Back when I worked as an assistant in the singles ministry at The Church on the Way in California, we hosted a retreat at Arrowhead Springs. A combination of rustic and luxurious, the conference center was a beautiful setting for what promised to be a pleasant weekend.
One of my duties was to serve as MC for the service before lunch. Our main speaker began with an uplifting message but got bogged down in a discourse on persecution and suffering. I’m sure he meant well, but you could tell that his words didn’t jibe with the expectations of the audience.
When the preacher concluded, he turned the mic over to me so I could make some announcements. Right after a message about suffering, I had to stand there and tell people that following lunch, we’d host a square dance!
Suffering and square dancing, what a combination!
What do you say in a tough spot like that? If I canceled the event, I’d get in trouble with the ministry leadership. If I corrected the speaker, I’d embarrass him. A no win situation!
So I did the only thing I could do. Pausing to gather my thoughts and stabilize my spirit, I pivoted.
The word “pivot” doesn’t occur much in the Bible. In fact, I can find only six references in four verses.
“And two doors of cypress wood; the two leaves of the one door turned on pivots, and the two leaves of the other door turned on pivots.” – 1 Kings 6:34 (NASB)
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.” – Isaiah 6:4 (NRSV)
“When they moved, they went in any of the four directions, without pivoting as they moved.” – Ezekiel 1:17 (HCSB)
“When they moved, they would go in any of the four directions, without pivoting as they moved. But wherever the head faced, they would go in that direction, without pivoting as they went.” – Ezekiel 10:11 (HCSB)
The first two verses refer to door hinges in the temple; the second two describe the movement of angelic beings observed by the prophet Ezekiel.
Both meanings deal with changing direction.
I began by reinforcing what our speaker had said about suffering. It was an inescapable dimension of discipleship. But I added that the God who calls us to follow Jesus in spite of rejection and pain also provides blessings for our enjoyment. I explained that we’d scheduled a square dance that afternoon, and invited anyone who was interested to join us.
To grasp this principle of pivoting, take sports as an example.
If you watch the NBA, you’ll see basketball players pivot. I used to love seeing Hakeem Olajuwon, the former center of the Houston Rockets, play because his footwork was magical. He could fake people almost out of their shoes!
According to Larry Alton, “a pivot is nothing more than keeping one foot in contact with the ground and using your other foot to move around in order to find a new angle or gain an advantage over your defender.”
You’re stuck, but you have enough freedom to maneuver yourself to shoot or pass the ball.
Alton adds that “in a pivot, you aren’t totally abandoning your current situation. Instead, you’re looking for new options that may arise out of your current state.”
That’s what I attempted at the retreat. Rather than fight the situation, I accepted it but I looked for a way to move in a new direction. By the grace of God, I was ready for two reasons.
Basketball players practice. They shoot free throws, rehearse set plays, and plan how they’re going to handle various situations. They isolate aspects of a typical game and run through them in advance so they don’t lose their heads in actual competition.
As a follower of Christ, you’re aware of the many of the joys and trials that await you. Through disciplines such as prayer and Bible reading, you prepare your soul to handle whatever life may bring you.
But you can prepare indirectly, too. Olajuwon grew up in Nigeria playing soccer. He wasn’t thinking about basketball as a child, but soccer trained his footwork which served him well when he switched sports. (It’s helped out other NBA players, as this article points out.)
God uses your experiences to form your character for His purposes. You may not know what you’re going to encounter in the days ahead, but you don’t have to worry about it. The best way to prepare for tomorrow is to walk with Jesus today.
Years before my retreat experience, I’d researched material on the persecuted church. I’d read Tortured for Christ, the autobiography of Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor who was persecuted by the Nazis and the Communists for 14 years. (You can get a free copy of the book here.) I’d also worked through Tortured for the Faith by Bulgarian pastor Haralan Popov. He endured Communist oppression for 13 years. (The Kindle version of his book is only 99¢.)
So when I took the mic, I’d already accumulated years of reflection on the subject of suffering. As a result, I had something to fall back on. I pivoted by acknowledging the seriousness of the topic without descending into sullenness. People could count the cost and also enjoy the day.
How do you prepare for surprises? You can anticipate the future, but you can also savor where you’re at with the Lord right now. Playing soccer today might help you win at basketball tomorrow!
The other factor was that I put myself in the position of the audience. That wasn’t too hard; they were single adult Christians and so was I!
What were the guests seeking, imagining, and hoping for? Why did they sign up for the retreat and what did they want to get out of it? What did God want for them and how could I express that?
I didn’t have to ponder these questions as I stood on the stage. Since I identified with the singles, I knew where they were coming from. Compassion creates communication.
Empathize with others.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” – Romans 12:15 (NASB).
When you pivot, you recognize the limitations of your position, but you don’t stop there. With your eyes open and your body in motion, you scout out new avenues and undetected resources. And with the Lord’s help, you advance toward victory.
It works in basketball and it works in the spiritual life.