WAKE UP CALL
I’ll always remember when God woke me up early on a Saturday morning in Branson.
It wasn’t unusual for the coaches to wake up after three or four hours of sleep while we were in Branson, typically with game film on our minds. But early Saturday morning, it was a passage of Scripture that was laid so heavily on my heart that I knew I wouldn’t be able to get any more rest until I went to the Word to see what the Lord wanted to say. I'll never forget how clearly I felt compelled to type out some specific thoughts as I read through Acts 4 that morning. As we walked in to the locker room after beating Davenport a few days later, it was those thoughts from the Lord that I couldn’t get out of my head.
I began with excuses. Surely that wasn’t from God, I reasoned. How can you really be sure it’s God speaking to you through the Word and not just your own imagination?
This was a hard argument to win, as the document entitled ‘Monday Night Prayer Time’ had sat unopened on my computer since I had typed it out on Saturday morning. Right in the middle of the document was a command for our team to ‘Pray for USF.’ Obviously, it was impossible for me to predict before the Elite 8 games that we would be playing USF for the national title three days later. In retrospect maybe I should have anticipated this moment coming but somehow it had all but left my mind as we went about preparing for the next two games.
As my excuses failed, I remember my desire to re-open that document to make some adjustments before I went in front of the team. Pray to beat USF? Sign me up! Pray about USF? I could have done that too. But pray for USF? That went against all of my human instincts.
This has nothing to do with the people in their program. I have tremendous respect for their staff and players and have great relationships with their coaches. Their team was the toughest and best coached squad in the nation over the course of the season in my opinion.
Still, they were our opponent and rival—in our world it was as close to an ‘enemy’ as you could get. I am guessing at least a few other coaches could resonate with how easy it was for me to have feelings of anger or resentment merely because they had beaten us three times.
My mind drifted to a bigger question that I had heard discussed often—Does God care about a game like basketball? I never understood the argument that He didn’t. You’re telling me that He knows the number of hairs on Jonny Marlin’s head, but he doesn’t care about the thing that Jonny desires to use as a tool to spread the gospel? He cares about the birds of the air and none of them fall without His care, but the thing that Josh Mawhorr has spent hours and hours working on and perfecting over the course of his life doesn't matter to Him?
Sure, there are things WAY more important than hoops. But we think he cares deeply about what happens on the floor. Maybe his concern isn’t who wins the game as much as what growth it inspires. He may not use the game to make me happy or successful but why couldn't He use it to advance His purposes? Too often, we (trust me, I am at the top of the list) treat basketball like a golden calf, when really it should be viewed more as a tool for sanctification.
Over the course of a decade, our staff had spent hours and hours in prayer and the Word seeking God’s direction for our program. Collectively, we ask God what He has for us, we listen to His voice, and then we respond in obedience. This pattern has always led to more fruit than we could ask or imagine, but the fruit we see is not measured based on wins and losses.
As we finished the celebration in the locker room and got on the bus to head back and prep for the national title game, I knew that no matter how much my human instinct was to focus on game film or strategy, obedience was the only response to God’s Word on Saturday morning calling us to pray for USF--even if I didn’t like it.
-Coach Jeff Clark