Summary: How to get in "The Zone" of optimal Christian performance by becoming a fully devoted disciple.
GET IN THE ZONE
April 17, 2005
Thesis: Only fully devoted disciples can discover their spiritual Sweet Spot.
It’s an extraordinary place. In baseball, when you enter the Zone in the batter’s box, you have no trouble getting a hit, because the baseball looks as big as a watermelon. Curt Schilling, pitcher for the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, was in it last fall when the strike zone was as big as the side of a barn, and he was hitting his spots, winning two games and doing it with a ruptured sheath around his right peroneal tendon above his ankle, blood seeping through his socks.
In basketball, you’re in the Zone at the foul line when the basket looks like a hula hoop. In golf, every swing is effortless and every ball flies straight and true, and if you’re Vijay Singh you win 10 tournaments and almost $11 million.
According to college coaching legend Dean Smith, the Zone is “where time stands still and performance is exquisite.” Think of Barry Bonds hitting his 700th home run. Michael Jordan leading his team to six NBA championships. Tiger Woods swinging a club so well that he once held all four “majors” simultaneously. Lance Armstrong winning a record-setting sixth Tour de France. All of these athletes have found this magical place of optimal performance, also known as the Sweet Spot, the Flow or the Effortless Present.
All of these phrases describe a sporting phenomenon, but they’re also descriptive of a spiritual zone we can experience when the conditions are right. In today’s passage from Acts, the early church has clearly found the sweet spot of Christian living.
Listen to this:
43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
If those Christians hadn’t found their spiritual Sweet Spot – if they hadn’t entered the spiritual Zone of optimal Christian performance, then who has?
But just what exactly is this place, and how do we get there?
There are disciplines that create the possibility that you, too, every once in a while, will get in the Zone, find the Sweet Spot, experience the Effortless Present that the apostle Paul calls, “walking in the Spirit.”
Richard Keefe, the director of sport psychology at Duke University, explores this phenomenon in a book called On the Sweet Spot: Stalking the Effortless Present (Simon and Schuster, 2003). He describes the Zone as a state of mind and body in which action and reaction seem to happen automatically, a state that people can enter while hitting a ball, playing a musical instrument, or even typing on a word processor.
According to brain-imaging studies, professional piano players don’t actually think about hitting the keys on the piano; instead, their brain neurons fire in areas associated with mechanical motion rather than consciousness. Great players — whether they are on the piano or on the basketball court — don’t have to think about what they are doing. They just do it.
Of course, no one can pick up a golf club for the first time and hit below par. Perfect practice makes perfect performance, which is why professionals build routine and repetition into their highly disciplined daily lives. “This is how the adage ‘practice makes perfect’ really works,” writes Keefe in his book. “The more you do something, the more the brain changes to devote its energy to that function.” The more you practice, the more you are training your brain neurons to fire in a way that creates flawless mechanical motion.
The Bible word for this is “devotion.”
Earlier we read Acts 2:43-47 and clearly these early Christians had entered the spiritual Zone of optimal Christian living. The question is: How did they discover that Zone? How did they find their spiritual Sweet Spot?
The Bible says, 42They devoted themselves…
The word “devoted” comes from a Greek word meaning “so adhere to, to be steadfastly attentive, to continue all the time and to persevere.” No one finds the Zone without being “devoted” to something. No one finds the Zone without persistence or practice. If it’s golf, you have to be dragged away from the practice range. If it’s basketball, you’re shooting hoops at midnight.
The early Christians were “devoted” to certain things and as a result they found their spiritual Sweet Spot. But what were those things that they were devoted to?