Do you have your bracket filled out? Now if you have no idea what the question means you are obviously not a basketball fan!
Today begins in earnest “The Road to the Final Four!” It’s the quest for the NCAA championship in men’s basketball. It’s called March Madness!
The tournament reminds me that the qualities for success in the sports world are so similar to those we need to acquire as Christians. The apostle Paul must have been a sports fan! Because he frequently used sports metaphors to make spiritual points. Consider these two passages.
“Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadow boxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:24-27, NLT)
“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Phil. 3:12-14, NLT)
Contained in these two texts are 7 lessons we can learn from the sports world.
(1) Don’t Dwell on the Past
Every team enters the tournament was some losses on their record, except the University of Kentucky, who is the favorite to win this year. However, UK cannot bask in the glow of past victories, nor can those who’ve suffered some tough defeats worry about them. It’s time to move on.
Paul is a great example of “forgetting the past.” He persecuted the church. Killed Christians. Was the “chief of sinners” But he forgot the past and moved on. So, must we. All sin. But spiritual champions learn from their mistakes instead of dwelling on them.
Also Paul did not revel in his past successes in preaching Christ and spreading the gospel. Just like a basketball team must play today’s game, you and I must live to meet today’s challenges.
(2) Believe You Can Improve.
Every team in the NCAA tournament is being told by their coach, they can play better. Yes, even John Calipari is telling his Wildcats they can improve!
Paul was a great example of seeking spiritual improvement. He said, “I’m still working. Growing. Learning. I haven’t attained the goal yet!” What a great lesson for us! Don’t be satisfied with where you are today. Believe there is a better tomorrow. Believe you can get getter! And grow spiritually.
(3) Possess Passion
The NCAA tournament is so much fun because of the passion every team brings. Even the lowly 16 seeds will put up a fight. Coaches tell their players they may be out manned, but they don’t have to be out hustled! Champions play with passion.
Paul had an intense desire to be with Christ. He said, “I press.” Vernon J. McGee wrote, “The highest desire that can possess any heart is the longing to see God.” Spiritual winners possess that burning desire.
(4) Be Committed.
One of the great lessons of the sports world is commitment. Dedication. Loyalty. To the coach. To the team. To the goal of winning.
The writings of Paul speak of commitment. And his life demonstrated it. A commitment to Christ. To discipleship. To ministry. To evangelistic outreach.
If we are to be spiritual winners, our confession must be more than mere words. It must be a commitment to our Lord. To His Word. His cross. His cause. His calling for our lives. (Lk 14:25-33)
(5) Exercise Discipline.
Athletic success requires great discipline. To train. To practice. And to execute the game plan. The discipline is not just physical. But mental and emotional. The teams that exercise the greatest discipline today will move on to the next round.
Spiritual winners must likewise discipline their bodies. Minds. Emotions. The Bible says “Train yourself to be godly” (1 Tim. 4:7) “Learn to endure hardship (Heb. 12:7). “Discipline (your) body” (1 Cor 9:27).
(6) Stay Focused.
Often you hear a Coach say his team “lost focus.” Winners ignore distractions. Play through pain. Overcome adversity. Winners focus on the game.
Paul was focused on the goal. On running the Christian race. On crossing the finish line. We too must keep our eyes on Jesus. (Heb. 12:1)
(7) Develop Character.
Athletic teams develop character within the context of their structure and value system. When the first six qualities are practiced, character is acquired.
Character for the Christian is simply defined as Christ likeness. Paul affirmed that his goal and desire was to be more like Christ (Phil 3:10). He is our leader. Our example. Our “spiritual coach” if you please. And he calls on us to follow Him.
64 teams enter the tournament today, but only one will be crowned the winner in the final game on April 6th. Yet, the trophy, the ring, and the banner are temporal and temporary.
The reward for Christian faithfulness is spiritual. Eternal. Heavenward. And everyone can be a winner!
I’m looking forward to the next three weeks. It will be exciting. The games will be good. But its fun is fleeting. It’s just a part of our earthly existence.
Our spiritual lives are greater than games. Sports. Or material success. There is something better. Bigger. And eternally lasting.
Let’s press on to the heavenly goal for the prize in Christ Jesus!
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman