As we watch the Golden State Warriors attempt to win back-to-back NBA championships, its easy to admire their unselfish nature, free-flowing style, and healthy sense of perspective. For fans of basketball, its exciting and for coaches of the game, its inspiring. How many of us strive to have a team like that? And to top it off, as we witnessed in last year’s run to the title (see Christian Today), it’s also a team sprinkled with Christians. Christians who don’t tout their faith as some magic elixir for winning basketball games, but just solid, faith-filled men who allow God to work through them – within their team and as a witness to those observing from the outside. For many, it often stirs the questions, “Are they winning because they’re Christians? Are they being exceptionally blessed by God because Steph Curry writes a Bible verse on his shoes?” (see Stephen Curry’s Shoes for that interesting story). Sadly, many of us want to believe that. We want to believe that if we simply honor God with all we do, He will bless us – in the ways that we want. But I think the more significant message in watching the Warriors and observing the Christians on their team, is that God works through and in the lives and careers and the teams of all of His children. The Warriors are not “God’s Team,” they’re simply a championship team on which several players have allowed God’s influence to be displayed through their work.
BASKETBALL – Evidence
One simple example from the Warriors left an impact on me. Everyone has an opinion about whether or not Steph Curry should have played in Games 2 and 3 after tweaking one of his chronically weak ankles in Game 1 against the Rockets, but the conversation that counts is the one between Curry and Coach Steve Kerr. As Kerr has been interviewed about immediate and long-range team goals, he has never wavered in his concern for Curry’s long-term health and that Curry has handled the discussions with poise and grace. In many cases, that doesn’t happen. Prideful or self-centered players will push back with complete disregard for a coach’s authority. Curry doesn’t appear to be in that category!
FAITH – God at Work
There are times when it feels like God doesn’t show up on your team. When a team is not playing well or when setbacks occur or when problems occur within a team, God can feel distant. We all want to experience the highs of a “Warrior” experience, but many times players go through the motions in practice, play with a selfish attitude in games, or maybe even stir up dissension in the locker room. God can feel very distant, even for a believer who believes God is in control and can work through any situation. Doubts arise when we consider how the giants of our faith, those involved in the game, effortlessly integrate faith and worship in their play. God seems so far away, yet in reality, God does work through you in whatever team situation you may find yourself. Here’s how::
- God focuses your faith through wins and losses – God can use all situations to grow our faith. We don’t just compete for our own gain, we play and work for his glory (1 Corinthians 10:31) and it doesn’t happen only when we win or when a player fills the stat sheet. It can also happen when we play without passion or when we fail to help on defense because we know that our trials in life are nothing when we understand Christ’s sacrifice (2 Corinthians 4:17).
- God trains your heart to love others – The dynamics of a team and learning to play with and for your teammates can help you grow a servant’s heart and when the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) are displayed, God works through us.
- God refines your worship – Our bodies and how we use them in sport and in work expresses appreciation for our Creator. By striving to develop our abilities as players and coaches, we bring honor to Him. It’s not just Sunday worship, its everyday worship (Romans 12:1)
- God transforms your thinking – God cares about you and about your team. As a team experiences the highs and lows, God transforms our thinking about success. He renews the mind (Romans 12:2) and helps us counter the prevailing, non-biblical views of our culture.
- God shapes your witness – God gives you a place of influence on your team and through the impact of your team, on others (2 Corinthians 10:13-16). How we go about our training, our preparation, and reacting to outcomes provides opportunity to impact our sphere of influence.
As the off-season begins for most of us, many of us will evaluate the state of our teams and if we want to continue. Some may choose to move on. Some may think there is a better situation. Some may think that other teams are “blessed.” That’s for each of us to evaluate, but one thing I know for sure is that God works in every team and as a Christian, I know that God shows up, even on losing and dysfunctional teams.
LIFE – God’s Team
Once again, it becomes clear that basketball can also teach us about life. For most of us, much of our life will involve work. And also for most of us, next to our relationships, our work and the state of our jobs will have tremendous impact on our emotions, our view of the world, and our sense of satisfaction. God is at work in our lives in all that we do. Realizing that truth can help each of us grow. God shows up in the same way He shows up on basketball teams. Don’t wait for Sundays. Look for Him to show up every day, even in the most frustrating work experiences. After all, though we often look for what we gain from our work – income, status, and achievement – it all ultimately comes from God and He is on your team.