Quite often in Jesus’ teaching He would use an example of something the audience was familiar with and proceed from that “known” to teach a spiritual truth. For example, He used the illustration of a vine and branches to teach how we need to abide in Him and that apart from Him we can do nothing (Jn.15:1-8). They were all familiar with grape vines and olive and fig trees so I’m sure understood what He was saying. He also spoke of His followers as sheep and of Himself as the “Good Shepherd” who is the door to the sheep fold and how He would lay down His life for the sheep (Jn. 10: 7-18). He used the same teaching method in His parables, such as those recorded in Matthew 13.
So, the last opportunity I had to fill in the pulpit at our church, I used that method and did a lesson from the game of tennis. I have helped out with our high school tennis team for thirty plus years and also give private lessons in the summer and have realized there are many spiritual lessons we can learn from tennis. Here are a some of them:
1. The Equipment:
Pick out a racket with a grip size that fits your hand and a frame and stringing that suits your style of game. Your racket will be both your offensive and defensive “weapon” to receive and return all that the opponent hits at you. In our Christian lives, we have an opponent, Satan, who tries to defeat us by his schemes and the flaming missiles (fiery darts) that he hurls at us. Paul tells us in Eph. 6:10-18 that we need to be fully equipped with our spiritual armor to ward off his attempts and to defeat him.
You need to dress according to the weather conditions, but remember that you will burn a lot of calories, so don’t overdress. Paul tells us to “Lay aside every encumbrance (weight) so we can run well with endurance” (Heb. 12:1). You also need to wear light-weight, non-marking shoes with which you can make quick movements without tripping, so not slick-soled, but not with deep tread either or you will trip. In Paul’s list of our spiritual armor he mentions we need to have our “feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (v. 15).
You need to have balls that still have plenty of fuzz (or they will sail) and good pressure so that they bounce properly. I once opened a new can of balls which looked great but had lost their pressure so wouldn’t bounce properly. They weren’t resilient (wouldn’t bounce back). If we are going to “bounce back” when we get clobbered, we need to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Interestingly, the word Paul uses for the Holy Spirit is “pneuma” from which we get “pneumatic” meaning air or movement of air. If we are going to deal with all the world, the flesh and the devil throw at us, we need to be controlled by, and walking in the Spirit (cf Gal. 5:28).
2. Ready Position:
One of the first things I teach a beginner is how to position your body to be ready to move quickly in any direction to return a ball hit by your opponent. The Bible tells us that we are to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you…” (I Pet. 3:15). The Apostle Paul told Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season…” (II Tim. 4:2). We also need to “be ready” for the return of Jesus Christ to take all believers to heaven, for it could happen at any moment. John tells us to “abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” (I Jn. 2:28). Are you ready? Stay ready so you don’t have to “get ready’ !
3. Court Layout:
All tennis courts are 78 feet long and 27 feet wide for singles and 36 feet wide for doubles with “service” boxes into which you must serve to begin a point. The net is 36 inches high in the middle and 42 inches high at the net posts. Sometimes you wish the court were bigger or the net lower, but if you took down the net and removed the lines there would no longer be the game of tennis. Life has rules and boundaries too. In fact in the Bible there are close to 700 commands, not just 10, and lots of principles to live by. God gave us boundaries for good reason—He knows us! We demonstrate our love for Him by obedience and staying within His boundaries. Jesus said, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, He it is who loves me, and I will love Him and manifest Myself to Him” (Jn 14:21).
If you wish to beat an opponent you need to develop a strategy, so as you warm up with them, watch for their strengths and weaknesses and use that to advantage. In our Christian life, we need to know our opponent, Satan’s “game plan”—how he attacks—and be ready to return anything he can throw at us. First, be sure you have your armor on (Eph. 6) and then learn passages of Scripture that deal with areas where you are weak and might get attacked and use God’s Word (your sword) against him—that’s what Jesus did when He was tempted (Mt. 4). The best strategy is to be consistently in God’s Word and in constant communication with God. James says to “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). Be on the offensive!
5. Work out on the Backboard:
You can improve your tennis skills a lot just by working out on the backboard. As a Christian, you can grow by interaction with others and being in fellowship at a good Bible-teaching church, but we can also grow much through our personal Bible study (II Tim. 2:15).
6. Watching Professionals Play:
You can learn a lot about the game of tennis and how to play by watching professionals play and trying to duplicate—as best you can—what they do. We can learn a lot about the Christian life and get motivated by reading about the spiritual giants in Scripture (cf Heb. 11) and also by reading biographies of Christians throughout history like Hudson Taylor, Adoniram Judson, Fanny Crosby, William Carey, Billy Graham, Tony Dungy, Dave Dravecky, R.A. Dickey, etc. The Apostle Paul said, “Be imitators of me, even as I am of Christ” (I Cor. 11:1); “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Phil. 3:17).
7. Practice You Serve:
Until you can serve, you don’t really have a chance to compete in tennis. If you are going to beat an opponent, you need to “hold serve” consistently, and serving is probably the hardest element of the game, so it requires the most practice. Jesus set an example for us for “He came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for us all” (Mk. 10:45; Mt. 20:25-28). If we are going to be an effective leader, we must have a servant’s heart. Jesus demonstrated His servant’s heart when He washed the disciples feet. He did that as an example for them—and us—to follow (Jn. 13:15).
8. Different Strokes for Different Folks:
Some players hit hard and flat; others hit with lots of topspin, making the ball kick; while others use a lot of slice (under spin), making the ball stay low. Good players mix up their strokes to keep the opponent off balance. God has equipped each believer uniquely with natural talents and then, at the time of salvation, with spiritual gifts which provide special abilities to serve the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:4-7,11,18; Ro. 12:3-6). The gifts are not for our benefit so much as for serving the body and building up His Kingdom. Again, SERVING is the key! Someone said, “If you are not satisfied with your lot in life, build a service station on it!”