I played varsity basketball in high school. That’s a completely true statement (unless you force me to define the word play). I attended a small private school, and if you were a senior you got a spot on the varsity team. I love the game of basketball, but I’m a lot better at watching it than playing it. I can chastise players and yell “C’mon!” at referees with all-star skill. But that’s as far as it goes. My school had this strange rule about actually playing sports in order to graduate, though, so I was forced to suit up and hang my head in shame every Friday night.
The stands were always full for home games. Excited parents and students—many of them friends of mine— showed up to support the team. Sadly, they probably made as much of a difference in the game as I did. I would glance into the bleachers from time to time, wondering what all the people were thinking, especially my dad. I think he realized that both of us were just there to watch, but I happened to have a better seat.
The only time I actually made it onto the floor was at the very end of the game—you know, when they put in the guys they feel bad for. I like to tell myself they saved me for those final seconds so I could secure the win. As we shook hands with the opposing team after the final buzzer, I felt like the players were snickering inside when they looked at me and said, “Good game.”
When I emerged from the locker room after my shower, nobody wanted a picture with me. None of the middle school kids looked up to me. Nobody on either team envied me. Why? Because I was more Spike Lee than Michael Jordan. I was a fan wearing a jersey. I was the guy who never made it into the game, and nobody envies the benchwarmer.
GET IN THE GAME
I can’t ever remember somebody shooting a pretend air jumper and calling out the name of an unknown role player. Those guys are still professionals, but if you wish you could trade places with a basketball player, it’s usually the starter, the guy who is out there from tip-off to final buzzer. You’ll never forget when Jordan switched hands in midair or when Ray Allen hit that three at the buzzer. Those are the guys you want to be. They’re in the action at those key moments, not just spectating. But for some reason we do the opposite when it comes to life. Everybody wants to be a benchwarmer.
What do I mean by that? If you showed up on a typical college campus and interviewed students about their goals for the semester, you wouldn’t hear much about living for the King. You’d hear more about thoughtless fun than playing a role in the grand story. Maybe you’d even hear some 7:00 a.m. logic. I’m willing to assume you’d receive similar responses at a high school or an office building. All of us have goals and desires, but God isn’t always in them.
I hope you don’t take what I’m saying as judgmental condemnation. I’m not a movie critic trashing the acting; I’m a supporting actor trying to get my lines right too. I’d be lying if I said following Jesus always seems appealing. Right doesn’t always feel right.
I remember a time, soon after I joined the staff at my church, when all my friends were going to perform at an incredible music festival. I wanted to be there so badly, but I couldn’t make it because it fell during the first week of my new job. I had to fight the envy in my heart. Especially when I saw them posting pictures online of their amazing experiences.
Sometimes we feel that way with life. It’s easy to envy others, especially when they’re doing something great like my friends were doing. But even when we know people are living wrong, we sometimes find ourselves longing to join them. And that makes following Jesus feel like getting taken out of the game, not getting subbed in. But why do we envy others and assume we’re missing out on something?
WHY DO WE THINK WE’RE MISSING OUT?
One of our problems is that we can only see what’s right in front of us. We miss the big picture. It’s like a camera when the things in front are in focus and everything behind is blurry. We need to adjust our lenses so the entire picture will become clear.
There’s not a person on this earth who doesn’t struggle to see clearly. It’s one of the consequences of our sinful hearts. But when you throw youthfulness into the equation, it adds up to disaster. One-year-olds struggle to walk well, and twenty- somethings struggle to see well.
It’s not surprising. It’s part of what it means to be young in a fallen world. Our lives have been brief and we’ve only seen so much. It’s hard to imagine the whole puzzle when you’ve only seen three pieces. This doesn’t mean we should flog ourselves in shame; but it does mean we should be aware, because sinful shortsightedness can lead to disaster.
Have you ever tried driving in a snowstorm? The Christmas after my first child was born, a terrible snowstorm hit as my wife and I drove back to DC from Pittsburgh. The snow overpowered the headlights on our SUV and fell so fast that the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with it. My knuckles turned white as I nervously gripped the wheel; I realized the lives of my wife and son were in my hands.
I was tense. I could only see a few inches in front of my face, so I literally didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t know what was ahead, and I just had to hope it would all work out. That’s not a good feeling. I couldn’t see if there was a car stopped ahead or a person wiping off his windows in the stop-and-go traffic.
I haven’t even mentioned the slick roads yet. Hitting your brakes meant your car slid like a kid wearing socks on a tile floor. You can understand why it was my least favorite drive ever. I was shortsighted and in a slippery place.
Have you ever thought about how disastrous shortsightedness can be in our lives? If we only make decisions based on what’s right in front of us, we’re bound to run into danger. Too many of us are trying to live our lives with no regard for what happens later.
Getting drunk at a party may seem like a good idea in the moment, but it dishonors God and leads to stupid decisions. Sleeping with your boyfriend or girlfriend may seem like a win in the moment, but that kind of intimacy was never meant to be enjoyed apart from the unique union of a marriage.
We’ll dive in to these types of decisions more as we go through the book, but the point is, we have to think big picture. Every decision we make is a small piece of a larger puzzle. And without looking at the big picture for reference, we’ll place the pieces incorrectly every time. It’s tragic to treasure a moment in time more than an entire lifetime.
*This is an excerpt from the third chapter of Trip’s new book, Rise. Don’t forget, when you pre-order Rise by January 26, you’ll get a bunch of gifts for free, including a bonus track that didn’t make it on the album. Here are all the details to redeem your gifts: http://risebook.tv/preorder