Passion in Our Play (Part 3)


By Nate Hartman

August 18, 2010

I hate weeding my yard. I’ve yet to discover in myself an innate passion for the task of pulling all the pesky, little buggers out from amidst my grass. I find myself chuckling, then, when I think of my dad’s yard. He’s a chemistry professor by trade and a gardener at heart; and if you give him a day and an empty calendar, you’ll find him in a flower garden or a yard (not always his own), picking weeds. He loves it; he’s good at it, and he loves it. If you wanted your yard weeded well, you wouldn’t want me to do it; you’d ask my dad. God has given Him an ability to garden well, coupled with the passion for doing it. Those qualities typically come in tandem: gifts and gusto. I am not suggesting that, because God has not blessed me with remarkable clover-and-crabgrass-weeding skills, I never need to weed my yard. Certain that I could adequately weed my yard, if necessary, I might be compelled by responsibility to do so at the moment of need; I might even improve my weed-yanking proficiency and find some satisfaction in completing the task. Unlikely it is, though, that I will ever choose a festival of plucking weeds over the front nine at Fox Run.

Theologian Frederick Buechner grasped the truth that God gives us delight in and ability for the calling He presents to us, that “the place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Wishing Thinking: A Theological ABC) After identifying these areas of intertwined gifts and passions in ourselves, then, we must recognize our responsibility. The giver of these is our Lord; He is the master that gives talents to His servants and calls each to employ and improve the gifts that he has been granted. There is no room for mediocrity, laziness, or distrust here. All of us, then – athletes included – are beckoned to use and develop the gifts we’ve been given to glorify God. An athlete must recognize that both the calling and the blessing are from God and for God. Our Lord calls an athlete to mature his gifts to the level of excellence (and He judges, remember, “each according to his ability” – Matthew 25:15). However, an athlete who excels must remain determined to offer the garnered glory for his accomplishments to the Lord, not reap a harvest of pride and self-endorsement.

But wait! Casual athletes and team role players must not seek to tiptoe around the implications of the Master’s words. The universality of the parable is evident in that even the servant with only one apparently small talent is expected to multiply it; his master has recognized in him the ability to do so and has endowed a level of talent proportionate to that ability (Matthew 25:15). Why, then, does the servant bury that talent in the ground and then, at the time of accountability, answer his master with only excuses (Matthew 25:24)? Why do we encounter athletes who have no zeal for improving, or – worse yet – are intensely jealous of those who have a higher level of skill?

Perhaps these problems exist because we have not taught the principles and encouraged the application of the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Athletes must be helped to identify their areas of skill and realistically measure their current level of ability, that they might confidently use the gifts given to them (Matthew 25:16-17). In addition, parents and coaches need to teach athletes, beginning at a young age, that athletic gifts are not to be used self-servingly; the concepts of team and service help an athlete to develop confidence (1 Corinthians 12:17), value others (1 Corinthians 12:21-26), and avoid jealousy (1 Corinthians 12:14-19). Finally, all athletes need the security of a truthful concept of God’s love for them – that He loves them not for the abundance of their talents, nor because of the esteem others have for them, but rather because they are His children. Such a self-concept promotes a poised use of gifts, rather than a fearful avoidance of failure (Matthew 25:25).

Passionate lawn-weeders, weekend golf hackers, athletes on a school team – all of us concerned with excellence -- need to be attentive to the challenge of claiming and pursuing the development of our God-given abilities. He calls us to boldly “desire the greater gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:30) in order to bring glory to Him; let us not, then, be that lazy servant who is thrown “outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30).

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Nate Hartman is the director of the National Christian School Athletic Association, located in Beaver Falls, PA.  His years of involvement as a student, athlete, teacher, coach, and athletic director at Christian schools have made him passionate about athletics that "declares the praises of Him who called you out of darkness and into HIs marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

This is Part 3 of a five-part series entitled "Passion in Our Play, which will be continued throughout this week on the NCSAA web site.

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Republished from Passion in Play (September/October 2003) - Copyright © 2003 NCSAA

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