Phil Jackson has likely coached his final NBA game following the 4-game sweep by the Dallas Mavericks. Most reporters and pundits believe the final game wasn’t a reflection on Phil Jackson’s successful coaching career. However, there is no doubt that the Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom of the Lakers disgraced Jackson by their ugly fouls in the fourth quarter against Dallas when they were ejected from the game.
Andrew Bynum with the Lakers down by 30 points, threw an elbow into Dallas guard Jose Barea. Reporters later described the act as ugly, thuggish and a cheap shot. To make matters worse, Bynum embarrassed himself by taking off his shirt as he walked off the court after being ejected. Lamar Odom threw his shoulder into Dirk Nowitzki and was also ejected.
It’s not that tough to act like a champion when you’re winning. However, it’s much more difficult to behave like a champion when you’re down by 30 points.
Most athletes think of a winner as someone who has accomplished his goal of defeating his opponent. And, most athletes think of a loser as someone who gets defeated, or doesn’t accomplish his goal. You’re a winner or a loser depending on whether you accomplish what you set out to do. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
Your definition of winning must be consistent with your goal, whatever it is. If your goal is to defeat your opponent, then you’re a winner if you defeat him, and a loser if you don’t. If your goal is to become league champion, then you’re a winner if you become league champion, and a loser if you don’t. That’s what I call scoreboard winning. However, I believe we need to pursue God’s ultimate goal for each of us. That’s glorifying Him and conforming to the image of Jesus.
The apostle Paul helped us get a handle on winning from God’s perspective when he wrote in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men…”
There’s a powerful one-two-three punch in that passage.
First Punch: The word “whatever” includes everything you do as an athlete, whether it’s running windsprints, sitting on the bench, throwing the ball, blocking, diving, jumping, or recovering from an injury. There isn’t anything you do in your sport that isn’t included in this one word, “whatever.” And, it also, includes everything you think and do outside of athletics, as well. Now, what kind of effort does God want you to put into “whatever” you do?”
Second Punch: God wants you to do whatever you do heartily as for the Lord. The word, “heartily,” means you totally release everything you have, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually into what you’re doing.
Third Punch: The phrase, “as for the Lord,” means that everything you think and do is for the Lord’s benefit, and not your own. You are committed to do what God wants you to do, rather than what you might naturally want to do.
Paul’s words, in Colossians 3:23, help you know God’s perspective on what real winning is: Winning is the TOTAL RELEASE or the MAXING OUT of all that you are, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually toward the goal of being at one with Jesus, and representing Him in whatever you do.
It’s not really surprising to see disgraceful acts in sports when the participants are not gospel-centered. Understanding the proper perspective on winning for the Christian athlete or coach will help in glorifying God in sports and acting like a champion in God’s eyes.
1. Name the most successful basketball player in the NBA or NFL. Why did you choose them?
2. Brett Favre threw for more career touchdowns than any other NFL quarterback. However, he also set another record for interceptions. Was he successful? Why or why not?
3. Read Colossians 3:23. According to this verse, how should you view winning and losing?
4. What does it mean to “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus”?
5. According to Psalm 1:3, how do you think God wants you to prosper? Why?
6. Why are Ananias and Sapphira losers in Acts 5:14? How does this example relate to sports?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Gordon Thiessen has served on staff with the Nebraska FCA since 1986 He has also founded Cross Training Publishing (www.crosstrainingpublishing.com). He has written Team Studies on Character and edited The Athletes Topical Bible. He is married to Terri and has four grown children.
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