Too Smart by Half

The play of the week in the National Football League was not a spectacular, one-handed touchdown catch or a dramatic kickoff return. No, it was a botched fake punt that some pundits are calling the worst play ever called.

The Indianapolis Colts had the ball on their own 37 yard line with a little over a minute to go in the third quarter of the game in which they trailed the New England Patriots by six points. Facing a fourth down and three yards to go, the Colts sent out the punt team and then lined up just two players over the ball. The other nine players shifted over near the sideline and lined up there. If the plan was to confuse the Patriots, it did not work. They put players in front of the ball and others over by the rest of the Colts near the sideline. Inexplicably, the two Colts players, who were lined up by the ball, put the ball in play and were immediately tackled for a loss. The ball went to the Patriots, who dutifully marched down the field and scored. The game was never really close again after that.

This was actually the second time during the game that the Colts tried to do something unexpected only to have it backfire. Early in the game the Colts attempted a surprise onside kick, but the Patriots recovered and turned the good field position into points. Some might have seen these plays as evidence that the Colts were being aggressive and taking chances to win a big game against a bitter rival. Others saw it as evidence of “Belichick Derangement Syndrome” (BDS), which seems to afflict opponents of Bill Belichick-coached teams. BDS causes teams playing against the Patriots to attempt something unpredictable in order to get an edge against a team that they cannot beat if they just play their normal football. The irony of this most recent game is that the Colts were in the game and they might have been able to win it if they simply played it straight. Instead, they tried to get cute and ended up giving away some precious opportunities in a close game.

The temptation to overthink things is not something that is unique to professional athletics. It is a temptation that confronts us all.

Christians facing temptations or seeking spiritual growth want magic formulas or gurus to tell them how to have “victory” by employing this or that technique. Church leaders, eager to see their congregations grow, try one new program after another. Church growth is seen as a matter of employing the proper methods and being innovative. Against this backdrop it is staggering how boring the Bible’s approach to personal and corporate spiritual growth is. The Bible advocates the mundane and ordinary – things like reading, memorizing, and meditating on the Word of God (Psalm 119:97); regularly attending the worship services – all of them (Hebrews 10:24-25); participating in the sacraments (1 Corinthians 11:23-26); engaging in corporate and private prayer (Philippians 4:6-7); and using your gifts to serve others in the body of Christ (Romans 12:6-8).

It is not uncommon for a believer, struggling with a spiritual issue, to come seeking help from the pastor. If the pastor’s advice is, “You need to start attending the morning and evening worship services each week,” the parishioner is not going to be happy. “Is that all?” We naturally want something a lot more complicated than the ordinary means of grace. We are inclined to think that our own situation is unique and requires some special measures. We neglect the ordinary and look for the extra-ordinary and this is exactly where we often outthink ourselves. We are “too smart by half” as my father likes to say. Certainly, there are special situations that require extra attention and care, but our tendency is to assume that special situations are a lot more common than they really are (1 Corinthians 10:13).

When Chuck Pagano, the coach of the Colts, put a bunch of trick plays into the game plan against the Patriots last week, he was already beaten before his team stepped onto the field. The trick plays were an admission that he did not believe the Colts could beat the Patriots just playing their ordinary brand of football. Maybe he was right – the Patriots are very good. No one will ever know for sure since the game was given away trying to be too clever. How often do we as church leaders undermine our peoples’ confidence in the ordinary means of grace by looking for that “new thing” that is going to spice up our ministry? If you are a pastor, you need to show your congregation that you believe that the ordinary means of grace work. Do you have confidence in the Holy Spirit or are you too smart by half?

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Act 2:42, ESV).

One Comment

  1. Grey G. October 25, 2015 at 9:48 am #

    That was such a bone-headed play. I am glad at least some people in Indiana benefited from it through this blog.

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