This single elimination tournament lasts three weeks and 68 teams always have their eyes on one thing: The chance to cut the nets. The National Championship. As I filled out my bracket – which I of course threw away after the first day – I started to consider something. This tournament is a gauntlet in which many things have to go right at the right time. So what’s the recipe to winning the Big Dance? And if there is such a recipe, how can we apply it to our walk with Jesus on a day-to-day basis – and win? There’s a little bit more that we can take out of this whole thing – five points, if you will, that Kingdom workers can score from March Madness.
1. “The will to prepare.” Coaches have to be uncomfortable in those suits, under the pressure of praising the other team and relentlessly telling the media how much they need to work on “the little things.” Discipline is important in all things, but when it comes to basketball, sometimes those little details can be the difference in moving on or going home. A missed pass here or a lazy three-pointer there can count toward the outcome of the game. Is that not the same with us in our walk with Christ? It takes discipline and “the little things” to read the Bible every day, intentionally spend time in prayer and practice silence and solitude. When these are regular parts of our lives, we’re a lot more likely to succeed than fail. Our talent can only get us so far. Fundamentals and discipline are the meat of what propels us toward our goal … and the clock is counting down. When the buzzer sounds, will you be ready?
“The will to succeed is important, but what’s more important is the will to prepare.” – Bobby Knight, Indiana Hoosiers 1971 - 2000
2. “Fame is man-given. Be grateful.” Distractions are to productivity as Tarheels are to Blue Devils – they don’t mix. As soon as you let distractions into your world, the less you are able to see the mission. Think of the Virginia Cavaliers. Never in the history of the NCAA Tournament has a 16-seed beat a No. 1 seed until March 16, 2017. At the buzzer the Virginia Cavaliers looked up at a score of 74-54 – just as shocked as America’s new sweetheart, the UMBC Retrievers. It was the greatest upset in the history of the tournament. How did that happen? One team forgot the mission, one did not. We forget the mission far too often as Kingdom workers. We take the wheel and tell the Holy Spirit to take the back seat. We’ve all had those moments when we know we’re not Spirit-led, when we’re in a situation looking up at that scoreboard and shocked by what happened. This life was never promised to be easy, but we were given the Spirit to keep us focused on the mission. When UMBC kept their mind on the task at hand they made history. Are you focused and Holy Spirit-led?
“Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.” – John Wooden, UCLA 1948 - 1975
3. “Don’t give up.” It was April 7, 2008. With less than two minutes to go Robert Dozier sank a second free throw to all but ice the game. The score was 60-51. A few quick buckets and one minute later, the Kansas Jayhawks were just two points away from tying the Memphis Tigers. Foul. Timeout. Foul. Timeout. (You’ve seen the end of a basketball game.) With 10 seconds left, Kansas made a mistake that would kill their comeback.
They fouled Derrick Rose – one of the best players in the country. All he had to do was make both free throws and they were national champs. The crowd couldn’t believe it. HE MISSED the first one. The score was 63-60 with two seconds left on the clock. Mario Chalmers got a hand-off from Sherron Collins closer to the top of the key and let it fly – 63-63! Kansas would then outscore the Tigers 12-5 in overtime and become the 2008 National Champions. I was a high school student and admired this game. Kansas could have just given up, but their passion, drive and perseverance led them to victory. Tough times are going to come. Following Jesus is not always going to be perfect and easy by any means, but don’t give up. When life gets rough, it reveals what we worship. It's easy to worship God in the good times, but what happens when you lose a parent or a child? What if you get sick? We must keep fighting and keep Jesus at the center of our lives.
It’s gut check time, and you’re frustrated and feel defeated already … How are you going to respond?
“Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” – Jim Valvano, NC State University 1980 - 1990
4. “It’s only a collection of individuals.” Faith can seem individual-based. But we were never meant to do it alone. The annual Naismith Award is given to the nation’s best basketball player. It is the equivalent to the MVP in the pros or the Heisman in college football. I’ve looked over the last 20 years of recipients, and there have literally been only three Naismith Award winners to win the National Championship. If this doesn’t prove that you can’t do it all on your own, then I don’t know what does. Even if you think you have it all figured out, you absolutely cannot do it alone. If you could do it all alone, then what is the point of the Church that Jesus established? National Championship winners understand that each role relies on each other just as we know and rely on our communities. Do you trust the people in your life enough to finish strong with them?
“When you first assemble a group, it’s not a team right off the bat. It’s only a collection of individuals.” – Mike Krzyzewski, Duke University 1980 - present
5. “It is what it is.” I see fundamental truths in the game of basketball that correlate with our walk with Christ. I encourage you to ask yourself some hard questions. What game are you playing? Are you disciplined, focused, persistent and surrounded by a great community? The point of all this is to keep pushing forward to advance the Kingdom. When we lose focus of the mission, we rely on the Holy Spirit to guide our steps back to God’s path. When life gets tough, show up to worship and never give up. When the clock reads 0:00 and the confetti has fallen, the nets have been cut down and you look up at the scoreboard, what will you see? What game were you in?
“It is what it is. But, it will be what you make it.” – Pat Summitt, Tennessee Lady Vols 1974 - 2012
Caleb DeRoin is a MOVE program coordinator for Christ In Youth. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.