On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. –Jesus
It was 2 a.m. and I found myself dozing in and out of studying for a history test while lying on the couch in the laundry facility of L.T. Smith Stadium. L.T. Smith Stadium is the football complex at Western Kentucky University and back in 1999; it was the only athletic laundry facility at WKU. That meant that, as managers for the men’s basketball program, we had to lug two huge laundry carts of laundry from Diddle Arena across a large parking lot in order to do the team’s laundry. And, due to the timing of basketball season, that long walk was often accompanied by rain, snow, and sleet. It would be dark, brisk, lonely and late.
Neither I, nor my co-workers, complained much about the work of a manager. For us, we were living a dream; being part of a Division I basketball program that was making progress to once again be a formidable mid-major. Yes, the work could be very hard and was many times overlooked and underappreciated. An assistant coach once told me that, “Your job as a manager is to never been seen. If you are seen, that most likely means you didn’t do your job.” So, we did our best to stay behind the scenes and do what needed to be done to help the program function.
Occasionally, we would do something positive that would be noticed. There was the time we had a player get blood on his jersey late during a pivotal conference road game, but we were there with an extra jersey, saving the day. I once had to leap over a security rope during a conference tournament game in order to dart back into the locker room to retrieve a scouting report. The game was on TV and, to my surprise, many saw my amazing dash. (My aunt called me the next day and asked, “Where were you going in such a hurry?”) But, the strong majority of the time, you did not see or notice us. Our job was to help the program function in a non-glamorous way.
Flash back to the 2 a.m. laundry duty. That was a difficult night because I had an 8 a.m. test that morning. I did complain the next day to my mentor about the long hours and lack of appreciation for the work of a manager. He smiled, looked at me and said, “Be faithful in a few things and the Lord will reward you with many. From my perspective Paul, the Lord has you in a great place to learn how to be a servant.”
Searing words that stick with me to this day. “Be faithful…Learn how to be a servant.”
Be faithful…Learn how to be a servant.
Now, I am a lead pastor at a church with a congregation close to 250. I no longer push a laundry cart across a desolate parking lot, but I am still learning how to be a servant. A servant to the mother who just experienced a difficult birth…A servant to a sweet wife who recently lost her husband…A servant to a student who is trying to make sense of their life…A servant to a dear person battling terminal cancer…A servant to a staff who looks to me for answers…A servant to a 6 year old with beautiful curls…A servant to a 3 year old who changes his mind every five seconds…A servant to a beautiful wife who co-labors with me to create our family’s story.
My working title might be, “Pastor,” but I continually pray that those 2 a.m. nights in the halls of L.T. Smith Stadium and Jesus’ words to his disciples constantly remind me that I am a servant. If I ever forget that I am a servant, I have lost my way.
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to life? Jesus (Matthew 6.27, NIV)
Have you ever been in a situation where you feel like you have to “force it?” It happens a lot on the basketball court. It is time for the big game and because of a tremendous amount of responsibility or pressure; a player will try to force the action they desire to occur. If they are being asked to score, they will look for and take shots that are not really there and the result will be an ugly looking shot chart. Or, if they are asked to shut down a great offensive player, they will look to force turnovers that only lead to bad defensive positioning or foul trouble. Players that try to “force it” often find themselves pushing their desired goal further away and hindering, instead of helping, their team.
I play miserable when I try to force my will upon a defender or offensive player. In the intense world of pickup basketball…Do not laugh when I talk about pickup basketball. I take great pride in being able to prove to others that I am still relatively quick for a 35 year old short dude. My quickness was all I ever really had to use against my opponents. Now, I have quickness and gray hair to brag about…In the intense world of pickup basketball, the stress and pressure I place upon myself leads to paralysis by analysis. And, instead of enjoying the game, I find myself loathing it. I play best and most enjoy the game when I relax and simply focus on the moment, the journey, and the experience.
Whether it is on the basketball court or in life, I think we often try to “force it.” We force a relationship that is not there. We force a job interview for a position we know is not the right fit. We force an action or response that we know others are expecting from us. We force a hope or an idea that has already passed. We “force it” and as a result, we end up further away from where we desire to be.
What’s the remedy for “forcing it?” On the court, it is relaxing and allowing the game to come to you. In life, it is relaxing with the understanding that we are unable to truly force anything. We can make plans, work towards those plans, and celebrate if those plans come to completion. However, what if life catches us off guard and we are unable, in that moment, to see our plans through to completion? Do we double down, try harder and “force it?” Or, do we simply trust that our hard work will be rewarded in due time?
The secret to not “forcing it” is trusting. The opposite of trusting is worrying. We “force it” because we worry that “it” will not come to fruition or completion. Jesus asked a group of followers, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Trusting requires that we take a deep breath, do the best we can to trust that God is in control, and we let go, as much as possible, of whatever worry we hold on to. Then, we do not try and force whatever it is we desire. Instead, we let the game of life come to us.
Jesus said it best, “So, do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’…Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
I was a soon-to-be high school sophomore, trying to boost both my skill and college recruitment by attending the University of Tennessee's men's basketball camp. At that time, I had developed an interest in new Tennessee head coach, Kevin O’Neill, and the disciplined way he appeared to run his program. I was eagerly looking forward to learning what I could from O’Neill and his staff.
O’Neill and his staff wasted no time pointing out to campers that the week would be an extended time of serious basketball learning. As O’Neill was introducing himself and his staff to the camp, he stopped mid-sentence and pointed at two campers that were not paying attention to O’Neill, sitting near the back of the group of close to four-hundred campers. O’Neill said, "You two. Come up here." Stunned that O’Neill noticed their behavior, they sheepishly walked up front and stood next to O’Neill in front of the entire camp. O’Neill said, "Do you guys know what these two are?" O’Neill was pointing at the two campers while he spoke. "These two are fools. And, at the University of Tennessee, when we have players acting like fools, we have them do what we call a fool's drill."
O’Neill proceeded to have a student manager put thirty-two seconds on the big clock of Thompson-Boling Arena. O’Neill told the young men that they had to run a "deep six;" three trips down and back, the length of the floor, in thirty-two seconds. If they did not make the time, they would have to repeat the drill until they did make the time. Other campers, myself included, started to grin at the predicament of our camp-mates. Well, that is until O’Neill uttered the following words addressed to the rest of us, "Now, before you think you guys get off easy, we run this camp like we run our team. If they don't make the thirty-two second time, the entire camp runs." I was stunned, concerned at the possibility of having to run, and impressed all at the same time.
When I think back on my first day at O’Neill's camp, the following words from Proverbs come to mind, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline." O’Neill was teaching all of us the importance of character and discipline at the very beginning of camp. The two young men were fools, according to both O’Neill and Proverbs, due to their unwillingness to fear and respect O’Neill while he was dispersing wisdom and discipline.
We are called, as followers of Jesus Christ, to seek out the wisdom and discipline of Scripture, Biblical teaching, and Christian mentoring. Our ultimate coach and mentor is Jesus Christ. When we listen to and apply his teaching, Psalm 1 states that we will become like a strong tree planted next to a life-giving stream. Jesus himself stated that, if we abide in him, we will bear much fruit. But, again, we've got to make sure we listen and apply his teachings. If not, we will find ourselves performing the real life equivalent of what Kevin O’Neill called, "a fool's drill."
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 Harrodsburg 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.