If you have ever played a sport, you don’t always look forward the beginning of the season. It’s not easy to get your body into playing shape. We would much rather bypass the difficulty of preparation, practice, and training, and magically appear in the middle of the season. Most of us probably wish it were that easy. Playing well requires playing hard. And playing hard is connected to playing “FOR HIM” (for Christ). Sure, lots of people play hard, but that’s where it ends. For the follower of Jesus who plays “FOR HIM!”, he is able to compete for a purpose that endures. For the competitor who plays for the glory of God, his efforts will not only be recognized in gyms and sports arenas, but will resonate in heaven before the most important audience: God Himself. The Apostle Paul provides further perspective for us: “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step” (1 Cor. 9:24-27). He is helping us understand that everyone competes, but it is the one who competes for an “eternal prize” who wins regardless of the earthly score. It’s this perspective on playing hard that helps us compete and still love our opponent with the love of Christ. Don’t think that when you are embracing hardship, with a heart to glorify God, that He doesn’t notice.
In addition, we have the ability to develop godly character that we can take with us long after we hang up the shoes from high school or college. Godly character comes at a price, but the result is priceless. Learning to persevere when running lines can help prepare us for when we face challenges in marriage and parenting. Persevering when we are not getting the playing time we think we deserve helps prepare us to continue working hard when we don’t receive that job promotion. None of these investments are lost. The Apostle James encourages us that “when troubles come our way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For we know that when our faith is tested, our endurance has a chance to grow (James 1:2-3). So as we begin this season, or any season of life in the future, remember that there is purpose beyond basketball. There is pain beyond the struggle and the pain. Embrace the training and the challenge, knowing that godly character is being produced in our hearts, not just preparing our bodies. Play hard, and play for Him, knowing that “your endurance has a chance to grow”, preparing you for a great future that glorifies God in every way.