Playing to Win Instead of Playing to Not Lose

winPlaying to Not Lose

Sports commentators often discuss how teams need to decide to “play to win” instead of simply “playing to not lose.” In football, it’s the difference between going for a field goal or a touchdown. In a high school cross country race, it’s about racing the course and other competitors instead of focusing on running how you feel.

The difference between playing to win instead of playing to not lose? Usually, a mediocre and a winning record.

A playing-to-not-lose mindset involves being driven by fears and protecting what you have. It means reacting to others, essentially letting them decide your game plan, and not taking risks.

As Christians, playing to not lose looks like John’s description of the Laodicean church in Revelation as “lukewarm.” It’s the third worker in Matthew’s parable of the bags of gold. And it’s the person who refrains from the “don’ts” but neglects the “do’s” on Paul’s many lists in the New Testament.

Playing to not lose as a Christian involves just getting by. It strives to simply avoid any bad results. Eventually, the surrounding culture consumes such a person until no one can tell he is even a Christian.

winner

Playing to Win

Scripture directly addresses the idea of playing to win and connects it with our pursuit of righteousness.

“Do you not know that in a race all runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Many habits exist with the playing-to-win mindset. Three jump out as foundational.

Seize Opportunity

Over his high school cross country career, my oldest son learned to race smart. His coach taught him how to put himself in the best position to take advantage of opportunity. The result? My son reached most of his goals, including winning a race and receiving All County and All Region honors.

“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)

Christians put themselves in the best position to seize opportunity when they first make sure the opportunity is God-ordained. Similar to training for a runner, this comes through daily habits. Prayer, Scripture and being Spirit-led set us up to know when God-ordained opportunity approaches and allows us to make the most of them without hesitation.

Also, we need to make sure not to miss God-ordained opportunity because we’re so focused on the forest we don’t see the trees. In other words, we too often miss everyday, small opportunities because we only look for the monumental ones.

Take a look at your daily habits and at whether or not you’ve set your vision too broad. If opportunity seems to regularly miss you, adjust your vision and your habits accordingly.

Work Hard & Stay Humble

A significant aspect of working hard, which sets us up to take advantage of God-ordained opportunity, involves humility. Without both hard work and humility, we’re likely to either not be ready for opportunity or be too self-focused to see it.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:3-5)

Successful teams – the ones that win championships, not just games – consist of humble players. The victory is all that matters. Credit doesn’t. Who gets the ball doesn’t. At the same time, these humble players work hard to make sure the team as a whole wins. It’s the same as the “All In” mentality that won the New York Giants the 2012 Super Bowl.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:23)

As Christians, working hard and staying humble means pleasing God over men. It means preferring others and pointing them to Christ. And it means rejoicing when others win victories over sin and Satan. That mentality involves whole-hearted service and valuing relationship.

Focus

Inherent within every element involved in playing to win is focus.

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” (Qui Gon-Jinn, The Phantom Menace)

In sports, commentators and analysts regularly talk about the importance of focus, whether because of its absence or its role in victory. In everyday life, focus plays an essential role as well, but we often don’t realize it until it’s absent. Simply consider The Toxic Impact of Multitasking to understand how significant loss of focus has become for most people.

The Old Testament as a whole gives us a poignant picture of focus too. It shows a steady and passionate God juxtaposed with wandering and fickle men. Story after story shows men losing focus and God drawing them back to Him.

As Christians, we are either God focused, or we’re not. There is no gray area. No other options.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Choosing simplicity helps us regain our focus. When we let go of the things of this life and focus on the eternal God, we gain a laser focus on that which lasts forever.

These three foundation habits – sizing opportunity, working hard and staying humble, and focusing – found in every person who plays to win, create A Higher Standard that sets a person apart.

10 Character Building Lessons from Baseball

20160330_184712Baseball never fell on my radar let alone my schedule until my youngest son started playing little league. Since then, he’s played several years of travel baseball and now finds himself on the high school stage with JV baseball.

Regardless of the level of play, basic character building principles are inherent in the game of baseball. Advice shouted by coaches and parents on how to best play the game correlate well with how to live a life of excellence.

  1. Get dirty! While this may be a mother’s laundry nightmare, getting dirty in baseball generally means a player went “all out” to make a play. Sometimes in life, we need to “get dirty” in order to make a real difference.
  2. Make a play! Making a play can change the momentum of a game. When we find ourselves feeling stuck, sometimes the only way to break free is to do something out of the ordinary.
  3. Keep your eye on the ball! One of the most common mistakes in baseball comes when a player takes his eyes off the ball. When we lose focus, making progress and achieving goals becomes difficult at best and often impossible.
  4. Shake it off! While hopefully less common as the season progresses, mistakes do happen. Someone inevitably drops the ball or strikes out. The best approach when we make a mistake is to admit it, learn from it, and move on. Don’t let it snowball.
  5. 20160330_185001Down & ready! Some of the most embarrassing moments in a baseball game come when a player isn’t ready and sees a ball too late to stop it because he failed to pay attention. Life continually throws unexpected struggles at us, but many trials in life also come as surprises simply because we weren’t paying attention.
  6. Everybody moves! When the ball is hit, every player needs to move accordingly. Sometimes, just going in the right direction is all we need to do to move toward excellence.
  7. Put it in play! Hitting a baseball is probably the hardest task in all of sports, and a professional player who gets a hit half the time is considered productive. Simply putting the ball in play presents a solid chance at scoring. In life, some seasons are survived simply by putting yourself in play and seeing what happens.
  8. Get there! As fast as most players throw at higher levels of baseball, all out effort is required just to make it to first base. What would happen in your life if you gave all out effort?
  9. 20160423_122527Be a wall! One of the positions my son enjoys most is catcher. The catcher must stop every ball from getting by him to prevent base stealing. Hopefully, the mitt stops the ball, but often the catcher’s body must do it. Some seasons in life certainly require that we stand firm even as the hits of disappointment, fear and failure strike us one right after another.
  10. Smother it! Another phrase relating to catchers, this means covering the ball as it hits the ground in front of you. In life, some days come filled with needing to simply protect your time, your family and your faith. Some days, we just need to smother what’s important to keep it from getting away from us.

