I was a high school freshman squeezing out time on the varsity squad. I was adjusting to the pace of the varsity level, which was much different from splitting traps and making assists as a junior high point guard. (Same adjustment occurs between the high school and college levels, except is multiplied by ten to fifteen times the athleticism, size, and intensity.) I had just committed back-to-back turnovers when I heard an assistant coach yell, “Gibson! See the whole floor!” The coach then calmly walked over and explained that, as a point guard, I needed to see both where the offense was supposed to be and where the defense might be. Just seeing the offense was only seeing half of what I was supposed to see, he explained. I needed to see the whole floor.
“Gibson! See the whole floor!” Those words continue to ring in my ear very loudly, but for a different reason. I believe that many times, as Christ-followers, we fail to see “the whole floor” of Scripture. We might, like a young point guard, just see one aspect of a passage or book and fail to miss the larger context. Or, we spend so much time focusing on one smaller aspect of Scriptural doctrine and fail to see the larger narrative which supports the larger context. As a basketball player, not seeing the whole floor can lead to tunnel vision. As a Christ-follower, not seeing “the whole floor” of Scripture can lead us to beliefs and doctrines that are either incomplete or not Biblical. So, what do we do?
So, when you read the Bible, remember to see the whole floor. As you grow in your ability to understand the full narrative of the Bible, much like a young point guard who slowly learns to understand the whole game, the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection will jump off the page at you.
Every year, there comes a time that coaches dread. It's like clockwork. You work like crazy trying to avoid it; trying to squeeze one more moment out of one more play in order to avoid that sinking feeling. It's a feeling of helplessness. You realize you are not a basketball wizard, that your team was not as capable as you thought, and that it was not, after all, "your year." All the miles traveled scouting, all the hours spent practicing, and all the eyeball rubs from hours of late game watching culminate when the time you have been trying to avoid arrives. It's the time when you look up at the scoreboard, notice that there are only zeros on the clock, and, for some reason, you find yourself at least one point behind. Your season is over. Now, it's time to face the troops, muster up the right words to put a positive spin on a disappointing moment, and then go ask yourself many times, "What might have been?"
There is a familiar frame that many express to make sense out of the end of a season, "Well, there is always next year." Ah, yes. Next year. Next year is full of hope, optimism, and, as it currently stands (with last season just ending), we are undefeated. Maybe next year will be the year.
What can we learn about following Christ from "There is always next year?"
1. Endings are natural. Ecclesiastes 3 states that there is a time for everything, a time to be born (the beginning of a season) and a time to die (the ending of a season). Henry Cloud, in his book Necessary Endings, points out that healthy people understand endings are natural. I used to stew for weeks after a season because I could not let go of what could have been. I actually grew as a coach when I started to let go of the past and focus on the future. We grow as Jesus-followers when we realize that much of life is cyclical. We embrace a moment while it lasts, grieve when it passes, and look forward to God's next assignment in our lives.
2. We are called to "Press On." In Philippians 3, Paul told fellow Christ-followers, "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." I believe one of the saddest scenes from a movie occurred in Hoosiers. The character, Shooter, was in a bar reliving the glory days of how he received his nickname. (He missed a game winning shot at the buzzer that would have won his team a sectional championship. Thus, the nickname, "Shooter.") Sadly, Shooter had allowed that moment to shape his life; a "what might have been" athlete turned divorced alcoholic. I wonder how different Shooter's character would have been had he forgotten what was behind and strained for another higher, more noble goal. As a Christ-follower, you are not anything in your past. You are a treasured child of the Most High God. Work to process the past and then press on towards the prize for which God has called you heavenward.
3. Followers of Jesus have a "next year." Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected. Scripture calls his resurrection "first fruits." First fruits indicate that there will be "second fruits." Jesus was the first to defeat death. If we follow Christ, we too will defeat death. Our "next year" will include a place where no tears or heartaches exist. No more scoreboards indicating that we lost. We will live with God and others in Shalom; perfect peace. A Christ-follower's next year is full of true optimism and hope.
In 1992, many Kentucky fans grieved Christian Laettner's last second shot. That shot marked the end of a magical run for a fun-to-watch, over-achieving team. What would have happened if Rick Pitino and the Kentucky program spent the 1992 off-season focusing on "what could have been?" Fortunately, they focused on the next season and a Final Four run began.
An additional thought to "Pressing On"--The Need to Process the Past
As a person who is working towards a degree in counseling, I want to point out that "pressing on" simply does not happen at the snap of fingers. "Pressing on" often requires that we first pause to confront that which is holding us back. We must first look within to identify where our hearts are sick and held captive. If our hearts are sick, pressing on is not possible. Pressing on or embracing "next year" requires that we first process the past. Want to know more about processing the past? I encourage you to read Henry Cloud’s book, Changes that Heal, or Peter Scazzero’s book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. You can also check out a sermon I delivered this past Sunday at HBC at http://www.hardinsburgbc.org/current-sermon-series.html. (Scazzero was heavily referenced in the sermon.)
