I’m a big sports fan. It is not the most important thing in my life or even the second most important thing in my life but it is something that I have committed a lot of time, energy, and resources to over the years. In fact, I don’t remember to many summer vacations growing up because most my summers were spent on the baseball ball field. Therefore, my family would vacation during the Christmas break. Currently, I serve with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as a Character Coach at a local elementary school.
We live in a sports-crazed society no doubt. A week rarely goes by in which we don’t learn about some sort of “breaking news” in the world of sports. Recently, three men were inducted into Cooperstown, the Hall of Fame for Major League Baseball. This week is the Super Bowl in the National Football League. There is a lot of hype, analytical work, and money spent on things like this.
As Christ followers, Jesus desires certain traits and characteristics in us. When you read the Scriptures you see the type of people He called to follow Him, to join Him on mission. You will notice things such as hard work, devotion, and passion. You also see these traits in athletes that are successful on any level of competition. Furthermore, I believe we as Christ followers can learn a lot from the lifestyle, work ethic, and passion of committed athletes. Allow me to highlight four of these areas.
Train effectively and often. The coaches I had growing up taught me this: Games are won in preparation. If you have lousy practices during the week, you will probably not find yourself in the win column that often. Committed athletes train physically no doubt but, it is just as important to train mentally and emotionally as well. Winning athletes wake up before any else to train. They are the first ones in the building and the last ones to leave. Their dedication to their team and sport is undeniable. As Christ followers, how often are we training spiritually? This goes way past picking up a Bible every once in a while. Some Christ followers might tell you Jesus is the most important aspect of their life but then will scramble to find their Bible for church on Sunday mornings. It is not only important to train often but also effectively. Things such as accountability, biblical community, involvement in the local church, and consistent gospel conversations, are crucial in the life of a believer and help us grow in our walk with Jesus.
Forced to think “we” before “me.” Sports, in large part, are team-oriented sports. You have to be successful as a team unit in order to be effective and win. The most successful teams are full of individual team members who work hard to be the very best at their specific job so that the overall team is successful. With that being stated, there is no denying teams are full of self-centered, egotistic, “all about me,” athletes. What do you see come from this? Distractions and a broken team unit. While they may be incredibly gifted athletes, they end up hurting their team instead of helping their team. Committed, successful athletes are forced to think and thrive on “we” before “me.” A quarterback-wide receiver combination is only as good as the offensive line is. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 9, Jesus told His disciples you must deny self, pick up your cross daily, and follow me. The mission of God is all about one person, Jesus Christ. It is not about us, it is about something way bigger than us.
Make others around them better. This is possibly the single most important trait of a committed, successful athlete. When they step onto the field or court, they make others around them better. Their skill set allows others to shine. I love seeing an elite quarterback make an average wide-receiver look incredible. This also gets back to the theme of work ethic. When leaders in the locker room work endlessly, it is amazing how often others on the team exemplify that. On the other end, when leaders in the locker room have terrible attitudes, it can destroy the team as well. Jesus spent His earthly ministry pouring into a few men with an incredibly calling on their life. He taught them, spent time with them, prayed with and for them. Why? Ultimately because He loved and cared for them but also because He knew the type of impact they could and would have. Being around Jesus, His Kingdom and mission makes us better believers, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, employees, and so on.
Play through the pain. Committed, successful athletes want to be on the field or court at all cost. They will do whatever it takes to be able to play and help their team win. It kills them to stand on the sidelines and watch. They play hurt and convince the training staff they can play even when they probably shouldn’t. Their attitude is “cast it up” and lets play ball! The Christian life is hard, no doubt. It is a life of self-denying sacrifice that comes with victories and hardships, bumps and bruises. At the end of the day though, a committed, successful athlete knows it is worth it. Following Jesus is not always easy, it is always worth it. Every single time.
So to the Christ follower… are you training effectively and often or are you being lazy and apathetic? Are you thinking “we” before “me?” Are you making others around you better by the example you are setting? Are you playing through the pain or are you giving up?