A teachable baseball player takes these foundational principles and builds on them in order to become a better player. Tommy Lasorda made the distinction this way…

“There are three types of baseball players. Those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happens.”

A person who realizes that baseball – actually, any sport – provides character building opportunity for a life of excellence, understands how watching or playing the sport really transcends the sport itself. The late, great Ernie Harwell brought the point home well when he said…

“Baseball is a lot like life. It’s a day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs. You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life.”

Harwell’s quote brings Ephesians 5:16 to mind.

“Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.”

Opportunities such as the character building lessons discussed above exist in every sport and in many other activities. Are you making the most of them?

Guest Post – In This World, You Will Have Trouble!

Welcome Chris Patton from Christian Faith at Work for our guest post today. Chris’ blog is “not as much about how to be a Christian in business, but more about how to run a Christian business.” After reading today’s post, take a minute to learn more about Chris and his inspiring story. You won’t regret taking the time to do so! I know Chris’ blog (and of course his post for us today too) will bless you as much as it does me!

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In This World, You Will Have Trouble!

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is found in John 16. Jesus and the disciples have just finished the Last Supper. Jesus is soon to be arrested. In between these two major events, He is teaching the disciples some of His most critical lessons. He knows He is near the end and I feel the intensity is climbing. Then He says it…

“In this world, you will have trouble.” – John 16:33

What Is Wrong With Me?

Am I sick or out of my mind? Why in the world would I see that as one of my favorite verses? I must be missing a screw somewhere, right? Wrong. Maybe I am very different from you, but I want to know the truth. I want to know what to expect. I don’t want it candy-coated.

Shoot Straight With Me!

When I was a kid and I asked if it would hurt when the nurse gave me a shot, I wanted to hear the truth. I wanted to be able to prepare for the pain. I did not want someone to tell me, “No, dear. This will not hurt at all.” I knew I would see stars. I just wanted someone to shoot straight with me!

I am not that crazy about surprises…at least not bad ones. I can handle surprise birthday parties or even, “Surprise, your wife is pregnant…with twins!” Those are good surprises and I can roll with that.

What I do not want is to be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking everything is okay. I do not want to be told that if I will just follow Jesus, then all of my problems will go away! I do not want to hear another preacher tell me that I simply need to pray this prayer and my financial struggles will disappear.

Jesus Is Clear

This is why I love these words of Jesus. He was straight with the disciples. He wanted them to know clearly that He was leaving them in a broken world and that trouble was a given. He did not want them relaxed or letting their guards down. Instead, Jesus wanted them to be prepared for what the world would soon throw at them.

Folks, Jesus wants us to know the same thing. In this world, we will have trouble. We will struggle. We will not breeze through this life simply because of our relationship with Jesus. In fact, as he says, the world will hate us. That hate will bring struggle. Please know this and do not be naive.

So Now What?

So, now that we agree that we will face trouble in this life, what are we to do to survive it? How do we prepare for these struggles and trials? How do we make sure we are not tempted to throw in the towel and drift away from God’s plans for us when life hits us in the face?

I believe the key to surviving the trouble that life will throw at us is to have the right foundation. If our view of the world is not based on a solid foundation of faith, then we will suffer significant damage when the storms roll through. With the right foundation, not only will we survive with minimal damage to our faith and our walk, but we will also be stronger for the next fight!

Foundational Truths

I think the foundation for our Christian walk can be boiled down into four truths. If you can internalize these four truths, then I believe God can accomplish great things through you. Internalizing these four truths will not eliminate opposition, rejection, struggle, or failure. In fact, I guarantee you will experience one or more of these issues in the process. At the same time, the final results will be greater than anything you could have accomplished or experienced outside of these truths.

  1. I am a child of God. (John 1:12)
  2. God has a plan and purpose for my life. (Psalm 139:13-16, Ephesians 2:10)
  3. God is good. (Mark 10:18)
  4. Therefore the plan and purpose God has for me is ultimately good. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Your Part

I urge you to memorize these four truths and the related Scripture. Internalize them in a way that, when you are squeezed, these come out. Repeat them to yourself when the storm is raging. Pray that God would show His faithfulness in ways that reinforce these truths in your heart.

And, last of all, commit my favorite verse to memory as well. But when you do, don’t forget the last part!

“In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

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Be sure to check out Chris’ blog! Here are three of my favorite posts from Christian Faith at Work.

Solomon’s 8 Steps for Discovering God’s Will

Why You Might Not Like Tim Tebow

Warning! Your Foundation May Be Defective

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If you would like to guest post on Struggle to Victory, please read Recommendations and Guest Posts.