I learned a couple lessons from golf this year. And I don’t think I’m the first one to learn these sorts of life lessons from the very difficult game. But perhaps the application I’ve thought through has some distinctiveness to it. Now, I admit that it may be silly, and even a stretch, to implement spiritual lessons on the basis of something as inconsequential as golf, but hear me out if you will. It can be quite interesting that if we pay close attention to the most mundane scenes of life, we can often find Biblical truths proven in very tangible ways. Such as in golf…
I wish I could say I “took up” golf this past year… Really, I just took up golf clubs. Actually, I can hardly say that… Golf clubs were gifted to me. And let’s admit it, fellow-golfer-want-to-be, owning clubs does not make you a golfer. Neither does going to the course half a dozen times. I learned this quickly when, a few months ago, I got mad at myself at least half a dozen times in one of the rounds I played. I was frustrated because the previous week’s round of golf had gone pretty well, but for some reason this new day of golf wasn’t treating me as kindly. I went in to the game thinking, “Hey I’m actually pretty decent!” Nope… Last week I was decent… This week I wasn’t. And it was maddening! “What happened?!”
“We need to understand, being angry at ourselves is not the same as being angry at sin.”
The following Tuesday evening after my weekend of golf bewilderments, I was talking with my friend, Rick, about the weekend’s unsatisfying adventure. Humorously reminiscing, and commiserating with my experience, he told me something: “Jared, you’re not good enough to get mad.” It took me a minute to get what he meant (and, I admit, I was slightly offended at first!). But I soon found myself humbled, laughing at myself like he had been. I realized, “I think I’m better than I actually am!” In other words, I actually expected that I would do well at this! I actually thought I was capable of the standard I had set for myself! I looked at the more experienced friends I was playing with, and I actually thought I could keep up with them! In an instant I realized how foolish I was to be angry over my inability and inexperience. It would be one thing if I was a professional golfer who had several hundred “good rounds” in the bag – at least then I could actually say, “I’m usually better than this!” But that was not the case for me. It was a “What did you expect?” sort of moment.
This short anecdote lends well to two practical lessons I think we can learn about how we need to view sin: (1) We think too highly of ourselves. (2) We need God every day. Let’s see how this story translates into the Christian life.
LESSON 1: WE THINK TOO HIGHLY OF OURSELVES
Have you ever been mad at yourself for your sin? Don’t get me wrong, there is a very right anger to have toward sin (Ephesians 4:26; Psalm 54:1)… But this is different, and I think it’s important that we decipher if we ever have this sort of wrong anger. Wrong anger is the kind that says, “I’m better than that! How did I do that?” (Prov. 28:26; 1 Corinthians 10:12; 1 John 1:8,10.)
… Annoyance toward family… laziness with commitments… harsh speech in heated moments… lack of desire for Christ…lust and covetousness in their many forms… spiritual inconsistencies… days or weeks of ignoring God…fear of evangelism... Prayerlessness…
Have you ever been confronted with conviction for these things and gotten angry at yourself? We need to understand, being angry at ourselves is not the same as being angry at sin.
Getting angry at ourselves shows that we actually think we’re better than we are, that we’re capable of a higher standard than what we achieved, and that we’re actually surprised that we would sin.
Anger at sin itself, on the other hand, looks different. It’s a frustration that our fellowship with God is interrupted by the barking dog of sin in our life. It’s a sad conviction that the canvas for Christ’s glory that our lives are meant to be has once again been left out in the rain. It’s a disappointment over the dissonance that our disobedience has created in the song of praise that our life could be.
You see, the greatest tragedy of our sin isn’t merely that we mess up; it’s that we miss out on a chance to make God known and to enjoy continued nearness to him (Psalm 119:10). The direction of our disappointment over sin ought not to be pointed only at the foolish overestimations we have for ourselves, but at how short we have fallen from honoring God (Romans 3:23; Ephesians 5:1); not only at the mistake we’ve made, but at the joy we’ve abandoned (Deut. 10:13; Psalm 119:47; 51:12; Proverbs 29:6; John 15:11).
This sort of thinking could use a lot more explanation, but it reminds us of another implication to briefly consider next. If we are not as good as we tend to think we are, and if it is as natural for us to misconstrue the nature of our sin as it appears to be, it is clear that we need God’s grace on a daily basis.
LESSON 2: WE NEED GOD EVERY DAY
We should expect that if we do not seek God, we will seek sin today (Isaiah 53:6). Intentionally or not, we will default to sin. However good we may think we are at “doing all the right stuff,” we’re even better at sinning, especially if we’re not conscious of its subtle traps (1 Tim. 3:7; Prov. 13:14; Eph. 6:10-11). It’s all we’re capable of apart from a daily dependence on God, and a moment-by-moment commitment to God (Romans 3:10; Jeremiah 17:9). We’ll hit the sand traps, the water hazards, or the trees every time if it is not God, his word, and his Spirit angling our heart’s aim (Psalm 119:176).
My friend Rick showed me how foolish my anger toward my inability and inexperience with golf really is. I shouldn’t have expected so much of myself. But I would argue that the real tragedy is when we know our spiritual handicaps, yet we neglect running to God each and every day! The point isn’t to say, “O, don’t be so hard on yourself.” The point is to be reminded of how desperately we need God.
The truth about golf is, your last game could have been fantastic… That means nothing for today. Your last game could have been horrific! That means nothing for today. Only today’s game matters.
Translated: No matter how wonderful yesterday was for you, you need God again today. No matter how good you feel today (no pressing deadlines, little stress, few temptations, a general feeling of “goodness” about the day, obedient kids, good sleep), you need God again today (Psalm 63; 119:145-152; Matthew 6:11). You need his word. You need to hear from him (his Word), and you need to communicate to him: Praise, confession, petition, thanksgiving.
Go back to that list of possible struggles I listed earlier. How hard must we work to fall in those ways? – Not hard. The harder thing is to train our minds to correct the sinful habits that are so natural to us (Titus 2:12). Ask any true golfer how long it took them to fix their back swing, to keep their head down on the down swing, to square their feet and shoulders properly, or to swing through the ball rather than at the ball. The fact of the matter is that the motion of a golf swing is so unnatural to any other regular motion we make in our daily lives. It is necessary, then, to train your body to work against the ways it would prefer to move. It takes repetition, focus, and time.
This translates quite well in to how we need to approach our daily pursuit of holiness. Like a golfer checks each aspect of his stance, the Christian needs to check the attitude of his soul each day. This is for God’s honor, our good, and the testimony of Christ to the world (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
Are you thinking rightly about yourself, your sin, your need for God today?