Growing up, our family was very involved in sports. We played a few and watched lots of games, sets, matches, olympic events; you name it, we watched ‘em. One thing that I remember very clearly was the young “me” being astonished that the players would miss certain shots. I’d even say to my parents, incredulously: “I could have made that!?” I wasn’t lying or boasting, I was genuinely confused. As we watched, it seemed like there were tennis shots that I could have made, soccer goals I could have scored, long-range basketball shots I could have made and open fields that I could have run through with a football in my clutches, maybe even outrunning the linemen I thought were so slow. What was the big deal, I wondered. To their credit, my parents didn’t shoot me down or discourage me for a long time. They just listened and probably smiled knowingly or shared looks that my young mind didn’t pick up on or understand. After awhile though, I started to get a different response: “Darryl,” they’d say: “you might really be able to make that shot. But what separates you from those world-class athletes is not just opportunity, they can make those shots and score those goals and run that fast every day, multiple times per day!” That shut me up, but I still didn’t fully understand. I overestimated my skills and figured that I could do the same thing if given the chance.
As I’ve matured, I’ve discovered how true those words were. I’ve been fortunate to know some excellent athletes personally, and I’ve watched others from afar, as they take the global stage every two years (summer and winter Olympics and World Cup soccer), and after awhile, I’ve noticed some other themes that are pertinent to life beyond the turf.
First of all, my parents were so right: excellence in sports is a matter of consistency. Day in, day out, game or no game, world-stage or practice field.
Secondly, in order to be consistent, we need to be conditioning. World-class athletes are always in a cycle of conditioning and rest. Weight rooms and ice baths; stair-runs and physical therapy, altitude training and nutrition choice – all these are regular fare for the honed athlete.
Finally (for my purposes today), there’s the hard one of endurance through obstacles. Have you ever noticed how many injuries are not devastating for professional athletes? It’s not just a matter of million dollar franchise budgets, it’s mental toughness and repeated decisions to work through the difficulties and push through pain for the goals they set.
Our faith and faithfulness to Christ are of infinitely greater worth than trophies, record books and winning rings. These principles are the same, lets pursue them together. Instead of allowing our surrounding culture or popular thoughts, ethics or media to shape us, let’s consider Christ our God and the Scriptures as our guide.
1- Faithfulness to Christ is not a matter of “I did that once!” It’s a matter of living for Christ all the time, in every moment. He’s God and the loving sacrifice he made shows his love for us. Let’s set the bar high for ourselves, Christ has freed us to follow him every day.
2- Conditioning is an every-day reality. The armor of God (Ephesians 6) is not a list of optional accessories, it’s a list that points to the tools God has given us for moment-by-moment spiritual conditioning as we face the very real battles of spiritual opposition. Employ them regularly for optimum spiritual health.
3- As I have grown in life and the Lord, I see that the people who get it are not the ones who are fair-weather-fans of Jesus. The people I most admire press on through hardship, hold on through difficulty and fight hard when they’re wounded. Just. Like. Jesus.
This is no pep talk. Faithful living with Christ at the center is hard work and it requires commitment at the most costly of levels. I want to encourage anyone who reads this to set the bar high for faithful living in Christ. I want to encourage us to live beyond the ease of armchair faith and statements like: “I could do that!” I want to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to be world-class in our faith. Not as if it is a competition, but because the best of athletes have their own standards and drive that push them. Let’s set the bar high. Let’s live into the standards that Christ, our Lord has given us: “if anyone would follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34 and Luke 9:23)