I love sports. I see life so often through the pictures and lessons that are threaded throughout sports. Coaches are particularly fascinating to me. Living in San Antonio, TX, I have been spoiled to the expectation of an annual march toward the playoffs by our San Antonio Spurs. Five World Championships since 1999 places them in rarified air occupied by very few professional teams in any sport. They have been coached by Greg Popovich, a snarly and “I don’t care if you like me” soul who has now become one of the most revered coaches in the world. While winning no personality contests, most teams would “give their right arms” to be coached by him. What is it about Popovich?
Or maybe you’ve heard of a coach who is one of my heroes – John Wooden.
Wooden made records as the coach of the UCLA men’s basketball team. In an eleven year span, they won nine (9!!!) national championships!. This record will likely never be broken. People always wondered what it was that set Wooden apart. He was so unusual because he seldom argued with referees, never threw objects (see Bobby Knight), didn’t yell at players during games…didn’t do anything that most coaches did (and do today). He usually could be seen sitting on the bench with his paper program rolled up in his hands requiring an occasional squeeze when he was feeling particularly stressed in those high-level competitive moments that were his life. Why the calm? Aren’t these extreme reactions what it takes for the win? When people would ask him why he was different and what his secret for success was, he didn’t speak in glowing, “I’m just smarter than you” terms. The quote that most spoke to me that came from the humble, assured heart of this great coach: “GAME TIME IS TOO LATE.”
I find myself speaking this to most people I counsel or coach. We all know what it’s like to be caught in the heat of battle…dependent on having to make the absolute best decision right now…or reacting the way I know I should to a pressure-packed moment knowing this relationship is on the line…or feeling the terror of knowing I didn’t prepare well for this moment and people are going to see that and judge me by that. Are you like me? Are some of your regrets about these kind of moments where emotional reactions ruled the day and the results were not good. Careers are lost because of a bad emotional decision. Marriages are dissolved because of an emotional hurt that now seems impossible to reconcile. People are in prison because of one bad day. Have you ever spoken a harsh word in the heat of a conflict, and as it is coming out of your mouth you already desperately want to grab it so they won’t hear it. But it’s too late and you have been exposed. They now know what was inside you. Your defense that “I didn’t mean that” (have any of us not said that?) is actually not as true as “I’m sorry that you heard that”.
Game time is too late! If we haven’t made some decisions before the heat of battle occurs…if we haven’t anchored ourselves to our spiritual convictions and values that can protect us when the pressure is on and we are vulnerable to our fleshly emotions and desires…we will often “lose the game”.
Our reactions must be controlled by our RESPONSES. Is there a difference between React and Respond? Scripture helps us see the difference between Reacting to our flesh (emotions, thoughts, hurts, wrong desires) and Responding to God’s Spirit (His control, understanding, strength, righteous intent).
Galatians 5 (Msg)
16 My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness.
17 For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day.
18 Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?
19 It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness;
20trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits;
21 the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.
22 But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments,
23 not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way.
24 Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good – crucified.
25 Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.
Working out those “implications in every detail of our lives”, as Galatians 5 teaches us, is simply reminding us that this life we have chosen can be full of the gifts He has promised…IF WE JUST PREPARE. Popovich understands preparing his team. Wooden’s teams were the best prepared in his era. The Holy Spirit is the greatest of all coaches…He prepares our hearts because He knows…Game time is too late!