How You Play The Game

One of the highlights of a recent weekend was helping coach my 5 year-old son’s soccer team during their first game.

Imagine the scene… picture-perfect weather, players dressed in pristine uniforms, coaches discussing final rotations and strategy, families spanning three generations seated on the sidelines in hopeful anticipation.

Finally the players line up on each side of the field, ready for the kickoff. The moment has arrived, and all of the practices, drills, scrimmages, pep talks, and preparation is about to pay off… and pay off BIG.

The whistle blows. The next 45 minutes of my life is a whirlwind, filled with players crying, teammates wrestling, cartwheels spinning, “butt” jokes flying, water spewing, parents cringing, whistles blaring… on and on the seemingly synchronized comedy of errors unfolds. And then mercifully the final whistle blows, signifying the end of the game.

Sometimes life is like this, isn’t it? We do everything we possibly can to prepare, to control, to line up everything perfectly. But then reality hits, and we realize that there are so many things that happen that are out of our control in this game of life.

Using the sports analogy, here are a few things that this coaching experience reminded me about our relationship with God.

He’s on the field with us. Even though we can’t physically see Him or touch Him, God is always there. He’s omnipresent and His Spirit lives inside of us. Like a coach with their 5 year-old players, God is on the playing field of life with us, leading, directing, positioning, guiding, protecting. He will be there from the start of the game, until the very last whistle, never leaving or forsaking us.

“‘Am I only a God nearby,’ declares the Lord, ‘and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him’ declares the Lord. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 23:23–24)

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Cor. 3:16)

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17)

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6)

He’s given us a playbook. The Bible, God’s very Word breathed onto the pages of life’s playbook. Like any athlete who wants to be successful in their sport, they must study the playbook their coach has given them, and know it inside out.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Josh. 1:8)

He forgives us for our mistakes and expects us to do better. Just like these crazy kids running around getting into trouble on the field, we as adults unfortunately do the same as we fall into sin. If our lives were an open book for anyone to read, boy it would probably sound more insane than what I just wrote above about the kids.

Yet for those who have received the gift of grace, justification, and salvation through Jesus Christ, He forgives us. But just because He forgives us, that doesn’t give us the liberty to continue on sinning, as that cheapens God’s grace and undoubtedly grieves our Heavenly Father.

As any good coach does, He forgives us for our mistakes, expecting us to do better the next time through repentance and a reliance on His Spirit. We need to confess our sins, turn completely away from them, and move forward. Similarly, a player must learn from their mistakes and apply this wisdom to the next play or game.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:6-10)

He’s cheering us on. Not to make God seem like a cosmic cheerleader by any means, but a better way to put it is that He delights in us. He created us in His image, and He loves us deeply– not because we deserve it, but because that is His very nature. He loves the unlovable, the undeserving, and the unmerited. God is love.

Just like a steady and mature coach, whether the players win, lose or draw, God will always stand behind, support, and delight in His children who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zeph. 3:17)

He wants the best for us. The reason I go through all of the wackiness that goes on as a coach, is because I genuinely delight in these kids and I want them to have a great experience learning and playing a sport. I want the best for them and my hope is that they not only learn and have fun playing the sport, but also learn life lessons about teamwork, competition, health, exercise, etc.

Likewise, God wants the best for us, with “the best” meaning living according to His will. He loves us and has hopes and plans for us; and in love He also disciplines us and also allows us to grow in faith from our challenges.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)

Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law, to give him rest from days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked. (Psalm 94:12-13)

At the end of the game, I think our team lost by a mercy-rule score of 10-0. In the end, that particular win or loss doesn’t matter. These kids will continue to play, will continue to learn, will continue to grow, and they’ll get better. At this age and level, it’s about what they get through the process of playing the game, not the final result.

And just as in our Christian walk, it’s not about our works or what we accomplish from an earthly perspective, but rather it’s about the ongoing process of sanctification; the life-long process of being purified, refined, reformed, and conformed to the image of Christ.

In the end, God doesn’t care about the score (our accomplishments) at the final whistle of our lives, but whether we lived lives of love and obedience through faith. Rather than the score, He cares about how we play the game.

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