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volleyball serveThe Secret to Winning or
The Secret to Contentment?

“Why did I miss that serve? ... I guess I did not have enough faith that I can do all things through Christ!”The 13-year-old girl bounces the volleyball before her serve. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” she thinks to herself, remembering her coach’s pre-game devotion that was based on Philippians 4:13 (NKJV). With a score of 24–25, the girl realizes that if she misses this serve, she is giving the game away to her opponents.

“Please, Lord, I know you can make this happen. Do not let me miss this serve. I have faith, Lord, that you will help me.” As the ball flies over the net, it barely lands outside of the court, and the girl watches as the other team explodes into celebration. The hour ride home gives this young lady plenty of time to dwell on the event. She stifles the tears because, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” For days, this athlete quiets the thoughts in her head that ask “Why.” Why did I miss that serve? Why didn’t our team win? Until finally, after a practice, she bursts into tears and tells her coach, “I am sorry! I am sorry I missed that serve! I guess I did not have enough faith that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Please, show me how to have better faith.”

So maybe that very last part wouldn’t actually happen. An athlete would probably not ask her coach to help her have better faith. Sadly, the misuse of the Philippians 4:13 passage easily brings adults, as well as children, to question the strength of their faith. Very well intentioned, famous athletes, coaches, youth directors, teachers, parents, and some pastors have used this passage to motivate and encourage others to do hard, seemingly impossible, things. (If you don’t believe me, check out the pre-devotional advice for coaches in this piece from Fellowship of Christian Athletes.) The problem? That is not how the Scripture was written to be understood. And, if things don’t work out, it leaves a person questioning their faith, or worse, God’s faithfulness to them. Philippians 4:13 has become exactly what Satan would like—it has become about winning. Score one for Satan.

What do our athletes need to know?

If the Holy Spirit can use us (coaches, athletic directors, teachers) to work that message into the hearts and minds of young people (and their parents), imagine the result it would have on the athletic world. Consider a team that has worked hard for weeks at practice and then faces a better opponent, or a ref that appears to favor the other team, or a team that plays dirty. With the knowledge that Christ is giving them the strength to endure a loss—fair or unfair—the spectators would see significant Christian character and sportsmanship. Those watching that team would see athletes playing hard and not giving up—athletes working together—a team content with the opportunity to play—a team knowing they have the opportunity to become better because of mistakes that were made—a team who appreciates the opportunity to experience other great athletes or teams. Score one (nah, score an eternity of points) for Christ.

Jill Schmitzer currently serves at Trinity Lutheran School in Davenport, Iowa. She loves allowing the Holy Spirit to work through her as a mother, teacher, and coach.

Photo: Heike Beier serving, from Wikimedia Commons.