There’s something about championship games that bring out the athlete wannabe in all of us. After watching the World Series, I grew up intent on becoming the first female pitcher for the New York Yankees. One look at my wind up and delivery and you’d understand why I’m a writer.
Be honest, though. How many of you sitting on the couch watching the NCAA tournament these past few weeks have, at least once, pictured yourself making that game winning, buzzer beater shot, the crowd screaming, your teammates hoisting you on their shoulders, potato chip dip still on your victory-raised fingers. How sweet would that be?!
The more I’ve watched the tournament this year, the more convinced I’ve become that the “Road” of our Faith Journey and the Road to the Final Four are very similar… or at least they should be. The intentionality, passion, hard work, commitment, and joy are inherent in both.
There are some small exceptions, of course.
Faith doesn’t limit us to five fouls, but consciously committing fouls is generally frowned upon.
And, while often seen on the basketball court, trash talking other Christians in the sanctuary is unacceptable.
But, for the most part, there is much to be learned about discipleship in the midst of this March Madness.
- Don’t neglect the fundamentals.
Coach K’s team focused on “frees and threes.” What are the frees and threes that you practice day in and day out that strengthen your faith and prepare you to face the clutch situations in life? Daniel’s courage didn’t just happen. Joshua’s leadership didn’t just happen. They were people of daily, constant prayer and meditation on Scripture.
- Take the open shot – even when it’s scary.
We miss many faith opportunities because we’re not looking for the open shot or we panic when we get it. We may not be the best three point shooter on the team, or the best ‘pray-er’ or comfort giver or small group leader, but we’re the one who’s open. When the ball is in your hands, shoot it! That’s how you get better at it.
- Sometimes defense is the best offense.
Syracuse has one mission – don’t let the opponent score. They have a smothering defense. The apostle Paul lamented, “The things I don’t want to do, I do.” We can all feel his pain; we’ve been there. We are there. Sometimes we need to focus on our defense, acknowledge those places where sin takes hold of us far too easily, and devise a game plan for that day, for that week, for that season where our one mission is simply to not let our opponent score.
- Play like a Cinderella team.
Too often we forget how lucky we are just to be in the game. Florida Gulf Coast has talent, but, more than anything, they have heart. They lit up the arena when they took to the court and made everyone watching want to play for the love of the game. Are people drawn to Jesush because of the joyful passion with which you live your life? Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Play with abandon!
- Watch tape.
How often do you watch the tape of your life? Do you take time at the end of the day to reflect on where you saw God? To pay attention to when and how God was nudging you and when you did and didn’t respond, so that you can live better the next day. Post game analysis makes for better players. Spiritual formation is about being intentional.
- Provide screens for other players.
Faith is a team sport. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. We need to make a way for others to take a shot. There’s a reason they keep statistics on assists. They’re important. At the end of the day, how much people see God in all of us, together, is what counts.
- Time outs are a good idea.
Sometimes we need to adjust our strategy. Sometimes we need a coach to spell it out with x’s and o’s on a board for us. Sometimes we need a cup of water, to take a breath, to hear the encouragement of a teammate. You’ve got time outs available. Use them.
- Practice cutting down the nets.
One practice session every season Jim Valvano did nothing with his players but practice cutting down the nets. Climbing the ladder. Maneuvering the scissors. Waving the nylon victoriously in the air. He believed in the vision long before it became a reality. What does cutting down the nets look like in your faith journey? How can you practice it now so that you can live into it later?
May we all learn to live with a Final Four Faith. What a glorious championship season that would be!