…that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Eph. 3:16-19 NASB
Americans love their sports. To be a fan means that to some degree you are fanatical. From elementary programs to professional sports, people will go to great lengths to support their local or state teams. From bodies being covered head to toe with paint or the display of outrageous costumes and props, even when their team is lack luster, there still exists a level of support for “the team”.
As a sports official, I have seen and heard many things from the fan base at local junior high and high school athletic events that sometimes makes you just shake your head in disbelief that people can take sports so seriously. I have seen fans (mostly parents or grandparents) come after coaches for not playing their child enough. Others I officiate with have seen fans throw things on to the court or field that could potentially inflict bodily harm, all because something happened that affected their team that they didn’t like. I can’t repeat some of the things I have heard from various people in the stands and along the sidelines who clearly disapprove with a call or non-call. Sometimes altercations break out between fans, or fans to officials or even fans to athletes. Notice the common thread, the attitudes of the fans have a direct influence on the event.
I wonder how many of us have simply become a “fan” of Christianity? We faithfully attend every event and cheer on the ministry of the church. (There is nothing wrong with this.) Occasionally you might here a “You the man, pastor, preach it like it is”. Or perhaps someone might say, “Come check us out. Our church has this great program for kids.”, or “Look at what all God has given us with our huge campus and great facilities”. Every church ought to have those cheerleaders that proclaim, “Our music is so good that when you worship with us, you KNOW you have truly worshiped”. Sometimes though, the “fan base” is not so excited with the performance of “the team”. We express our dissatisfaction with the “play calling or officiating” by being quick to criticize who or what does not meet our expectations. “Pastor, you’ve gone too far and now you are meddling”. “Why are we doing that, how’s that going to put behinds in the seats?” “Have you seen the condition of our bathrooms lately, what are we paying the custodian for if the bathrooms are going to look like that?” “Don’t you think it is about time we sing more hymns? I get tired of singing the same phrase over and over and over again. (Did you ever stop to think about what we will sing in heaven, Holy, Holy, Holy?) “We need to sing more contemporary songs because nobody knows what “Here I raise my Ebenezer” means anyway.” (Look at 1 Samuel 7 and you’ll discover what an Ebenezer is). The “fan base” seems to grow larger when it comes to serving in the church? “I’ve done my time; let someone else carry the ball”. “I’m not talented enough.” “I’m not educated enough.” “I’m not worthy enough.” “You don’t know my past.” “I just don’t have the time”
The “fan” of Christianity is the one who looks around and sees the “team” God has assembled and is content to simply know they are on the team. There is no spirit of “put me in coach, I’m ready to play”. When adversity comes, the thought process is to disengage and hope the difficulty passes by quickly. There’s no sense of when a teammate is down and hurting to come alongside and help carry the burden. When the “local team” appears to be losing or struggling, or there is a dissatisfaction with the “play calling” they abandon it and become a fan of some other team being content to sit on the sideline there. The “participant”, on the other hand, is the one who strives to see life and all its hardships as opportunities to glorify God. “I don’t know how God wants to use me but I am willing to do whatever is needed to minister to others.” “I believe God is with me in this adversity and that He will work all things for my good and His glory.” “I am sorry you are hurting, let me pray with you and for you. How can I best care for you.” “I know God has a plan for us and I am in this with you for the long haul no matter what it takes.”
So what makes the “fan” and the “participant” so different? The difference lies within the inner man. The heart that is not growing and changing will never be more than a “fan”. The heart that is empowered by God is strengthened in the inner man to keep going and become a more faithful“participant”. The “fan” is the believer who doesn’t mature beyond the elementary truths, never learning to apply the truth. Church is all about what they want. There is a contentment to sit on the sidelines, taking in the Word, but not being changed by it, simply going through the motions in their relationship with God. It is okay to complain about the church not meeting my needs, but don’t ask me to contribute to the needs of others. The “participant” is the believer who is maturing in Christ, desiring to know more of God’s Word (“the playbook”), learning how to use it, seeking to glorify God and please Him. They are faithfully looking for and getting involved in areas of service because they are being changed by their relationship with God. The writer of Hebrews said it best, Hebrews 5:12-14 “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. So to move from being a “fan” to a “participant” God must intervene. God has intervened by providing the believer with abundant riches in Christ. Now He stands ready to empower those riches in your life.
The context of the verses above teach us what is required to move from being a “fan” to being a “participant”. It takes the empowerment of God in our inner man. Although the outward man is wasting away, we can be renewed daily in our inner man. When that happens, marvelous things will follow. When the Holy Spirit has empowered us, Christ has indwelt us, love has mastered us, and God has filled us with His own fullness, then He is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think. There is no question that God is able to do more than we can conceive. However, few Christians enjoy the privilege of seeing God do much more in their lives because they fail to follow the pattern of enablement outlined in this text. They are content to be a fan instead of a participant.
Do you want to see God do more in your life? Do you want to see your church grow stronger? Then stop being a fan and get in the game. If you think your church is struggling or losing ground, then maybe it’s time for you to get off the bench or out of the stands and enter the “game” by becoming a full participant in the life God desires for you.