I have spent the past 49 years around the game of football. Sixteen of those years as a player and 33 as a chaplain. I’ve been a part of many victories, and many more losses. When you are the Detroit Lions Chaplain for three decades, you learn a thing or two about losing. Someone recently told me that I hold the record for the most losses in the NFL as a team chaplain…316!
My love for the game is not only from my competitive spirit, but because there is no other game—in my opinion—that teaches such great life lessons. The ultimate goal of every NFL player and team is to win the most coveted prize at the end of the season. That prize is a beautiful Super Bowl ring. Yes, a bunch of large, burly men play a vicious game all for a piece of jewelry!
You may not be striving for a ring, but life is no different than football. If you want to succeed, then you and I need to heed to practices that winning players and teams all follow and learn the three things football reveals about faith.
1) AIM FOR THE RING – I remember speaking at the Lions chapel service the night before we played the Redskins in the NFC Championship game in 1991. The week before we had beaten the Cowboys and were now one game away from the Super Bowl. I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be my only playoff victory in 33 seasons with the Lions.
In my chapel talk, I stated that our goal was the win this game and get to the Super Bowl. At that moment Chris Spielman, a linebacker, stood up and said, “You are mistaken. Our goal is not to get to the Super Bowl, but to WIN the Super Bowl!” (By the way, no one had ever stood up and corrected me before.)
This was a big miss on my part and taught me a valuable lesson about goals.
Winning football teams aim differently than losing teams. They have a clear focus on what their goal is and constantly work toward that goal.
The Apostle Paul used an athletic metaphor in his letter to the Corinthians when he said,
“All the runners in a race run, but only one receives the prize. Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Cor. 9:24)
Do you know what your ring is? Are you just trying to get to the big game or are you focused on WINNING? I challenge you to write down one goal for your life and then take the next step to achieve that goal.
2) TRAIN FOR THE RING – It is one thing to set a clear goal and yet a whole different deal to actually train to get that goal. Paul goes on to say…
Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training… (1 Corinthians 9:25)
Winning athletes train for victory. You don’t get to slip on a Super Bowl ring without strict training.
One of my great privileges of being the Lions Chaplain was standing on the sidelines as Barry Sanders carried the pigskin. To be just a few feet away from all of those epic runs is a memory I will cherish forever. One night when Barry was at my house for Bible study, he brought his older brother along. I asked Byron if Barry was the toast of their high school and the most popular kid at the parties. He stated that Barry never went to any parties. I asked where he was instead. Byron said, “While we were at the parties having fun, Barry was at the stadium running stairs.”
Did you catch that? In high school Barry was already AIMING for his goal of playing in the National Football League. And he was TRAINING constantly to reach that goal.
Most people think that Barry ended up in Hall of Fame because of his talent, but that is only half the story. No one knows how hard he trained to get where he is today.
Strict training isn’t just for football players. What about you? Do you have a goal that you want so bad that you are willing to bypass the party to go run the stairs?
A walk with Jesus doesn’t just happen. It takes dedication and sweat to put in the work. If you really want to know Jesus, crack open that Bible and get a good workout in. The results will come soon enough.
3) PAIN FOR THE RING – Every football player knows pain. I’m not talking about pain from a hard hit on the field. I’m talking about the pain of paying the price behind closed doors to get that ring.
Paul goes on to write…
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 9:2-27)
All athletes know that in order to reach a high goal, there is a high price to be paid. But if a person wants that goal bad enough, they will pay whatever it takes to get that ring.
I remember watching a Lions defensive back make a tackle right in front of me in a pre-season game back in the 90s. This player was on the bubble to make the roster, so every play mattered in this game for him. As he made the tackle his mouth guard fell onto the turf. I saw him pick it up and stick it in his sock as he got ready for the next play. In the locker room after the game I asked him why he stuck his mouth guard in his sock rather than put it back in his mouth. As he smiled at me I noticed that his front tooth was missing. He said, “That wasn’t my mouth guard. That was my tooth that fell out on that tackle. So, I stuck it in my sock and kept playing.”
Dwayne knew that for him to make the roster he could not take even one play off. And guess what? He beat all the odds and made that team.
Senior Pastor Craig Groeschel at Life Church says, “It’s the things that no one sees that result in the things that everyone wants.”
So, we learn from winning football players and teams that nothing great comes cheap. Greatness has a price…and the great ones willingly pain for that ring.
And there is one very big distinction that the Apostle Paul makes in the middle of his remarks about athletes. Paul gives us the reason for his sports analogy in verse 25…
“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Corinthians 9:25 ESV)
Football players AIM, TRAIN & PAIN for a ring that will one day perish. It’s important, but not really that important. Does it really matter in light of eternity who won the Super Bowl five years ago? You probably can’t even name which team that was. I know I can’t without looking it up.
So what does matter? Eternity matters!
Here is the goal that I adopted for my life back in college…when I was playing football.
My life mission: TO KNOW CHRIST AND MAKE HIM KNOWN
I want to live each and every minute of each and every day for that mission. To intimately know Jesus and fall deeper in love with Him daily. And to share Him and His love for others everywhere I go.
That’s my Super Bowl Ring. And I want to AIM, TRAIN & PAIN for it every day.
What about you? What’s your ring? Your driving mission? Write it down. Post it somewhere so you can look at it every day. Then go after it like it’s the Super Bowl.
It matters a whole lot more.