When the Sea Donkeys took the floor this fall to try to repeat their rec league basketball championship, I was not on the roster. 2009 would mark a first . . . the first year in nearly 30 that I would not be playing on any organized basketball team. At the age of 36, I was retiring from the sport. (DISCLAIMER: I tend to retire from sports much like Brett Farve retires from the NFL, so stay tuned . . .)
My retirement from basketball was a result of a culmination of forces: weight, age, and nagging tendonitis tipped the scale on my participation on the team this fall. This was a big deal for me because I love the game of basketball and have had a lot of success playing the sport over the years. However, as I assessed my participation this fall, I came to the stark realization: my best days were behind me.
In short, I have become what I despise: that older guy on the basketball court who fouls you too much on defense, and who rarely moves past the 3 point line on offense. I can’t dribble the ball past anyone, cover anyone, and I turn the ball over too much against marginal pressure. There was a day when playing defense, handling the ball, and breaking the press were my specialties. Now those days are gone and they are never coming back. There is a time when the only clock you are playing against is the one hanging on the gym wall and counting down 20 minutes in each half. Last season, I realized another clock was rapidly winding down (my biological clock) and by the time I realized it, the shot clock had already been turned off. I am not ready for a rocking chair, but I am deciding to quit while most of my hardwood memories are good ones and before my deductible kicks in on another orthopedic surgery.
I was reflecting on this as the Sea Donkeys took the floor Monday night for their first game, and as I was pondering Philippians 3:12-14 where Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
In those verses, the Apostle Paul is reflecting on his past experience. In his pre-Christian days, Paul had achieved a very high level of respect in Jewish circles. In fact, Paul says in Philippians 3:6 that his peers found him “faultless” in their brand of righteous living. Paul was very good at living the Jewish life. Paul’s life history, however, took a wild turn while Paul was on a business trip. Despite his performance culturally as a Jew, Paul was far from God. He was even persecuting the early church, rounding up Christians for arrest and execution. One day while Paul was on his way to Damascus to conduct the business of killing Christians, the risen Jesus Christ appeared to Him from the clouds and called Paul (then named Saul) to leave his legalistic Pharisaical ways behind him, and come and follow Jesus. Paul did just that, and the resulting story is the most dramatic conversion in the entire New Testament. One might be tempted to say that if anyone could glory in their past “legalistic success” as a Jew, it would have been Paul pre-Christ. One might also be tempted to say that if anyone could glory in their dramatic conversion story, it would have been Paul. Given his dramatic past, some might think that Paul had already arrived spiritually, and that his best spiritual days were behind him. Paul, however, knew better.
Rather than retiring from spiritual pursuits and glorying in his past, Paul humbly declared in Philippians 3:12-14 that he had not yet “arrived” spiritually. In fact, Paul believed that his best days (and heavenly reward) were in front of him, not behind him.
This story and the principles behind it should remind us of a very important truth. In many arenas of our life, we get worse with age. As we get older, we get slower, fatter, and our physical faculties begin to fail. Since our best physical days are behind us in this life, we can begin to think that our best spiritual days are behind us as well. In our physical and spiritual pursuits in life, we run the temptation of ceasing activity and “glorying” in our past. Thinking our best physical days are behind us, we stop playing rec league basketball. Thinking our best spiritual days are behind us, we stop learning, serving, and growing. Having ceased to move forward, we have a tendency to sit around and talk about the “good old days” when we used to do big things. Spiritually speaking, we sit around and talk about how much we grew in our faith while we were in the Youth Group, that summer we were a counselor at a summer camp, the mission trip we went on in ’98, or the Sunday school class we used to teach.
If you think your best spiritual days are behind you and you are spending your spiritual life reveling in your past achievement, then take to heart the words of the Apostle Paul. Forget what is behind and press on toward the goal in Christ. Though outwardly you are withering, inwardly you are being renewed day by day. Your best spiritual days are in front of you, not behind you, so press on! Stay engaged. Keep reading the Scriptures with the anticipation of learning new things. Keep serving Christ believing God can use you to share His love with a dying world. Keep connecting in Christian community, believing that you are still a vital part of the group.
If you have spent the past few years in spiritual “retirement,” not serving or learning, or growing, pull a Brett Farve and get back in the game. Press on my friend!