I have loved sports since I was a little boy. I have played sports my entire life: Knothole, Little League and Pony League baseball. Church league basketball. Neighborhood sports from one season to the next. I have been a sports fan all of my life as well. In the 60s, it was the Green Bay Packers and the Boston Celtics. Living in the Cincinnati area, I followed in my father’s footsteps of being a lifelong Reds fan. And growing up in Indiana where basketball is king, I have been an Indiana Hoosier fan for more than 50 years.
I don’t play sports as much now, except some golf and tennis and I don’t watch sports as much either, but I am still an Indiana University basketball fan. In fact, I have to be careful because if I’m not aware, my emotions can still rise and fall based on their wins and losses.
I was watching an IU game this week and “living and dying” with each trip up and down the floor. In addition to critiquing the officiating (I am an expert at officiating!), I was also offering advice to our coach. (I do this because I know that he can hear me through the television airwaves!) I was wondering why he gives so much playing time to one of the younger players. I like this player, but he drives me crazy. It feels like he is a turnover waiting to happen: bad passes, ill-advised shots, unnecessary fouls. And then, as I’m telling our coach to take him out, this player makes a great pass that results in a basket, then he steals the ball for a layup, then he makes clutch free throws that seal a victory.
My internal struggle has caused me to ask if the good plays he makes outweigh the mistakes he makes. Do the good things make up for the frustrating things? For a long time, I said no. It’s not worth it. We need players who are more cautious. We need players who won’t try to do what is difficult to do. We need players who are safe. I’m starting to think a little differently about it. I’m starting to see that if we have any chance of winning, we need players who aren’t afraid to take risks even if sometimes the risks bring a negative result. The players still need to learn to make better decisions, but winning teams and winning players aren’t afraid to take risks.
As the game this week came to an end and IU won by a slim margin, I realized that this player, though having made mistakes, made significant contributions to the outcome. As I was thinking of that, the Holy Spirit put a thought into my mind: God is looking for people who aren’t afraid to take risks for the kingdom.
One of the struggles of the church is that we tend to think that God is looking for people who always color inside the lines. We have been taught that God would rather have us be safe than risk making mistakes. So often we believe that God is interested in people who toe the line rather than people who trust him enough to put their faith on the line. Maybe we have misunderstood God’s intent.
Does God want us to make mistakes? No. But I think that he is more pleased with faith that risks than faith that never risks even if the risk leads to what we call a mistake. Isn’t this the repeated point of many of Jesus’ parables? Isn’t this the way God himself behaves?
Our struggle with risk-taking is that we forget that the greatest risk-taker ever is God himself. He risks that his creation will reject him, but he creates anyway. He risks that Israel will embarrass him, but he chooses them anyway. He risks that people he calls to do great things for him will fail miserably, but he puts his hand on them anyway. He risks that sending his Son will result in his Son’s death, but he comes anyway. God is the great risk-taker. God doesn’t operate from a position of fear and hesitancy, but a position of trust. We are called to be like him.
I wonder what ways God might be calling you and me to be risk-takers, to put aside fear of failure in order to be a people of faith. I wonder how God might be leading you and me to steps of faith that might put our mindset of playing it safe at risk. Are we willing to do it? Are we willing to step out in faith? It’s not easy to think about life from a different perspective, but it’s the way of joy and peace and love because it’s the way of Jesus.