We talked with Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Steven Souza about his faith journey, how he’s living in the increase of Christ, and the mentors that have impacted his life. Here’s what he had to say.
What effect does your faith have on your lifestyle?
Faith gives me hope for any situation that I find myself in. I’ve gone through some things that I look back on and think, “If I didn’t know that Jesus was holding me, walking through that with me, I don’t think I’d have made it.” His strength in my life is evident. My faith in Jesus helps me know that I don’t have to live for myself, I get to live for God and serve other people. I know that it’s more fulfilling, and fun, to live for God and for others.
Describe how your Journey with Christ began.
I was raised in the Church, consistently going to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, but I never truly knew what it meant to have a relationship with Christ. And as I grew older, my family eventually stopped going to church.
I was a bit of a prodigal son, so to speak. In high school, I decided to live life my own way, which led me to be consumed with the things that the world had to offer. When I was drafted to play professional baseball, suddenly it seemed like a lot of things were going my way; I thought everything revolved around me. Elevating myself in every environment I was in—whether I was with my family, friends, or teammates—I developed a lot of pride.
I had never fully been able to put my talents together in baseball. In 2011, at 22 years old, I found myself in a dark place. A lot of hard things happened that season, leading to one particularly rough altercation with a team manager on the field. After that incident I told my manager I was going home—I was quitting the game of baseball.
Baseball had always been my identity, but at that moment I thought I was done with it forever. I didn’t know where I was headed or what I was doing. As I headed home, I realized I needed to figure out who I was outside of the game of baseball.
During that time, I saw an old teammate of mine from Washington, Michael Taylor, who asked me how my walk with Christ was going. I gave him the canned answer: “It’s going just fine.” But that couldn’t have been further from the truth. In my heart I knew that I had no idea where I was headed. That day, Michael encouraged me to start reading God’s Word. I remember going home that night, laying down on my bed, and saying, “God, I want to believe. If you are real, show me something.” I waited for something miraculous to happen but nothing did.
Over the next few days, God continued to bring key people into my life who pointed me towards Christ. One of those people—a friend of mine—invited me to church that week. As I sat in church with him I saw a card in front of me that read, “Do you want to be baptized?” That caught my attention and I thought back to what I had learned about baptism as a kid. I knew that baptism was a profession of faith—a way of saying, “I’m all in.”
I filled out that card, and on January 31st, 2012 I was baptized. As I began to draw close to God, He started to pull down the strongholds in my life. From that point on my whole view of life was completely changed—the transformation process had begun.
It’s amazing to experience the slow, gradual refining process, though some parts of my life changed immediately. Right away my speech changed; the way I viewed relationships and the purpose behind what I did were also different and everyone noticed it. The beautiful thing was, I no longer wanted to take the credit for things, and the more things I wanted to give God credit for, the more things He entrusted me with. But on the days that I did want to take credit, God humbled me.
When I was sent back down to low-A and invited on a team, I remember someone pulling me aside and saying to me, “Hey, we have a really good chemistry here—we’ve heard about your attitude and we really want you to keep it cool.”
I replied to the guy, “I appreciate you having this meeting with me but I am now following the Lord and I go where He tells me. I’m just here to help out.”
It took a long time for that attitude to take root in my heart. It required me going to the Lord day-in and day-out, seeking for Him to change me. That year God did some really amazing things both in my life and in the lives of those around me as I sought to give all glory to Him.
Eventually God took me on a journey to the Big Leagues, which I didn’t expect. I found that I was no longer driven by the expectations of the world, instead, I was driven by the motivation to glorify Christ in everything I did. This freedom allowed my full talent to come out on a daily basis.
Who have been the mentors in your life? How did God bring these people into your life?
Brent Lillibridge, the best man at my wedding and my workout partner, has been a great brother to me. Together we have been able to grow closer to the Lord and stronger in our faith.
Brian Hommel, a baseball chaplain who I met during the fall league, has been one of the biggest mentors I’ve ever had and continues to pour into my life.
Ian Desmond, one of my teammates in Washington, is an amazing example to me, teaching me how to be professional in whatever workplace I am in, as well as how to respect people and live my life for the Lord.
What does the Increase of Christ mean to you?
God’s ministry must increase while my will must decrease. Whatever my plans are, they need to fade away so that the Lord can shine through.
What is your Life Verse? Why?
“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” —Philippians 1:6
As I started walking with Jesus I held onto this verse, which really gave me hope and identity in Christ. When I began to mature in my faith and learn what it means to trust and lean on Christ, I really leaned on this verse:
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” —Philippians 4:12
Knowing this truth helps me bask in the Lord’s glory, not my own, in all situations. When I go to Him, being content with His presence, that is when I know peace.
Steven Souza is a regular contributor of The Increase, providing monthly articles and opinions.
Check out Steven’s full profile on The Increase Baseball: https://theincreasebaseball.com/author/steven-souza/
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