The Sweet Spot

My father played tennis well. I don’t, but I do remember him teaching me to hit the ball in the racquet’s sweet spot—that place in the center of the racquet where the vertical and horizontal strings cross. I think that the church and all our ministries also have a sweet spot where our vertical ministry to God and our horizontal ministry to others cross.

Dad explained that to hit the ball with power and control its direction, it was important to hit the ball in this sweet spot. Over the years I have seen several kinds of radical Christianity that have emphasized either the vertical or the horizontal strings on the racquet. A failure to emphasize both means missing God’s sweet spot. The result is a lack of power and a loss of direction.

For instance, I have seen movements devoted to the passionate pursuit of God in prayer, intercession, and worship. I have loved, and still love, the emphasis on wild abandonment to God in adoration and worship. Prayer and praise that God inhabits is precious to me. I love the vision of our praise rising like incense to God.

I have also been a part of radically horizontal Christianity that emphasizes community and personal sacrifice for others. In my life this has meant Teckla and I seldom having “our house” but almost always living with others or having others live with us. It has included adopting four boys and us enjoying all the blessings they have brought. I still believe in community and ministry to the poor is a way we radically follow Jesus.

However, something new is in my heart. I am experiencing a fresh call to radical obedience and discipleship—a passion to live and minister in the power of the Holy Spirit. But when I return to my usual expressions of radical faith, I realize that what is truly radical is ministry from the sweet spot where the love of God and love of others perfectly mesh.

Too often Christian radicalism emphasizes only the vertical devotion to God or only radical service to others and the poor. Churches with only the vertical emphasis can fail to nourish friendship and community. The people may feel led, but not pastored. People may experience God but there is little help living out that experience in the grind of daily life. A church with great worship can still be filled with lonely believers.

On the other hand, a commitment to community and the shared life of faith can exhaust the spiritual resources of believers. Love never fails, but it is significant that I Corinthians 13, the love chapter, is sandwiched between to chapters about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We need power to love, and we need the power of God to be expressed in the context of love. Otherwise, this kind of horizontal radicalism will end in burn-out, disillusionment, and retreat.

Let me be clear, this is not a plea for moderation. The sweet spot works only if both the vertical and horizontal strings of the racquet are strung tight. The balance I seek is in middle where both vertical and horizontal radicalism meet. I want ministry to others fueled by communion with God. I want every sacrifice for others to be first a sacrifice to God. Every time I enter God’s presence in worship, I want my heart to long for all those who should be entering with me.

Dad taught me that the key to hitting the ball in the sweet spot was to move my feet so I was in the right position. I would space myself from the ball, get sideways to it, and give myself time to make a big C with my backswing. He taught me to follow through with the stroke and come over the ball to keep it on the court.

In a similar way I am trying to move my spiritual feet so I minister out of God’s power and not my own, share His wisdom with others, not mine. This means taking time to pray. No lazy hacks at the ball accompanied with the dull thud when the ball hits the corner of the racquet and flies out of the court.

True radicalism ministers to God and man from the sweet spot. Of course, being radical just means going back to the root (radis). “Sweet-spot radicalism” is simply being like Jesus whose love of the Father and love for us led him to the cross—the place where the vertical and horizontal meet. Here humankind is saved and evil eternally defeated. It is the sweetest spot.

About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
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