush appeared dead and ugly. One is considered garbage, the other glorious.
It seems society wants to let the broken and unlovely die. God, however, likes to fix the broken and give new life to the dead. Out of His great love for us, He often lets us stay at bat after three strikes. Although we may have no strength, we can do more than we think, through Christ who strengthens us.
Never give up on those whose lives are broken, whose spiritual lives are fruitless, even if you are one of them. When someone suggests that you can do great things for God and you think, "That ship has sailed--and sunk," maybe that little bit of life in you needs some heavenly humus. Perhaps, you can strengthen the things that remain in others--and yourself (Hebrews 12:12).
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