I am missing my basketball world, coaches and players, a great deal these days. I miss the camaraderie that I have had with them throughout the last 7 years of my life. They have encouraged, comforted, and inspired me. Today, I have been thinking a lot of all that I have learned from them. I would have to write a whole book to share all that I have seen and learned! I have read multiple posts on social media about how we don’t need athletes in our lives, basically implying that athletes have nothing positive to offer us by their lives and work, and especially this is so when the going gets rough as it has this past year. However, I disagree because I have learned a great deal from athletes, specifically basketball players, concepts and challenges that are Biblical and could help us greatly to overcome times like 2020 and 2021. Years ago, I prepared the small poster pictured below and hung it on the wall of my classroom. I would like to discuss each of those points with you.
- Practice makes perfect. LOTS of practice makes perfect. Every successful basketball player that I know spends hours a day practicing the skills that they want to be good at. Not one of them was born with NBA-ready skill. They practiced and learned and improved every skill that they are good at. While the Bible does not specifically tell us to practice (as in practicing to get better at it) the fruit and skills that we should exhibit as Christians, it does tell us in 1 Timothy 4:15 to “practice these things [the gift given to you by God]…so that your progress may be evident to all.” Progress would indicate to me that you have been doing the things over and over until you are getting better at doing them. In Hebrews 5 & 6, Paul talks about leaving elementary things behind and going on to maturity. That implies to me learning and practice. Jesus himself told us to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) and that involves teaching and practicing the skills that we want to have as Christians. When we become a follower of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to live in us, and he will help us learn and grow in the use of the fruit of the Spirit and other qualities and skills that we need to have as Christians, but none of us just wake up one morning miraculously enabled to do any of them. Forgiving, gratitude, patience, love are all things we need to learn to do well. My own example is that I have learned to be a more thankful person as I have consciously practiced doing it over the last year or so. It is much easier to do now than when I first started. So, yes, practice makes perfect; LOTS of practice makes perfect!
- “It’s hard!” is no excuse. I have seen basketball players push themselves to the limits in conditioning and training so that they might get stronger and improve. In fact, back in Sunrise Christian Academy, they have made it their theme. They call it the Exit Zone. In other words, it’s only when you exit out of what is comfortable for you, only then will you begin to improve. In fact, usually “It’s hard is necessary to make any real progress in any area of life. The Bible teaches us that in several places that life will not be easy, but that in the trials and difficulties, we will grow and mature. Romans 5:3-5 tells us to “rejoice in our afflictions because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.” Not only is “It’s hard!” not an excuse, it is actually necessary! Over and over again in my own life, I have seen how I have learned the most through my difficulties, and I have heard so many others share the same testimony. Jesus himself told us that in this world we will have trouble. (John 16:33) However, he also told us to not be afraid of the trouble because he has conquered the world, and later the apostle Paul told us that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13) So, yes, not only is “It’s hard!” no excuse, it is often necessary.
- You keep playing even if you are losing-there is still hope for a win. I have been amazed through the years at the effort that basketball coaches and players will put in, even to the very last second of a game, trying to make a comeback. As Christians, it is also important for us to have this mindset as well. Things look bad now? It appears that you’re going to lose? No hope for a win this time? NOT SO! That is because God is “able to do above and beyond all we ask or think according to the power that works in us.” (Eph 3:20) God asked the question of Jeremiah in Jer. 32:17, “Is anything too difficult for me?” Jesus gave the answer in Luke 1:37 and Matthew 19:26 when he assured us that “nothing is impossible with God.” So, we should never give up even when things are looking grim. With our Heavenly Father, there is always the possibility of a win! So, yes, you keep playing even if you are losing-there is still hope for a win.
- You keep playing even if here is no hope of winning this time. You do your best until the last buzzer sounds. I did not experience it much at Sunrise Christian Academy because of the quality of their teams; it did not happen often that a Sunrise team lost by 40-50 points. But I had opportunity to observe other teams that were in that situation. However, never even once did I see a team give up and quit the game because they were so badly behind. They played their hardest and best to the very end even though their situation was humiliating. I’m reminded of King David praying for his ill son in 2 Samuel 12:16-24. He did not give up until there was no breath left in his son. But when his son had died, then he got up and ate and comforted his wife. I believe that should be our attitude. We place our hope in God, but if things do not turn out as we had prayed for and hoped for, we still trust our loving Heavenly Father, and we place what we cannot understand in His hands as well. (Proverb 3:5)
I learned through a basketball game years ago that there are more things at work than we can understand sometimes because God can see the larger picture. I remember watching a game where our Sunrise Select team lost. I had been sitting with some of the players of our Elite team. Later, I met one of the mothers of one of the players on the opposing team. I congratulated her on their win. She then told me with excitement that she could barely contain how much that win meant to her son’s team. She told me how his team had had a losing season the previous season, and then this year for their very first game they had to face Sunrise Christian Academy! They knew the odds were against them winning (In their eyes, it was a David vs. Goliath situation), but they played their best, and they won!! After parting from the mother, I sought out one of the young men that I had been sitting with and told him what I’d learned. I told him, “Isaiah, that win meant everything to them and gave them hope. Sunrise, well, we’ll survive the loss and go on to win again.” That was the day that I learned that God sees the bigger picture, and we need to do our best to the very end, but trust the end results to Him.