I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
Sports have been a huge part of my life.
Anyone who knows me the least little bit can tell you that. I played multiple sports growing up and when my time as a player was done, I went right to coaching. The lessons learned and the relationships I have had over my life through sports are very dear to me. I have countless memories from many years as a player and a coach.
The memories of playing as a kid - regardless of what sport it was - are clear in my mind as if it was yesterday. As a coach, the big wins, heart-breaking losses, and daily interaction with players in daily practice are entrenched in my heart and mind. Yet, the most rewarding thing for me in sports has nothing to do with anything that happened on a field. Instead, it was something God put on my heart to share with a locker room full of football players in a short meeting before practice.
In my last years as a coach, it was important to me that we start each day focused on what mattered most. Therefore, I began each practice in that locker room sharing a devotional thought with our players and coaches. Each day we had a different verse(s) of scripture and a simple devotional thought of application to our lives. Making this a daily part of my planning as a coach was enjoyable, but even more so - it made me a better person in every way. A better husband, a better dad, a better brother, a better son, and yes - a better coach.
One day, I shared the passage from John 16:33 with our football team. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
Football teams work extremely hard preparing to play their games. Our coaches worked hard preparing the game plans and practice plans that we believed would make our team successful come game time. Our players worked hard practicing for the game(s) ahead of us on the schedule. We were planning and practicing for the “battle” on the gridiron that we were soon to encounter. The harder we worked, the more prepared we would be to win that battle. That is the mindset that athletes and coaches carry with them each day.
In life, we all face “battles”. Some we see coming and we prepare ourselves to face. Other times, we have struggles that seem to arise out of nowhere. Regardless, we know we will face trials of many kinds. God put it on my heart that afternoon to tell our team that in our lives, God has already fought the ultimate battle for us. Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us the life of a Christian will be easy. Quite the contrary. God tells us we will have tribulation (John 16:33). But, he also tells us we can “take heart” and “find peace in Him.” Why? Because he has overcome the world. God gave his son - Jesus - that we might live. There is not a single thing we can do to ever prepare for anything better than what God has already prepared for us.
“Unlike the game we are preparing to play this Friday night, I can tell you how the story of the Bible goes … God wins. He has already fought the battle for you, for me, for us.” That is what I told our team that day. Did I strike a chord with anyone? I wondered that with each devotional thought I ever shared with a team and I did it hundreds of times. I always told myself that it might not mean much to those teenagers at the time, but my hope was that somewhere down the road, they would remember that our team began each day of practice with what was most important - God. And, if nothing else - I knew that those lessons helped make me a better person.
Years later, my wife was talking with the mother of one of those former football players. They were catching up on where the young man was and what he was studying in college. The mother was talking about how her son (like so many of us former athletes) missed being a part of the team and playing the game. Then she told my wife what that young man said he remembered most from playing high school football. It was that lesson about God having already won the battle for us. The peace that we can have when we acknowledge who God is and what He has done for us is more comforting than words can express.
That day was not the first time those young men had heard this message. And I certainly did not present that truth in any special way. Maybe it was the setting and application to the game we were preparing together to play. I will never know what made that lesson stick out so clearly to that young man. But, I am sure glad it did. I have been away from coaching for over six years. It has been close to 10 years since I shared that message with that young man and his teammates. Yet knowing what that mother shared with my wife that day means more to me than any ball game ever did or ever will.
God gave me sports to be in that locker room, on that day, to share that message with that team. I will always believe that with all of my heart. That young man needed that message that day. For what specific reason? I do not know. But, God knows. He put that message on my heart that morning as I planned what to share with our team before we hit the practice field that day. Our team put God first that day and God reminded us that He has already fought and won the battle for us.
So many times in life, we get caught up in worrying about the struggles and trials we face. We all have them and I dare say we are all guilty of losing sight at times of God’s promise to see us through the pain. Athletes train themselves to overcome the “pain” of training so they can be better prepared to win the battle on the field. Much more importantly, when we follow Jesus, we can rest in peace knowing that God has already fought the most important battle for us. The “pain” we struggle with in this life will give way to an eternal heavenly peace when we walk with Him.
Father, thank you for loving us with a love that surpasses all understanding. Thank you for the ultimate battle over evil in this world that you have already fought and won for us. Help us each day to remember all that You have done for us and that you are always with us. Keep us ever mindful of the peace that comes from truly knowing you. In Jesus name, Amen.