13 06 2011

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”  – Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers

Recently, I reread the biography of Lombardi, by David Maraniss (When Pride Still Mattered by Touchstone).  It’s a fascinating, “near perfect” (stated by Sport Illustrated writer, Ron Fimrite) biography of one of the most famous sports figures in history.  The overarching theme of Lombardi’s life was that of being a winner — a winner in life — not just in football.  Through his education under Jesuit priests in high school and at Fordham University (Lombardi considered becoming a priest) to his tutelage under the legendary coach, Red Blaik, at Army, Lombardi espoused a perspective of winning in football that spilled over into principles of life.  More than any other sports figure, Lombardi transformed football into a metaphor for life through his motivational speaking. 

Lombardi once said, “Complete victory can never be won. It must be pursued. It must be wooed with all one’s might.  Each week there is a new encounter, each year there is a new challenge.  But all of the display, all of the noise, all of the glamour, and all of the color and excitement, they exist only in the memory. But the spirit, the will to excel, the will to win, they endure, they last forever.  These are the qualities, I think, that are larger and more important than any of the events that occasion them.”

As a former gymnast, I have previously written about the lessons I gained pertaining to the kingdom of God through my sport (Gymnastics and the Kingdom of God inkling blog – August and September, 2008).  Gymnastics was used by God to prepare me for the rigors, discipline and risk-taking involved with following Christ.  I thank God for my coach in high school who instilled a passion for winning within me that later evolved into a desire to pursue Christ.

The Apostle Paul saw the same metaphor of life encompassed in the subject of sports, probably through the Olympic Games in Greece, popular at the time.  We don’t know if Paul had been an athlete or not, but he often used athletic metaphors to describe the Christian life (“fight,” 1 Timothy 4 and 6; “discipline my body, run the race to win,” 1 Cor. 9; “wrestling,” Eph. 6; “race,” Hebrews 12, etc.).   It is interesting to note that the Isthmos Games were staged every two years at the Isthmos of Corinth. The letter with the most descriptive passage dealing with winning in sport is found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. 

Paul writes, “You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win.  All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me!  I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.”  (1 Cor 9:24-27 from The Message)

Paul is exhorting us to be winners.  He would agree with Lombardi, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”  He challenges us that“everyone runs; one wins. Run to win.” 

John Calvin comments on this verse, “For our life is like a race-course. We must not therefore become wearied after a short time, like one that stops short in the middle.”

Chrysostom explains this passage, “As those who run do not stop running until they have reached the goal, so do ye also persevere, and do not stop running so long as you live.” 

Yet, I believe there is so much more to its meaning.  Paul is not just encouraging us to finish the race and endure to the end, but to win the race.  Matthew Henry, captures the heart of Paul’s message, “There is room for all to get the prize. You cannot fail if you run well. Yet there should be a noble emulation; you should endeavor to outdo one another. And it is a glorious contest who shall get first to heaven, or have the best rewards in that blessed world.”

Winners and Losers

Life is a race.  Life is made up of winners and losers. Daily life has challenges not unlike a race being run between competitive athletes.  We all run in this race and no one is exempt.  But it’s how we run that determines the outcome.  Some are preparing their lives for winning; some are not.  Some are running to win; some are not.  Some are experiencing great victories; some are experiencing great defeats.

Lombardi once said, “Winning is a habit.”  I think we could accurately say that losing is too.  I’ve watched my son’s high school baseball team become winners.  Three years ago, Discovery Canyon Campus (DCC) had won only two out of sixteen ball games.  Isaac came to DCC on the heels of a new coach hire, Chris Mileham.  It was evident to both that the current players carried a defeatist attitude into almost every game.  It was frustrating to Isaac and his coach to watch a talented team lose game after game because of a lack of will to win. 

But with long practices, constant repetition and a skilled coach that hates to lose, the team is gradually being transformed — transformed from losers into winners. Last year, their record improved to 6-10.  This year, in spite of moving from 3A to 4A status, to everyone’s shock, DCC improved to 10-9, was second in their metro division and appeared for the first time in the state playoffs!  The habit of losing has been replaced with a passion for winning.

Many Christians have a defeatist attitude.  They have a habit of losing.  They don’t strive for victory in their personal lives.  They are unwilling to discipline their lives for winning.  They don’t choose to follow the guidelines of their Coach and they’ve developed a habit of losing.  As a pastor, it’s so sad to watch so many losing in life because they won’t live to win.

I don’t know about you, but I want to win!  I want to win in the race of life.  I’m stiving to be a winner…in Christ.  I’m striving to finish my life with joy, peace and love.  I want my family to be winners.  I want my personal private life to be disciplined to win, so that my vocational and public life will also reflect victory.  How about you?  Do you have a passion to win in life?  Are you disciplining your life for victory? 

Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.  Accept nothing less. 

More to follow…