JUPITER, Fla. — After pulling his truck into the Cardinals’ parking lot each morning at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, Adam Wainwright spends a few quiet moments writing down his thoughts about that day’s Bible readings.
It’s something he has done for several years, following the same daily study program, but this year there is a difference. Instead of just sharing his commentary through a private group message, Wainwright decided to open up the Bible study to everyone who was interested through social media.
Wainwright had considered doing it before, and finally decided late last year, after meeting with some of the leaders of his church back home in Georgia, that it was something he was being called to do.
“It (the study) had such an incredible impact on a few of us that I realized just how powerful it can be,” Wainwright said. “Also as believers we are called to be in the Word more than we are sometimes. … I just started getting this itch, a feeling that I am supposed to do this on a larger scale.
“I was trying to figure out every reason why I shouldn’t do it and that was a good reason for me to do it. I realized every reason I had not to do it wasn’t coming from God. It was an excuse of some sort coming from somewhere else.”
As Wainwright thought more about his idea, he knew he would be opening himself up to the public but he really did not know what to expect – even after selling out the 200 journals he had printed for members of his church.
“Usually when I talk about something spiritual on social media I might get 100 likes,” Wainwright said. “If I talk about baseball I will get 2,000, 3,000 maybe 10,000 likes. I wasn’t expecting much.”
The program began in early January, and as more people have found out about the “Walking with Waino” study program and joined the group, the number of people following Wainwright’s daily commentary has grown to more than 21,000 combined between Twitter and the email distribution group.
“My intent is I want people to know that I am just having a conversation with God every day,” Wainwright said. “I will tell you I have had more fun these 50 days reading and studying the Bible than I have had in my entire life and it’s not even close.”
Having that many people participating has been a little overwhelming to Wainwright, but also has made him more aware of how the program, and his commentary, is drawing reactions from all of those who also are going through the program.
“My first thought is that’s a lot of pressure,” Wainwright said. “It’s a big commitment, bigger than I even imagined going into it knowing it was going to be a big commitment. The time commitment is pretty significant. It takes me between an hour and a half and two hours a day to do it.”
The program, put together years ago by Don Christensen, Wainwright’s financial advisor, has daily readings from both the Old and New Testament instead of just reading through the Bible from beginning to end. Wainwright also offers a personal prayer at the end of his comments on the day’s readings.
Wainwright, who is doing the study with his wife Jenny, works one day ahead of the group. After writing down his thoughts in the morning, he types them up each night so they are ready to go out thought Twitter and the email blast the next morning. He thought if he tried to pre-write his comments that would not make the daily program as genuine or authentic.
“I am trying to model what I am preaching. I can’t miss a day or people won’t get what they are supposed to get,” Wainwright said. “You’re in charge of leading it, you have to do it. … It’s the quickest hour and a half to two hours of every day. One of the big things people say is how do I have the time, or they ask me, “How long is this going to take me to read every day?’ I tell them it’s going to take between 20 and 30 minutes to read it all the way through. People say they don’t have that much time.
“My comment to them, my challenge to them, always is, ‘You tell me that you love God more than anything else, He’s number one.’ But you work from 9 to 5, and you spent five minute in the Word because that was all you had time for. My challenge is always to make Him a priority. If He is not a priority in your life, and you are not modeling that, you need to readjust.”
A “kick start” to Bible study
Neill Murphy is a life-long Cardinals fan who works as a CPA in Knoxville, Tenn. When he found out about Wainwright’s Bible study, he quickly signed up.
So too did Tony Koehler, who runs a small insurance company in Illinois. Charles Stokes, a high school senior in Lordsburg, New Mexico, gets the emails every morning, as does Carl Van Stryland, who works in the marketing department of a company in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Those select individuals are an illustration of the type of diverse audience Wainwright is reaching on a daily basis.
“I personally needed a kick-start to get back into a Bible study,” Murphy said. “I am grateful to Adam for starting this. It is my morning wake up call. … Adam puts a lot of thought into his comments. Adam has a terrific perspective and because he is so open with how the passages affect him, he encourages us to to be introspective and honest with ourselves.
“I really enjoy the Southern influence on his comments too. He comes across as open and honest, enthusiastic and encouraging. I love how someone who has been on sport’s biggest stage can have the wonder of a child when discussing the greatness and vastness of God.”
Koehler, like Murphy, was looking for a new Bible study when he signed up, admitting he didn’t really know what to expect.
“I have gotten insight into the meaning of many of the verses,” Koehler said. “Waino has tremendous knowledge that I’m happy to be learning. I look forward to reading the verses and Adam’s daily insights.”
Stokes, like Koehler, had recently completed reading the Bible and was looking for a new study program. He has found the combination of including the verses from the Old Testament and the New Testament, about the same subject, offers a different perspective.
“I enjoy the prayer that he attaches at the end of the email,” Stokes said. “It is very encouraging and I believe it is good for so many people to hopefully pray that prayer every day.”
Van Stryland said the emails and tweets have served as a reminder that he needs to be more dedicated to taking the time necessary to complete the readings.
