Pat Rafter was languishing in the world rankings well outside the top 50. Despite being an elite athlete who was well coached, hard working and motivated, he just couldn’t breakthrough into the world’s top 50 professional tennis players. Then someone suggested he change something. The suggested change seemed so unlikely to have any bearing on his game that it met with some initial skepticism and resistance. What he was being asked to consider was so different from what all the other elite tennis pros were doing. He made the change and even though he struggled at first it wasn’t long before he broke through well beyond his best expectations! New changes things as well as us.
“Old” is not just relative to years of existence – and in some cases – is actually quite distinct from it. If “young” is the phase of adventure, discovery, risk-taking, trying new things for the first time, then it becomes obvious that too many of us have become old before our time! Premature ageing has less to do with the amount of smile-lines on a face and much more to do with how open a person is to change and all things new.
In 1997 it was suggested that Pat try a completely different racquet string from a small start-up Belgian manufacturer called Luxilon. These strings were not natural or synthetic gut which were up until Luxilon came along the only category choices for tennis players. These strings were polyester. Players soon discovered that these strings did exactly the opposite to gut strings (which “ping” the ball so that it feels crisp off a racquet – I used to love playing with a fresh natural gut restring). Rather, these strings made a “thuuud” when striking a ball. The difference is that the ball is gripped slightly longer by polyester strings than gut strings. While most players using gut were hitting a ball at 1,000rpm, polyester players were now hitting balls with 2,000rpm – and Pat Rafter joined them! (Rafa hits between 3,500 – 5,000rpm!) It meant that players could now hit the ball much much harder and add topspin to have them drop in. Pat began to beat players he was previously losing to. At the French Open in 1997 he stunned everyone by making the Semi Finals. He broke into the Top 50, then the Top 20. He then won the U.S. Open – which John McEnroe said was a “Fluke!” and that Pat was “a one Slam wonder!” So Pat came back the following year and won it again! He also went onto become a two-time runner-up at Wimbledon. He went on to become #1 in the world. And it was all made possible because he made a small, but initially uncomfortable change.
André Agassi was also reluctant to change and in his very early thirties when most of his fellow pros were retiring and he was languishing at #104 in the world, he made a series of painful changes. First his training régime, then his coach (an Australian), then in 2002 his strings. As a result he got a second-wind for his career and won the Italian Open and another Australian Open Slam. He wrote in his autobiography –
People talk about the game changing, about players growing more powerful, and rackets getting bigger, but the most dramatic change in recent years is the strings. The advent of a new elastic polyester string, which creates vicious topspin, has turned average players into greats, and greats into legends. [Coach Darren Cahill] puts the string on one of my rackets… In a practice session I don’t miss a ball for two hours. Then I don’t miss a ball for the rest of the tournament. I’ve never won the Italian Open before, but I win it now, because of Darren and his miracle string.
“Open”, André Agassi
Change is uncomfortable. It is often painful. It can be annoying, It slows us down. But nearly all of us who have been advised to change and have done so have got over the hill of difficulties and then enjoyed a previously unknown downhill stretch that has made us wonder why hadn’t done this sooner!
God will give ear and humble them,
He who is enthroned from of old, Selah
they do not change because they
do not fear God.
Our Enemy does not want us to change – at least not the kind of change that is positive and therefore often slow, new, challenging, stretching, different, uncomfortable, awkward, embarrassing. But change is the door through which someone comes out of darkness and into light and change is the path that must be trod to remain in the light. To follow Christ is to change and be changed. It is to embrace newness.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Second Corinthians 5:17
When was the last time you did something for the first time? Old is not a matter of years!
When we share our faith in Christ with someone and hope that they too might turn away from bondage to salvation we are hoping that they will make the most dramatic change of their life! We are summoning them to a life-time of constant change! Therefore don’t be surprised if people are a little reluctant to accept the Gospel upon first hearing it. Such mammoth change in the way they live, talk, think, feel, can be daunting for most.
I’m coming into a stage of life where I yearn for the easy and the comfortable and find change a little frustrating. I must overcome this. I may be getting old but I don’t want to get old before my time – and the way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to embrace change. Let’s be open to the new, the different, the strange and let’s understand that this is most often an uncomfortable zone. But as a church we need to change. Where we are now is not where we were 20 years ago, and where we’ll be in five years is not where we are now – if we make positive changes. This will include our facilities, our leaders, our music, and one day our pastor. When something isn’t working we want to try something new. Some of us met this week with the Youth and Young Adults leaders and outlined the changes we are introducing this year. These guys are all young so it was very pleasing to see the positive reception of these changes.
And no one pours new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the skins burst and the wine is spilled out and the skins are destroyed. Instead they put new wine into new wineskins and both are preserved.”
Change has a fragrance to it. When we spend time with Christ we smell of this fragrance. He causes us to have open hearts to new things generally but to His newness in our lives particularly. And as a church this fragrance comes not just from the new wine of His Spirit but the new wineskin for His Spirit as well. I dare say that if we will open our hearts to the new things God wants to do in us each and in us each together, Tasmania might yet see a demonstration of the kind of Church that Christ said He had come to build!