March Madness is tournament time for basketball enthusiasts. All the tournaments that lead up to the big tournament take place and then the countdown begins to the national championship. Even if you don’t know anything or much about basketball, I think you can probably benefit from the brilliant instructions I overheard being given by a grandfather to his grandson. Basketball is a rather simple game. It is said that John Wooden, possibly the finest basketball coach in history, would begin the season by getting all of his team together and holding the basketball he would say, “This is a basketball,” and pointing to the goal say, “that is the goal. Now all we have to do is learn to take the basketball and put it in the goal.” Simple enough, yet in reality, it is more complicated than that and in truth, the nuances of the game may very well be the most complicated thing about it.
But let me pass along the instructions that this wise grandfather gave to his young grandson who wanted to learn more about basketball. Granddad told him he would help him and immediately the boy wanted to go get the ball. The grandfather said, “No, before we get the ball, you need to learn some things about basketball without the ball.” And the coaching lessons began.
Instruction number one was that you must learn to have your feet and hands in position at all times. Unless you have your hands properly placed and your feet controlled, it doesn’t matter if you’re on offense or defense. If you happen to get the ball, you probably couldn’t do anything with it. So the instructions began to take shape in a boy’s life by helping him get in the proper position. The lesson that is clearly pertaining to those of us who are the children of God is that we need to get in position, where He wants us to be and when He wants us to be there. Only then can He use us.
The second word of instruction is to remember the goal never moves. What an incredible word. Now anybody who ever played one game of basketball surely knows that the goal on either end of the court is fixed and never changes. Throughout the game they stay right in place and everything that happens revolves around staying focused on a goal. The unchanging lesson for the children of God is similar, that the kingdom work that Jesus has called us to never changes. Make disciples of all nations, baptizing, teaching, reaching. Now on the basketball court, everything else is moving and active. The members of both teams are running every direction and running plays back and forth. The referees are running up and down the court to catch someone committing a foul. Even the coaches on the sideline are waving their arms and yelling instructions and moving about, but the goal never moves. Sometimes it might do us a world of good if we just stopped and considered this word of instruction. Sometimes church members are running in all directions, jumping up and down, upset about something, running to each other, running away from people, and like in the middle of a heated game it may look like chaos but great players and winning teams never lose sight of the fact that the goal never moves.
A third bit of wisdom was, always remember you are one move from the next shot. Now think about that. Whether you’re getting a pass from someone or whether you are trying to steal the ball, in a split second, you need to know where you are and be ready to do the most important thing in the game – shoot and score. The child of God ought to live in constant awareness that a moment of time may be most opportune to share the good news of Jesus with someone. It could be at work. It could be at school. It could be in church together, and with the snap of your fingers, everything is right for you to take the shot. You don’t need to miss it. For God Himself has placed you there so stay ready.
One final thought of basketball and spiritual instruction would be that you always need to know where the other nine players are. No, it’s not a matter of you keeping up with your four teammates or even trying to keep up with the five who are playing on the opposing side; you need to stay alert and aware of where everybody is. Whether they are on your side or against you, they can make a difference in your life. Sometimes I see Christians who only keep up with their little group. They ignore other people. They are disconnected and uncaring about some of them and there they are huddled with one or two or three feel-good friends and they miss out, not only on the opportunity to know people better and have a greater relationship, but they miss out on the bigger blessing of having opportunity to be a blessing.
I’m not encouraging you to find time to sit back and drink in all the March Madness basketball games that are going on; that may not appeal to you at all, but I do want to encourage you to look at these basketball instructions as they take hold of the spiritual dimensions of our life so that we can be more effective and truly be winners in the Lord’s work.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.