“While life can be busy for me as a father of four, I always seem to find some time to watch Cardinals baseball but far too often I don’t find the time to read God’s word like I should,” Van Stryland said. “For Adam, a guy my age and a player that I greatly admire for his on-field accomplishments, to offer this Bible study is a very intriguing reminder and encouragement that taking time daily to read the Bible and grow in my relationship with God is even more important than checking in on my favorite team.”
An example of the type of insight into his own thinking which Wainwright is sharing with his audience came is his comments about the reading from Proverbs on Feb. 24. Proverbs 4, verse 25 says, “Let your eyes look directly forward and your gaze be straight before you.”
Wainwright’s analysis of that reading was, “You know why your windshield is way bigger than your rear-view mirror? Because where you’re going is way more important than where you’ve been. Our life in Christ is a new life, and we are a new creation. Our past is great for learning from, but doesn’t dictate our future anymore. Let’s put the shame and guilt of our past away in Jesus’ name.”
“What he would tell you to your face”
One of Wainwright’s teammates who is participating in the study program is catcher Matt Wieters, who has known Wainwright for years because of serving together on the board of Pro Athletes Outreach even before they became teammates last season.
“What is so special about Adam is he takes the time and never for one moment does he make you think he is having to put time aside to do it,” Wieters said. “He enjoys doing it, and you feel that. He’s trying to pass on his knowledge of what he has learned and what he is still learning. I think that’s the real special thing about it.
“If you try to do it yourself you feel like it is taking a lot of time and that makes me appreciate his time and effort while he also is trying to pitch at the top of his game. He realizes there are more important things than baseball.”
Being able to play with Wainwright, even if it meant he would not be a starting catcher anymore, was one of the reasons Wieters signed with the Cardinals a year ago.
“Being able to go through the baseball life with a guy who also goes through life trying to do whatever our Lord and Savior wants us to do is something special,” Wieters said. “It was big for me coming here because I knew that baseball was going to be a little bit different but I also was going to be able to grow. Adam does a great job of being completely open and honest about his faith. He’s not going to hide anything. He is going to go out and try to show everybody what being a Christian is all about.”
As someone who knows Wainwright better than most of the people reading the commentary every day, Wieters perhaps has more of an appreciation for what Wainwright writes.
“The things that he comes up with, I’m like, ‘Somebody told you that. You didn’t come up with that by yourself,’” Wieters said. “But it’s what comes to his mind.
“Whatever he is writing is exactly what he would tell you to your face. That’s the really cool part about it. He is not having to go out there and try to create something special. It just comes to his brain.
“I think it’s made him stronger and stronger in his faith. It’s helping others, but you can also see how much he enjoys doing it when he gets to the field. There’s never a conversation that comes out of the study that isn’t one that he welcomes.”
In his introduction to the study, Wainwright promised to be transparent with his comments each day, “pointing out my struggles with something or what is really firing me up.”
“This isn’t a plan where you’ll dive into one book for months at a time,” Wainwright wrote. “It’s meant to motivate you to open up your Word every day. He (Christensen) also put the New Testament and Old Testament readings in order based on the date the books were likely written. This makes the Bible read like a story, which it is.”
This is the fifth year that Wainwright has done this program and each time, he says, he has learned something different. That is part of why he is so excited to share it with people going through it for the first time.
“That’s the amazing thing about the Bible. Don has done it for 25 years all the way through and every year something sticks out about the same old verses like, ‘I’ve never seen that before and I’ve read it so many times. It never hit me that way,’” Wainwright said.
His instructions to the members of the group came with a word of warning – expect him to make mistakes.
“Understand this won’t be perfect,” he said. “His word will be perfect, my word will not be. My writing may not be perfect. You might not like my style and I’m probably going to punctuate it wrong and I’m going to use commas in areas that don’t need them and I’m going to use dot dot dots instead of semicolons.”
His analysis is based on his previous years of readings and other knowledge he has gleaned from the three churches he attends – St. Thomas Community Church in Georgia, The Crossing in St. Louis and Christ Fellowship during spring training.
“I’ve had a lot of really good teaching,” Wainwright said. “My mentors in life, my agent and financial advisor, are my spiritual mentors. To say I have been taught well is a fair statement. I have had really good teachers (at PAO conferences and through his churches). How I portray it from their word sometimes can be a little sloppier, but I feel that the doctrine that has been ingrained in me is pretty solid.”
The study already has accomplished one thing Wainwright is happy about.
“It has refocused my social media,” Wainwright said. “Before I would spend 30 to 40 minutes looking at junk on Twitter, seeing everybody’s news feed and who did this or that, just scrolling through it. Now I’m looking at comments and trying to respond to three or four a day. I’m looking at it not so much as a validation of what I am writing, which I feel like is God inspired, but figuring out if we are doing this on a deeper level I feel like I need to be included in that with you.”
Wainwright doesn’t want people to worry if they fall a day or two behind in their readings and feel like they have to give up. It’s why he also welcomes people joining the group whenever they find out about it.
“I’m willing to bet you will read more this year than you did last year,” Wainwright said. “If that is true you are on the correct path to enlightenment. It’s all about growth and making that learning circle go higher and higher.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Follow Wainwright’s Bible study @WalkingwithWaino