Tag Archives: Coach

Swagger, Success & the Soul Effect

They conspired against [King Amaziah] in Jerusalem, and he fled to Lachish, but they sent men after him to Lachish and killed him there.
2 Kings 14:19 (NIV)

Football season has begun. Wendy and I listened to the wild Iowa State vs. Iowa game on our way home from the lake on Sunday. Last night we donned our Vikings regalia for the first time this year and enjoyed watching the purple people eaters win one over Saints before falling asleep to the Broncos and Chargers game.

As casual fans who don’t follow football closely during the off-season, Wendy and I spend the first couple of weeks of the fall trying to keep track of who went where to play with whom and which coach went where to coach for whom. It seems like every year is a large game of musical chairs. It was so odd last night for Wendy and me to see our long-time star, Adrian Peterson, wearing a Saints uniform.

One of the harsh realities of sports in our culture is that you’d better win or else. Coaches have very little tolerance for players who don’t perform, and teams have very little patience for coaches who don’t consistently bring home victories. If you read social media you’ll find that fans have zero patience for either coaches or players as soon as the losses begin to mount.

In this morning’s chapter King Amaziah of Judah, who seems to have been as full of himself as many prima donna athletes today, pressed for a military campaign against King Jehoash and his nation’s heated rivals to the north in Israel. King Jehoash returned Amaziah’s challenge with a message that sports culture today would call “talking smack.” Jehoash gives Amaziah the chance to back down, but Amaziah would have none of it. Game on. King Amaziah and Judah are humiliated in defeat. The wall of Jerusalem is breached and the treasures of Solomon’s Temple are stolen as plunder.

The very next thing we learn about Amaziah is that his own people conspired against him. When Amaziah skipped town (hoping to be a free agent, perhaps?) they went after him and “permanently terminated his contract.” We don’t like losers.

This morning I’m thinking about our culture’s obsession with success and with winning. I could have used business as a similar parallel. There are certainly institutional churches who have similar expectations of success from their pastors. Yet the path that Jesus prescribes for me, His follower, has a distinctly different trajectory to it:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”

I understand that having a job in sports, business, or elsewhere in our success-obsessed culture means delivering wins and exceeding expectations. I wonder, however, what effect this corporately has on our souls over time. In the ceaseless pursuit of worldly success, it’s easy to forfeit, or simply lose, our spiritual center. Amaziah had didn’t have to taunt Israel. He didn’t have to pursue expanding his kingdom. He could have focused on contentedly serving his own people to become a king they would honor and respect.

Benched

David Robinson of the US Olympic men's basketb...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So Achish called David and said to him, “As surely as the Lord lives, you have been reliable, and I would be pleased to have you serve with me in the army. From the day you came to me until today, I have found no fault in you, but the rulers don’t approve of you. Now turn back and go in peace; do nothing to displease the Philistine rulers.”
1 Samuel 29:6-7 (NIV)

It’s one thing to ride the bench when you know you’re not a star player. It’s another thing to ride the bench when you know you’re one of the best players on the team, or even the league MVP. The other day I used professional athletes in free agency as a word picture for David’s move to serve the rival Philistine king, Achish. The word picture remains apt in today’s chapter. It is a new season, and for the first time David is going to face King Saul and his men. But, in an unexpected move David and his men get benched by their manager, Achish. They don’t even get to suit up and watch from the sidelines. They are sent back to the team’s training facility.

Having watched sports my whole life, I’ve come to realize that coaches and managers bench players for different reasons. Sometimes a player needs a day off. Other times a player may be benched as a precaution against debilitating injury. In some cases, a player needs to be benched when they’ve forgotten that there is no “i” in team. Talented competitors may have a hard time seeing the big picture of career or season when they find themselves in the heat of a single rivalry game.

We have seen that David has spent years being groomed for leadership through difficult circumstances. Being benched by Achish is just another lesson in time that will profit him as king, but it doesn’t make it easy for the talented warrior in the moment. My experience is that there is an ebb and flow to God’s work through us as we progress through our life journey. We don’t set records every game, nor are we in a position to win with a dramatic hail mary every week. Sometimes God puts the ball in our hands because we’re uniquely suited for a particular play or circumstance. Other times we’re asked to play a supporting role on the field. Sometimes we’re told to ride the bench for a game, or for a season.

Today, I am reminded that embracing God’s timing includes an acceptance that there are times we may be a critical part of a particular play in life, and there are times we are asked to ride the bench. Being on God’s team requires acceptance of the fact that it’s not about me.