Are you listening to the coach?

Chuck Tabor

Chuck Tabor

I was in eighth grade, fifth period geography class. Mr. Auker was our teacher. But this term we had a student teacher. He did not have very much self-confidence. In fact, his C-Factor was so low that he would bring his “script” to class with him on 3-inch by 5-inch cards. Throughout the day he would pull out his stack of cards for the day and review what he had written there. In fact, if he could swing it – if he had given us a project to do at our seats – he would quietly pace over to the corner of the classroom and practice quietly to himself the very words he was planning to say to us in just a few minutes.

This student teacher’s insecurities, and his mechanisms for coping with them, were all a group of junior high adolescents needed to roll out the pranks and, in general, to make life very difficult for this already insecure and non-confident college student. We were so rowdy and disruptive in class, not to mention disrespectful, that his insecurities continued to be magnified each and every day. That is, until one day he had enough.

During one particularly disruptive time, when one of my classmates was called upon to share his homework with the class – homework he had not done – the student teacher calmly packed up his materials into his satchel and walked out of the room. With his departure, the class in general began to celebrate our victory, but only until the student teacher returned a few minutes later, and Mr. Auker was right behind him. Mr. Auker used the full resources of his position to instill discipline in the class in those next few moments, and you could almost see the confidence and the hope of this student teacher balloon as he did.

Do you believe in magic? Charlie Waters, the all-pro former strong safety for the Dallas Cowboys tells about his college coach and his belief in magic. When Frank Howard was the head coach at Clemson University he went out to practice one Monday before a big game. The injury report from the previous weekend was not good: His first- and third-string quarterbacks were both out with injuries. That left him with his second-, fourth-, and fifth-string quarterbacks to play in the big game on Saturday afternoon. In the first five minutes of practice on Monday, his now first-string quarterback, who had been the second-tringer, hurt his knee. That elevated the fourth-stringer to the first team and put the fifth-stringer on the second team. About 10 minutes later, that quarterback hurt his knee. Well, the fifth-string quarterback was next in line for the first team. Coach Howard blew the whistle and gathered all the players around him. He took the one remaining quarterback, put his arm around him, and said in his gruff voice, “Son, do you believe in magic?”

The quarterback replied in a hesitant, half-hearted way, “Well, sorta.”

Coach Howard looked at him, pointed his five fingers at him, waved his hand over him like a magician would, and said, “Poof! You are now a first-string quarterback!”

What that coach was telling his team and his quarterback is something that all of us who claim to follow Christ need to hear consistently: that no matter how great the odds, no matter how mighty the opponent, no matter how impossible the task, there is always hope. All too often we look at life and the future and see nothing ahead but brick walls. We look at the road we are to travel and all we see are potholes and detour signs. As we anticipate playing the game of life with our fifth-string quarterback, we somehow hope that someone somewhere will wave a magic wand and transform that hesitant, half-hearted substitute into a talented, confident, skillful, future All-American.

The great former coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, used to have a philosophy of coaching that others through the years have imitated, primarily because it was so very successful for him. He aimed at attacking the strongest points in the opponent’s defense. He would run the ball right over the strongest defensive lineman repeatedly, hoping to eventually wear out the best person the opposing team had. Once that was accomplished, victory could not be far behind.

In the game called life, often it is Satan who uses that very strategy to attempt to defeat us. He will take aim at our greatest successes, our greatest strengths, and try to turn them into tragedies. He will attack our marriages, our businesses, yes, and even our kids. He “prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour us” (1 Peter 5:8) and will do everything in his power to shatter our hope, destroy our confidence, and defeat us.

But there is hope. The person who seeks to defeat the evil one in the game of life is the individual who does not seek to play the game on the basis of his own ability or talent or skill or confidence or even knowledge of the opponent’s game plan. That person realizes he must depend upon the coach – his knowledge, his skill, his experience, his overall strategy.

The Scriptures tell us that the way to accomplish this in life is by “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith.” (Hebrews 12:2), and by “casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7).

I don’t know how that Clemson quarterback played in the game that following Saturday afternoon, but I do know that as he relied upon his coach, he had the confidence, the skill, and the knowledge to win the game. As our student teacher relied upon Mr. Auker, the same things happened, and the class became much more enjoyable for everyone.

Are you living your life on your own, or are you depending upon the coach?

God bless…

Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette. He also serves as pastor of the Port William UMC.

Chuck Tabor Tabor