When I was in high school, I had a few teammates on my basketball team I thought were strange. In fact, I thought they were not only strange but also misguided and unmotivated. Why did I think this? Well, because they did not play basketball on Sundays. Really, I am not sure so much that it was these three teammates who made this decision as much as it was their Christian parents.
While they did not attend the optional Sunday evening open gyms we had during the summer months, I did not think much about that because we had three open gyms each week, and not everyone attended all three. What confused and even frustrated me, though, was when we had our weekend basketball team camps each summer… These teammates would attend the first half of the camp, but then their parents would pick them up Saturday evening to take them home. They would miss the final day of the camps – Sundays.
Why? Well, I knew the “why” from what they told me – they set Sundays aside for worship and fellowship with their church family and also for family time together. As a committed youth group member in my family’s church, though, and someone who rarely ever missed Sunday School and Sunday morning worship services, I thought, “What’s the harm in missing an occasional Sunday here and there. After all, this is basketball! We want to get better and win. Aren’t you motivated and committed like me?“
I honestly cannot remember if I ever said anything to these teammates or their parents, but I definitely did not understand. Certainly, I can remember having some resentment.
During college a couple of years later, though, when I really started thinking seriously about what I believed about God, those former teammates and their families came to mind. In fact, when I came to the realization that I had been going through the religious motions and had never truly surrendered my life to Jesus, I realized just how right they were and how wrong I was.
A SUPERIOR MOTIVATION
Those teammates and their families did not lack motivation and drive, and I do not say that simply because those teammates were still really good basketball players during the season. No, their motivation was in a better place. Their motivation was superior to mine because it was based on the Only One who gives us lasting purpose and meaning.
Truly, our motivations are determined by our priorities, and while I claimed to be a follower of Jesus as a teenager, my priorities (and resulting motivations) proved otherwise. I was only motivated to be involved with my church when it was convenient and did not conflict with other activities I deemed more important. I was only motivated to read my Bible to check it off my list and feel better about myself. I was only motivated to serve others when I could get something in return. My priorities were really centered on my advancement, not the advancement of the gospel and the good of the church.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 on “The Motive (for discipleship and church unity): Racing for the Reward.” Paul used sports analogies that people in the first century Greco-Roman world would have understood. While there are some differences that I will explain Sunday morning, we can understand his analogies, too. We can understand the motivation to compete and win. We can understand the need for endurance. We can understand that there are certain necessities when it comes to particular priorities. The Christian faith, of course, is no exception, and how much more should we be motivated to walk with Jesus and help others to walk with Jesus.
I do not recall how much those former teammates and their families tried to point me and our other teammates and our families to Jesus. Clearly, I was not listening, even if they were, because I was comfortable in my own world, following my own idols. Their witness and example obviously had an impact on me, though, because here I am, 25 years later, still remembering it.
“Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24). What prize are you seeking? What motivates you? Consider your commitments and priorities, and your motives will follow.
Are you running in such a way to win the prize – the prize of walking closely with the Lord and helping others to walk closely with the Lord?