I’m an educator. I work as a high school Bible and World Religions teacher. When I’m not in the classroom, I coach football and basketball. I’m “in the ministry”, so to speak. My life is revolved around teaching “the faith once delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3) I write that because you think I’d not struggle so much to actually believe what I’ve been teaching to hundreds upon hundreds of students for years. But, I do, or… did?
My life recently has been low on the experience of joy. I’m not referring to happiness, nor am I saying my life hasn’t been going the way I’d like it. I’m rather aware that life is not always happy (as I learned as an early teenager burying my parents). I’m referring specifically to the joy that should characterize the Christian life. After all, Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11) We should be joyous people because circumstances do not altar God’s love for his people. Joy remains through various circumstances. Yet, this was sadly lacking. Why?
Yep. I have been driven by performance. Without an earthly father for a long time, I’ve been desperately seeking affirmation through performance. I had to drive the right car. I had to have the right degrees and education. I needed to live in the right place, in the right house. I needed a job that would give me status and prestige in the world. I’m sure you get the picture. It was robbing me of life. I’d spend too much time thinking about moving to a new city, to find new employment, or to move to a new house, etc. What I was seeking for, though I knew it was only found in God, and I’d tell my students that same truth, I kept looking elsewhere thinking, “But, I have God.” Maybe…maybe not.
Last night, something changed. Here’s the context. Yesterday, I headed off to work knowing that we had a football game that evening. We were playing a really good team, and I was already going through play calls, situations, etc. I was nervous. Then, at break, I was talking to a colleague and I said, “I don’t want to lose. I hate losing.” Without any malice, he responded, “Do you hate to lose, or do you hate what parents might be saying after the loss?” I was floored. I responded saying, “I hate to lose.” Yet, I couldn’t get away from the question. It haunted me. Why? Well, because I think he hit the nail on the head. I think that question, maybe the Holy Spirit encouraged him to ask that question, forced me to see deep in my heart. And, it worked. Where was my treasure? Where did I find my meaning? Was it really in a sport, job, car, house, etc? Or, was it in the God whose glory I proclaim in my classes? I was brought full-faced to the fact that my heart seemed not as focused as I once thought.
Before the game, I had time alone and spent time praying. I don’t pray for wins. I only pray that I am wise and faithful with the ability of the young men. As I prayed, I focused much of my prayer on the item of meaning and purpose. I kept “hearing” the Spirit remind me that God’s love for me was not based on performance, success in the classroom, wins on the football field, or even what parents think about my ability as a coach. God’s love for me is as sure as his existence, and proof of that is Jesus’ coming to earth, becoming man and canceling man’s debt on Calvary. And, for the first time in who knows how long, I experienced peaceful joy.
You know what happened in the game? No. This isn’t going to be a Hollywood ending. We lost 22-0. This team was just better. But, as the players were walking off the field, I turned and saw my daughter running joyfully around the football field. She was laughing and playing with a football. It occurred to me that this, being a follower of Christ, a husband, father, teacher, coach, etc. was success. Not necessarily the outcomes in these areas, but faithfulness to Jesus as a life of thankfulness for his inconceivable faithfulness to me. Though disappointed with the loss, there was a joy. Something was different. Not to sound cliché, but maybe I could say the Father was smiling, still saying “I love you,” win, lose or draw. This love is not due to my performance, but His performance.
This awakening, this spiritual revival brought life and joy with it. Remembering God loves me because of Jesus’ work and not my own lifted the weight of perfection from my shoulders. For the first time in a while, I believed and lived what I’ve been preaching to my students. It was as if I was walking through a “dark night of the soul” and have exited the valley of despair and moved onto the Lord’s good plains of delight.
It’s cliché, I know, but it’s true. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
He loves you, too. And, loves you simply because he does. How freeing!