It’s been a sporting summer to savour – an Ashes like no other.
And for all the talk of Bazball, and regardless of the result and the rain ruining what might have been, the man who encapsulates the Churchillian ‘We Will Fight ’Til We Drop’ spirit more than anyone else is Ben Stokes.
Honestly, I can’t get enough of this guy.
There’s something about him – striding out to the crease, his team in crisis, the weight of a nation being carried on his broad shoulders – and then with absolute abandon, clobbering the best of the antipodean bowlers back from whence they came, one colossal six after another – his battered body, falling apart from the strain of it all, refusing to give in.
Dodgy knee? Who cares.
Glute strain? No bother.
Back spasm? All good.
And so we find ourselves watching, with wide-eyed wonder, thinking: How is he doing this? Once more, when all hope seemed lost, dragging us out of this mire and into the light of a possible victory?
He’s the Gladiator in the ring – sensing the fever-pitched beer-fuelled excitement of the watching crowd; the army growing ever more barmy by the minute; the panic growing amongst Aussie fielders (what joy!), and then revelling in the guttural roar of 20,000 people when the winning runs are scored.
This is Ben Stokes.
I won’t tell you how many times I’ve watched his highlights reel on YouTube. He’s dragged us over the winning line so many times from seemingly impossible positions, we’ve lost count.
And so we love him.
He leads in such a way that makes us all want to follow him anywhere.
He’s our captain.
In fact, forget cricket – I want him as my life coach. I want a pep talk from him as I eat my cornflakes at the start of the day. I want him going into bat for me in that difficult meeting at work.
But alas. He can’t. I don’t even know the guy. It’s just me and another 2.7 million people on Instagram following him. And even if I did know him – the shine would soon wear off.
Because what I really need in my life isn’t a cricket warrior, who can guarantee a good result in the Ashes. Ben Stokes as the saviour of English cricket makes me realise that I need a personal warrior, who can actually deal with my biggest problems.
Because believe it or not, there is something more serious in my life – much more serious, in fact – than how the England team are going to fare when facing rockets from Cummins and Starc.
Here’s the thing – no matter which way you slice it, or whatever name you give to it, we can’t get away from the fact that we all have this problem – this propensity to royally stuff things up.
Our self-centred selves causes havoc in our relationships.
We act or speak or think in ways that cause harm.
We live in a world of pain and frustration and turmoil and hurt – so much of which seems to stem from within – and we don’t ever seem to be able to do anything about it.
And so when we pause for a moment – when we’ve turned off the TV and we allow those big realities to break in to our thinking – we find ourselves longing for a champion to fight for us; to lead us through the mess of this life and safely out of the other side.
Someone to be our Personal Stokes.
As a follower of Jesus, this is my reality.
I don’t know what your view of Jesus is. Perhaps we’re inclined to think of him as the baby in the crib, or the meek and mild, sandal-wearing guy you’d take to meet your nan. The Bible would say otherwise – he’s described in one place as the Lion of Judah.
And here’s how one of Jesus’ friends describes seeing him in a dream, after he had returned to heaven: [Rev 19:11-15]
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean… On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords.
Stokes-like, you might even say.
And the thing is, we need a Jesus like that.
A warrior; a leader; a King.
Someone who is going to lead us through this life, fix the mess we’ve made of things, and win the day.
And that’s exactly what he did. When we were nine wickets down, with 300 more to get, he came to the crease, faced every ball, and hit the winning runs.
He dealt with our biggest problem, when all hope seemed lost.
The victory he’s won? Defeating sin & death.
Going to the cross to suffer and die, so that all who are on his team can enjoy the rock-solid certainty of being on the winning side – earning the trophy of life – forever with God in his eternal kingdom.
Ben Stokes battled, sometimes single-handedly, to try and win the Ashes.
Through Jesus’ champion innings, death itself turns to ashes.
So – cheer on Stokes and his Baz-balling men in this strange, sweet season of English cricket. But do so knowing that when they retire, or when the whole thing runs out of steam – the true champion, the death-defeating King, will still be on the throne – and one day everyone on his team will be celebrating with him for all eternity.
That’s the side to be on; that’s the Captain to follow.