This year was a disappointing one for Braves fans. The season began with what appeared to be a dominating starting rotation, one of the best bullpens in the major leagues, and an offensive lineup that was expected to be able to compete with the best. But Dan Uggla got off to a horrible start that lasted for half the season. Martin Prado, Chipper Jones, Jason Heyward, Tommy Hansen, Jair Jurgens, Brian McCann and several others suffered through injuries. In spite of all this, the Braves headed into September seemingly assured of a wild card berth in the postseason. It was practically a foregone conclusion. But heading into September with a 10 ½ game cushion, it seemed as though the Braves took their foot off the accelerator, and had a horrible finish to their season.
The Cardinals entered September 10 ½ games behind in the wild card race, and everyone assumed their season would be over. But even though their elimination appeared to be inevitable, they began to play better than they had played all season, and day by day, they gained ground on the Braves. Watching the two teams, you could see a difference in their demeanor. The Braves had the look of stress and fear on their faces as the end of the season drew near. The Cardinals looked as though they expected to win every game, even though it didn’t make sense.
The Cardinals entered the postseason with confident enthusiasm. It didn’t matter that they weren’t supposed to win. They eliminated the Phillies, who had dominated the National League the entire season. They beat the Brewers, their division rivals who had won that division. Then they went to the World Series against the Rangers, and won it all in the seventh game in a dominating performance. You could see it in their presence on the mound, in the field, and at the plate. They played with heart, and believed they could win.
There is a great difference between knowledge and belief. If the Cardinals had merely assessed their position at the end of August from an intellectual point of view, they would have concluded that it was virtually impossible to catch the Braves, and they would have given up. But there was something else that motivated them to play. We call that “heart.”
I’ve written before in “A Conversation with God” about Proverbs 3:5-6 which says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” My focus then was on what it means to trust with all your heart. But I think this story illustrates what it means to not lean on your own understanding. We may have a strong knowledge of the Bible, and our beliefs are based on that knowledge. But our minds are finite, and our understanding of God is limited by our humanity.
If we only lean on our own understanding, we will be discouraged and defeated when things don’t go the way we think they should. I believe this is one reason why believers fall away from God, sometimes to the point of denying His existence. God does not fit into our logic or our expectation of who He should be. But if we are willing to trust Him, and allow Him to have our hearts, he will continually reveal Himself to us, and we will be grounded in our faith in Him, and not just in our knowledge of Him.
“For with the heart one believes and is justified ...” (Romans 10:10a ESV)