Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful. John Wooden
The legendary UCLA coach, John Wooden, knew first-hand the potential traps of temptation, pride and competition. He kodaked countless eager-eyed youth riding on basketball scholarships and harboring dreams of playing professionally. He knew the lure of riches and being baited by strangers hoping to profit from their talents in the competitive world of sports.
Prior to the second game of last week’s NBA finals, Bill Walton of the Celtics and Kareem Abdul Jabar of the Lakers who are each in the Hall of Fame, tearfully paid tribute to the strong Christian man who had shaped their lives. The young players destined to learn from him said he was more than a basketball coach—he was a life coach.
Before passing away at 99 years old, Wooden was still bearing fruit in old age. (Psalm 92:14) The fruit of a life planted firmly in the soil of his faith, he spent a lifetime sharing phrases much like Proverbs and popularly referenced as “Woodenisms” as: “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.
Does this sound familiar? Jesus told the Parable of the Talents instructing his disciples to use their God-given gifts wisely. He wraps the premise if we have been faithful in little we will be faithful in much, with a reward. “You have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.” (Matt 25:21)
Jesus taught if we are faithful in little, we will be faithful in much. So we practice living conscientious of others, keeping our commitments to visit a sick friend, pay a bill on time, exhibiting basic love and responsibility. We learn to be a team-player, adept at enhancing those around us, not a selfish shooter on a ball court or in the work place.
Wooden relayed the importance of values to his impressionable athletes. “Be more concerned about your character than your reputation because your character is what you really are and your reputation is merely what others think you are.” He followed Christ’s example mentoring young men, not only on the court but in all aspects of life, just as Christ mentored his disciples who eventually turned the world upside down. (Acts 17:6)
True champions live excellence beyond the boundaries of a wood court just as true worshippers honor God in their daily lives—at home, at work, in the grocery store—beyond their church pews.
Athletic champions rise to the occasion when the chips are down, when the pressure is on, when those positioned around them to perform their part crumble. They may hear the cheers or jeers of the crowd, but their focus is on doing their part and doing it right. They think “basics”—solid shots, controlled dribbling, safe passes when tensions are high, the hype is on, and others are looking for quick points by doing crazy things. They trust the wisdom and perspective of their coach.
Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls and Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics were known to master the fundamentals and excel at their gift. They honed their craft arriving before their teammates for practice and known to leave last. They challenged themselves and prepared for the rigors of the season.
True worshippers respond to crises in life by grounding themselves in the Word of God, and acting with faith. They exhibit perseverance in the face of obstacles, instead of giving up. As Nehemiah sought God in the worst of times and endured the taunts of enemies to rebuild Jerusalem’s’ walls (Neh 4:9), so true worshippers block the ridicule of rivals and keep working to complete their goals. They consider their labor as service for the Lord, and so work with excellence whether others are watching or not. (Col 3:23)
Like Jehoshaphat when surrounded by enemies, they know to position themselves in prayer and move with God. (2 Chronicles 20:12) They practice the basics—trusting in God’s love for them, “Trust in God and His unfailing love (Ps 52:8); trusting Him in all situations, “Trust in the Lord at all times” (Psalm 62:8). After years living as seasoned disciples they agree with Peter, “…the one who trusts in Him, will never be put to shame.” (I Peter 2:6)
If we listen and let His voice lead us, one day when the crowd is gone and our body says it’s time to stop playing the game, we will stand at the Throne of Grace in the courts of the Kingdom of God. And just as John Wooden stands looking into the eyes of his Life Coach today, among an audience of angels, we too will hear those sweet words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Matthew 25:21
Link to Coach Wooden: http://www.coachwooden.com/index2.html