With eager anticipation, a sweaty (and smelly) collection of eighth graders placed their hands in a pile and shouted aloud, “Take State in ’92!” We ended every basketball practice this way my eighth grade year. On and off the court, we looked like anything but champions that year. We were a collection of awkward adolescents with new found hair on our legs and faces. When we talked, we sounded a lot like Peter Brady in the classic “Time to Change” episode of The Brady Bunch. On the court, we finished a very average 9-8 that year. Somehow, though, through it all our coach saw something better in us. He saw more than just our present; he saw our future. Five years later in the Mabee Center in Tulsa, OK, we would cut down the nets as the back-to-back 5A State Champions.
Looking back on that experience, I find myself being so thankful for that vision of our future that Coach Dale Dishman placed inside my mind. Practices for any sport can grow hard and tiring over time. In the huddle that day were over 25 eighth graders on the team. By the time we were seniors, only two of us were left to realize that dream. Everyone else had grown weary and quit along the way or decided to pursue other pursuits. The idea of one day being a champion, however, for me kept me going until the very end. Sometimes we need someone outside of our situation to see beyond our present circumstances to the future reward and call us to endure toward that grand vision.
As Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:11-13, I believe he is encouraging Timothy to endure into eternity as a champion for Christ because a great reward was waiting for those who persevered. At the time Timothy received this letter, he did not look like a spiritual champion. Due to the intense persecution and discouragement of his day, Timothy was tempted to turn passive and shy away from his heavenly calling. Timothy’s life was hard, the bad guys seemed to be winning (his friend Paul was already in prison), and the early church seemed like anything but an eternal kingdom. Seeing Timothy contemplating these thoughts, Paul grabs his coach’s whistle and shares with Timothy encouragement concerning the future. A paraphrase of 2:11-13 might go like this, “We will live with Him. We will reign with Him. Stay the course and He will stick with you and He will never let you go!” Paul wanted Timothy to see beyond His present to the future reality of His life and use that as motivation to persevere to the very end.
What is going on in your life right now? Are you experiencing any persecution because of your faith in Christ? Are you experiencing hard times right now that are causing you to question your faith in Christ, or your place in His plans? Do you feel more like a spiritual eighth grader than an eternal champion? If so, place your hand on the pile and listen to the words of Paul describing our future. We will live with Him. We will reign with Him. Stay the course! See beyond your present to your future. Today’s perseverance equals tomorrow’s champion.