Sunday, December 11, 2016

An Athlete's Truth - Collier Winters (Part 2- Being Coached)

Part 2: Being Coached

If you are an athlete in high school or college (or professionally) and you are trying to live as a disciple of Jesus, then you know there are some challenges that come our way that many other people don’t have to face; like, figuring out how to be committed to the church and the meetings of the body during season, or how to resist the peer pressure to party with the team, or how to stand up for righteousness amongst teammates and friends whose lack of righteousness often seems to be a matter of pride.  There can also be the challenge of feeling like to you don’t fit in - either on the team or at church.  Can you relate to any of these?  These were all things that I felt at different times.  And the list could go on.
To be honest, my first couple of years as a Christian were not so hot.  My faith was pretty weak and the new life that I was being called to live was really challenging.  Adjusting to this new life and new schedule was hard.  The temptations didn’t die down, and my lack of godliness and righteousness in comparison to Jesus only became more evident.  There were so many things I needed to grow in - selflessness, humility, purity and generosity, just to name a few.  I am overwhelmingly thankful to God for his mercy and for his patience with me, and I am eternally grateful for all of the people around me who continued to show me love and encouragement and who believed in me and helped to spur me on.  I want to share with you guys three things that God taught me over those first couple years as a young Christian.  I believe that if you are able to make these your convictions, they will help you to stay close to God and to continue to grow as a man or woman of God!

1) Daily devotion to God is crucial

Matthew 4:4Jesus answered, ‘It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

When I became a Christian, I was taught that in order to grow in my faith it was important for me to spend time in prayer and in God’s word every single day.  Jesus himself makes this very clear in Matthew 4 when he compares the words of God to bread.  Just as we need bread (food) to grow and to be healthy physically, we need God’s Word to grow and to be healthy spiritually.  If we starve ourselves of God’s word, we have no chance of growing in our faith.  We need to be in God’s word daily.  This idea seems simple (and it is), but it can be hard to put into practice if you are not disciplined or if you do not see your need for it.
I became a Christian in the off-season, and during that time we had workouts almost every morning at 6:00am.  I lived about 15 minutes from the locker room; so, my routine before I became a disciple was to wake up at 5:30am, put on my headphones (Lil' Wayne or some R&B depending on my mood), walk down to the locker room, get changed and get ready for the workout.  After I became a disciple, I realized that spending time with God needed to be my first priority.  So, I would wake up an extra 15-20 minutes early in order to read one chapter of the Bible (I read one chapter of the Bible every morning and took notes in the margins until I finished reading the entire New Testament), and then I would spend my 15 minute walk to the locker room praying to God.  That 30 minutes with God every morning was, by far, the thing that most helped me to grow as a young Christian.
God’s word is powerful and we are in need of it on a daily basis.  There is nothing more important than our daily devotion to God.  Gotta eat!

2) Be a giver, not a taker

Acts 20:35 “... remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

There were MANY verses I could have chosen for this point, but Jesus’s words here make things simple - it is better to give than to receive.  What do I mean and why is this so important?  When I was a new Christian (and for a little while after that), I was only concerned with myself.  What do I want to do… who do I want to talk to (or not talk to)… how do I feel… what works with my schedule?  Many times, I would show up a little late to devotional or midweek and sit in the back; then I would leave right after it was done so that I wouldn’t have to talk to anybody and so that I could be “efficient” with my time - aka do what I wanted to do.  I was selfish.  I was a taker and not a giver; and because of that, not only was I not acting like Jesus, but I was also missing out on the joy and blessings of giving to others.  When I finally repented, I really began to realize just how important and how awesome it is to have close, spiritual relationships.  Many of the guys who I grew close to, as a result, became life-long friends and even groomsmen in my wedding.  Not to mention, the girl I married was also one of those relationships I invested in!  
Most likely, you have lots of friends on your team.  That is a great thing.  But, God taught me that if you want to do well spiritually, you need to invest in relationships with your brothers and sisters even more so.  Without these relationships it is nearly impossible to stay faithful for long.  God gives us the church for a reason.  Be a giver, not a taker.

3) You can’t ever prioritize God TOO much

Matthew 6:33, Matthew 10:37, Luke 10:27, Mark 10:29-30, Hebrews 11:6 (you will have to look these up!)

The last thing that God coached me in during my first couple years as a Christian was how to, practically, make him my priority.  When I was baptized, I declared that Jesus was the lord of my life and that I loved Him more than anything else in my life.  This was as true then as it is now; however, in my daily decisions, I had to learn what it meant to always put God first.  For my first two years as the starting quarterback at Harvard (also my first two years as a disciple), the decisions I made about how to spend my time did not always reflect God as the first priority in my life.  At times, I was more devoted to football (and sometimes, but rarely, school) than I was to God and the things of His kingdom.  I wasn’t very active in sharing my faith.  I would sometimes miss meetings of the body if I thought I had other more urgent or more important things to do.  Most weeks, I would spend WAY more time watching film and preparing for the game than I would spend trying to build God’s kingdom.  Although I reasoned that I was trying to bring God glory through football, I was not prioritizing Him in my life the way that he calls us to.
Once again, when I realized this was happening, I had to make a decision to repent (change).  So, my senior year, I decided that my time was first going to be devoted to God and His kingdom, then to working hard to excel in school and football.  I was at almost all of the meetings of the body during the season (even when I had a lot of school work), I reached out to all of my teammates and studied the Bible with many of them (sacrificing sleep much needed sleep on many nights), and I made sure to spend time building my relationships with the brothers and sisters in my ministry.  
Because of all the time I invested in these things, I had less time for school and for football (although I was still very committed to working hard and using the talents and opportunities that God gave me).  As it turns out, I had the best football season of my career and I ended up with a 3.8 GPA that semester.  I was an All-Ivy League Quarterback, All-American mention, Ivy League champion, and I broke the record for highest completion percentage in a single season at Harvard.  I don't believe that was a coincidence. I am not trying to tell you that if you become a disciple or if you devote more time to God then you will do better in school or you will become a better athlete - that is simply not true.  It might work out that way; but, it also might not.  What I am saying is that it is possible to be completely devoted to God and to also excel in school and succeed at your sport; but, God is most important.
People often ask me, “So, how did you balance school, sports, and church at Harvard?”  What God taught me was that there is no balance.  If you are a disciple, God comes before everything and he also the foundation of everything that you do.  They aren’t separate pieces to your puzzle.  God becomes the entire puzzle.  There is no such thing as prioritizing God TOO much.  In the end, it is your relationship with God that matters, not how many points you scored or how far you made it in your sport.

I hope these things have been helpful.  Stay tuned for part 3!  I will be talking, more specifically, about bringing glory to God through our sports!