Invitation to Rest

Invitation to Rest

Living Life from the Inside Out

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Three Things “March Madness” Teaches Us About Spiritual Formation

The first weekend of March Madness is now over.  This is a great time of year where millions of people fill out brackets to declare who they think will be the National Champion of College Basketball. It is a fun time of year, with buzzer beaters and upsets along the way.  If you filled out a bracket, how is it looking after this weekend? There is something thrilling about seeing a group of athletes, dedicated to one cause, using their gifts and talents to ascend to such heights of success. As I think about sports teams and the ingredients it takes to see a group of individuals become a successful team, I can see some parallels for understanding how God works in our lives for transformation. There are many ways to look at this analogy to sports and spiritual formation but below are three areas that stick out to me.

Begin With The Fundamentals

How often have you heard over the years when a new coach comes to a team that he or she needs to get buy-in from their players in order for the team to learn how to be successful? What the coach is wanting buy-in into is the coach’s truth about what it takes to be a successful team. It starts with fundamental truths and also an over-arching vision or strategy that guides the understanding of fundamentals. 

It’s the same with our walk with God. It starts with the fundamental truth of who God is, understanding His character and nature.  We must understand who we are and our identity as beloved children of God. We need to study and memorize the playbook, the Bible. And we need to see the vision and plan that God has for us, to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and from that place of divine love to share it with those around us.  God wants us to learn to live well in the Kingdom of God now.

Grow Through Practice and Game Experience

The coach can have the best gameplan of all time and the players can study and read it all day, but until they go the practice field to begin putting that knowledge to work and then ultimately play the game, they will not make much progress and will have lots of doubts about themselves, the coach, and the vision he has for the team. But as the days and weeks roll on and the players begin to get a taste of accomplishment and success as they follow the plan, the truth that they know grows brightly into conviction, faith, and confidence.

The same applies to our spiritual lives. We can have all the head knowledge, but it is when we put our faith into action, through practicing spiritual disciplines and living out our knowledge in the game of life that we begin to really experience who God is and the transformation He wants to make in our lives.  I have heard many people tell me over the years that they know God loves them from a truth perspective, but they struggle to experience His love in their heart. Like those great teams, they don’t start off great but only over a long period of time do they become that way.  The same is true for us and our life with God.  It takes time to really experience and trust that God loves us or it may take time to find freedom from an unhealthy attachment, but as we continue to live in the truth and put it into practice we grow in our faith and conviction because we see that God is true to His word and will never leave us or forsake us.

Trust The Process

We usually just see the end results of a team and their growth as we watch them on the playing field, but we do not see the grinding, repetitive, and often mundane drills sessions that athletes go through to become who they. I can imagine there are days where they question what they are doing and is it really worth the effort. A key theme in this case is they need to trust the process.  There is a method to the “madness” they are going through.  This takes trust in the coach and his truth and vision for the team.  We hear the phrase a lot that it is a “marathon and not a sprint.

I remember one time struggling with my golf game and my playing partner gave me the sound advice that I needed to trust my swing. The problem was that I hadn’t played enough golf to really trust in that swing.  What he was telling me was to trust the process. Trust the process of learning, practicing, and playing and over time you will see improvement.  Only as I spent more time going through the process of practicing but then getting out there and playing the game did I learn to trust in that swing.  I could learn to swing with conviction as I trusted the process of drills, practice, and game experience.

This can be helpful to look at our lives with God. We are undergoing a transformational process.  We wrestle with it not happening faster and the enemy does a good job of sowing seeds of doubt trying to discourage us when we don’t see the progress we expect. We need to trust God and the process of growth.  We need to stick to the fundamentals, practice, and put our practice to work in day to day life. As we patiently do this, we will experience growth and experience deepening levels of joy and peace with our heavenly Father.

I really love this quote below from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin as he describes the transformational process:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.


How is your spiritual journey with God? Is there an area of your life that needs a little more attention?  Take time and ask your Father to help you see what may be needed to help you continue to move forward on your journey with Him.  Perhaps it is becoming more regular in times of reading His word, or committing to memorizing a passage of scripture, or developing a habit of solitude and silence.  Or perhaps God just wants you to stay the course and trust in His working in your life.

I recently heard a podcast by Ruth Haley Barton who was speaking with Christian Psychiatrist Curt Thompson about the hard work that it takes to endure through times of suffering.  He mentioned that many people ask him how long will it take and when will they know they are better.  He said he answers this question by telling them “when you love to do the hard work you have to do.”  Growth takes time and a lot of hard work.  And yet when we understand what we are aiming for and how important it is to us, we can learn to love that hard work because we know where it can lead.

May whatever we do, we do it from a heart that loves to do the work to know God more deeply.

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