“Listen up, fellas!”, shouted Coach, “I just got the schedule for the NCAA tourney”.
Hayden’s team, previously unknown in college basketball, had been admitted to the premier post-season tournament for the first time ever. Hayden, whose sudden rise to stardom was now attracting national attention, had led his team there.
“Our first game is in Cleveland on the 14th”, said Coach. “That’s a Sunday”.
Hayden’s stomach lurched. On a Sunday?
Hayden and Dorcas walked to church together to meet with the rest of the mission team going to Afghanistan. Eight other members had gathered to pray, strategize, and learn a bit of the Farsi language. Then Gloria walked in.
Hayden still couldn’t help being taken back by her beauty. He hoped it wasn’t obvious. “I didn’t know you were coming”, he managed to spit out. Dorcas, noting Hayden’s moon-struck face, rolled her eyes and looked the other way. “I’m still thinking about it”, said Gloria. “For now I’m just on the prayer team”.
Hayden couldn’t have felt more terrified if Osama Bin Laden had announced he was bunking with them.
“All right, church geeks, time to sharpen your swords. Open your bibles to Acts chapter 9. We’re going to study Paul’s conversion.”
Hayden’s campus bible study had grown tenfoldfold since he’d become a star and Dorcas was now co-teaching. Hayden noticed that half of the 50+ participants were new. A sudden excitement gripped Hayden, and instantly he knew God was moving. The fields are white for harvest, Hayden. It was a thought, not a voice – but Hayden knew it was God. He actually started trembling. Help me, God! I don’t know what I’m doing! he prayed. But Hayden knew what he had to do: he had to invite them to receive Christ. He’d never done it before, and it scared him to his toenails. So this is spiritual warfare, he thought. He began teaching.
After discussion, the moment neared. “What do you think moved Paul to give himself to Christ?”, asked Hayden. “Fear he’d get creamed!”, said one. “Fear and hope”, offered another. “Yes. Andobedience to the truth”, said Dorcas. Dorcas locked eyes with Hayden. She was cuing him. Now’s the time, she was saying. Go!
Hayden took the cue and felt the tension rise as he prepared to cross a spiritual line. “What’s to prevent any of YOU from giving yourself to Christ?”, he asked. There was silence.
“Fear”, said someone quietly. An honest answer. Hayden paused to let the silence speak.
“Perfect love casts out fear, Jeremy”, said Hayden. “The Lord loves you perfectly. He’ll ask you to change, and it may be hard – but I promise you you’ll never regret that you said yes.”
Hayden drew a breath. Here we go, Lord.
“There comes a time when he knocks on the door of your heart. And now’s the time for some of you. You probably feel him right now. That’s him, not me. And so… who’s ready to invite him in?”
Just then there was a knock on the door of the room. Several people laughed in amazement. A well-shaped man entered. “I’m looking for Hayden Daily. I’m LaMar Johnston with Sports Illustrated. I’d like to interview Mr. Daily.”
A respectful murmur went through the group. Two kids began chanting “Hay-DEN, Hay-DEN.” But Dorcas looked hard at Hayden. Not now!
Hayden re-focused. “We’ll be done in 30 minutes”. Then he turned back to the group. “Don’t get distracted. Now is your moment. Who’s ready to take that step?”
“Hayden, why don’t I lead a prayer and those who want to can come pray with you”, said Dorcas. “Everyone, out of respect for those who might be ready to take this step, just bow with me now.” And Dorcas began to pray. As she prayed, a hesitant foot stepped toward the front. It bounced on its toe for an uncertain moment. Then the young man stood up. It was Jeremy. He was followed by another, Alison. They came forward and sat with Hayden. Together they prayed… and quietly began a new life.
After the prayer the two stood up, and some in the room applauded. Others came forward, hugging, back-slapping, a few even crying. Unseen by any in that room, a vast, rippling banner stretched out in heaven with two shining names on it: Jeremy and Alison. And in heaven the sound of rejoicing was like thunder rolling from one side of the sky to the other.
As the last person left the study, Dorcas ran up to Hayden with eyes shining. “That was awesome, Hayden! I can’t believe it, this is so incredible!” Hayden, himself exhilarated, smiled and wrapped Dorcas in a hug. As they celebrated a wave of …something… moved through Hayden. Whoa, what’s this? thought Hayden. He went pink.
Someone cleared his throat behind them. “Uh, hate to break this up… Can we have that interview now?”. It was the reporter from Sports Illustrated.
Well, the team had done it: a MAJOR upset of a #2-seeded team in the NCAA tournament. “CINDERELLA TEAM!”, the papers cried. Hayden had floored everyone with a miraculous 40 points and 18 assists. But the after-game party at DJ’shad gotten out of hand. As Hayden knelt to pray before service, his conscience stung. Too, he’d avoided praying about playing on a Sunday. The sting disappeared, though, when he was thronged by church members congratulating him. Folks he didn’t even know. But Gertie Hardnock, Hayden’s quirky elderly friend, didn’t greet him as usual. She sat on the other side of the church – a first in probably 50 years. What’s with her?, thought Hayden.
After service there were more admirers for Hayden. When they drifted off, three people remained. It was the pastor, Elder Andrew, and Elder Greening. “We’d like to talk with you, Hayden”, said Elder Andrew. They weren’t smiling.
(chapter 5 next week)