O God, as we stand in the hallowed halls of this capitol, we pause to say thank you for another day of life. O God, I pray for the men and women of this legislature as they continue to embark on a most perilous journey; a journey to lead this great Commonwealth with justice and righteousness. I pray today that the matters of this hall would be just; that each leader in this room would look deep within themselves to first ask, "Is my heart just?" I also pray that the men and women leading this great Commonwealth would feel the burden of pursuing righteousness as they attempt to make laws. May the righteousness they pursue not be a righteousness of their own, but a righteousness from above so that your will may be done in Frankfort and in the commonwealth of Kentucky as it is in heaven. O God, we thank you for the representatives in this room. We pray for their families. We pray for their health and for their rest so that they may be of clear heart and mind. We pray for their constituents, that they be advocated for and heard. O God, we also pray for the other branches of the Commonwealth's government, that they too would pursue justice and righteousness. And most of all God, we pray that we each take to heart, whether we be a page, an elected official, or someone in the gallery, your command to "Follow me." O God, may we all be followers of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We lift these prayers to you, the Almighty God. Amen.
We were up by 4 at halftime in the championship game of our conference tournament. My team, which consisted of a bunch of scrappy girls, had by far exceeded expectations for the season. They had endured injury, heartache, and team turmoil and were now on the cusp of winning the school's first conference title in over a decade. My assistant coaches and I felt good about the way we played and our lead.
The agreed upon game plan was to press the entire first half in order to wear down the opposing team's best player and then to switch to a 3-2 zone defense after halftime. The goal of the switch was to throw the opposing team off by playing a defense we had not played all season (yet practiced extensively). The game plan was going to work. However, as we were getting ready to exit the locker room and head back onto the floor, I looked at my team and said, "Girls, we are going to stay in '100.'" "100" was code for our full court press. My top assistant heard what I said and quickly grabbed my arm, "Coach, I thought we were going to switch to the 3-2 after halftime." My response, "I know, Coach. But, it's working. So, let's stick with it." He urged me one more time to reconsider, "But Coach. We thought long and hard about this game plan." "I know, but '100' is working. Let's stick with it." My assistant reluctantly agreed. As a result, we went back out onto the floor against a team that had made all the necessary half-time adjustments to easily beat our full court press. We ended up losing the game by 12.
What Can My Halftime Mistakes Teach Us About Following Christ?
1. Listen to the wise people around you. Proverbs 15.22 states that, "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed." My team's plans failed that day because I refused to listen to my advisers. My assistant coach, who had twice as many years of head coaching experience as me, urged me to stick to the game plan. If I had listen to my assistant coach and stuck with the game plan, I believe we would have won. As you follow Jesus, make sure you have a "team" of older and more mature Christ-followers who are discipling you and speaking into your journey.
2. Leave your pride at the door. Proverbs 16.18 says that "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." Sadly, I cringe when I reflect on that halftime experience because, to simply put it, I was too stubborn to listen and too prideful to think my reasoning was wrong. As a result, I had to stand in front of a locker room full of hurting athletes who had worked so hard and endured so much just so they could win their conference tournament. Most of the time, a prideful person not only hurts themselves, but those around them. As you follow Jesus, leave your pride at the door by embracing your weaknesses. Embracing weakness helps us realize that we need others, and ultimately the grace of God, to accomplish anything worth accomplishing, especially Jesus-Kingdom size things.
3. Adjustments often need to be made. I believe that I committed a coaching cardinal sin during that halftime; I made no adjustments. The best coaches are always willing to take a good game plan and adjust to make it better. Proverbs 16.9 states, "In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps." This verse acknowledges the fact that we, as humans, will make plans. Making plans is prudent and wise. (See the ant in Proverbs 6.) However, as we plan, we must always, ALWAYS be open to God's leading and when an adjustment in our plans needs to be made, we follow God's leading.
If I had listened to the wise people around me, if I had left my pride at the door, and if I had made adjustments at halftime, there would be a conference championship banner hanging from the rafters of my team's gymnasium. Alas, there is not a banner and that halftime will always haunt me.
Paul is the husband to Tara, father to Natalie and Isaac, has an average jump shot, and enjoys running. His secret wish is to one day become a Jedi Knight. Paul holds a doctorate in marriage and family counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently serves as senior pastor of Hardinsburg Baptist Church. Paul desires to help young couples navigate the early crucibles of marriage, especially when one or both of the spouses are engaged in vocational ministry.