Golf and the Gospel
The golfing world has descended upon this little corner of the Unite States as we contest our national golf championship, the U.S. Open, at Chambers Bay Course. It is a thrilling privilege and, even if you have never picked up a golf club, it is impossible not to be aware of all that goes into hosting this world-class event, the first time in the 115 year history of the U.S. Open that it has been held in the Pacific Northwest.
I really love golf. I think it is one of the greatest games for teaching life lessons. In fact, some of my most profound moments of spiritual growth have taken place on or after a round of golf. I remember, for instance, when we were on sabbatical in 2000, coming back from a round of golf having played horribly and behaved foully. I read the passage in Luke 6:5 where it says,”The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” I was so convicted about what my behavior on the course revealed about my heart, that I literally prayed a prayer of confession and repentance.
Perhaps less dramatically, I really do believe that playing golf properly, with all of the arcane rules, regulations and courtesies, not only equips you well for life, it even has some spiritual parallels. I’d like to share a few with you:
Referee yourself: Golf is one of the few, if not the only sport where the participant is expected to be his own referee. No one follows along, insuring that you obey all the rules; don’t kick the ball to a more advantageous spot, ground your club in a bunker, carry the requisite number of clubs, etc. There are rules officials on the course, but ordinarily they will be called on by the player himself to clarify what must be done. Many times I have seen golfers penalize themselves for something that might have gone unnoticed by onlookers, usually at great personal sacrifice since a single stroke can cost you tens of thousands of dollars in prize money.
Spiritual parallel: We have the Holy Spirit living in us who convicts us when we do wrong and prompts us to do right. One of the marks of Christian maturity is when we discern what is the right thing to do and do it… even if it is costly or painful.
Play it as it lies: One of the most basic rules of golf is, you do not move your ball to a more advantageous spot. You play it from wherever you hit it: the rough, the sand, behind a tree. In real golf, there is no such thing as a mulligan. You take your lumps, assess your penalty strokes if you must, do what you need to get back into play, and keep going.
Spiritual parallel: Life dishes out all kinds of surprises; some good, some bad. You take it as it comes. Paul spoke of learning to be content in every situation and, in a different letter, reminded us that everything, both good and bad, God is able to work for his glory and purposes. Don’t whine, don’t play the “if only” game. Play it as it lies. Get it back in the fairway and keep moving forward.
You’re away! When you play with fellow competitors, the person who is farthest from the hole is the first to play. It’s called “being away”… the same is true on the putting green. You wait patiently for your partner, especially when they are having a rough hole, and you walk onto the green together.
Spiritual parallel: The last shall be first, the first shall be last. There is a courtesy that Jesus taught his disciples, one that calls us to wait patiently until others are able to catch up and that shuns glory.
And this final thought: one of the great things about the Open is that anyone has a shot. If your game is good enough, if you are able to make it through the qualifying rounds, a school teacher from Missouri might find himself playing with Phil Mickelson. That’s why, when you check the pairings too early, you see so many “TBDs” on the list. Those who are fighting for a spot have not yet qualified. Similarly, the amazing thing about following Christ is that everyone—no matter who they are, how humble their means, how difficult their background—is filled and gifted by the Holy Spirit and invited “into the game.” Question is, will they take the shot?
Okay, enough golf course philosophy. If you see your own spiritual applications to this beloved sport, please chime in by leaving a comment below. Enjoy the Open and come Sunday, ready to enjoy Bluegrass music!
P.S. Don’t forget, this Sunday is Bluegrass Sunday, a favorite of so many. Y’all come, wear your blue jeans and be ready to stomp, clap and sing your praises to the Lord!