I remember back in the late 1980’s’ I entered a high school basketball skills competition run by Coca Cola and after getting thru the school round and the district level went on to the WA final where I came second to a bloke named Eric Watterson. I didn’t know who he was because I didn’t mix in elite basketball circles, but he later went on to play for the Perth Wildcats for many years. As a result of the second placing I was offered the opportunity to train and play with a local district basketball team who were coached by Henry Daigle, an American who had come to Perth specifically to develop talent. He also coached the Perth Wildcats and was the leading coach in Perth at the time.
I was pretty ecstatic as in those years basketball was my great passion and this was going to be my pathway to greatness. Then I discovered that the team trained on a Sunday morning and the decision to participate entered a whole new realm of complexity. The 80’s was an era where you could skip church to play sport, but it would still have been frowned upon. I wasn’t that worried about the negative response I may have received – I just wanted to make the right decision. And as a young Christian it was a challenging one.
I didn’t have the cultural savvy and theological awareness to work thru the issue so it felt like I was stuck with choosing to conform or rebel. Not a great set of options for a 17 year old really…
It was easy to choose conformity, but everything in me raged against it. This was a genuine opportunity to move into a whole new sphere of competition and this was ‘my moment’. I tussled with the decision, but don’t remember talking with anyone about it. I’m not sure if I had people in my life who would have enabled me to really think about it rather than just giving me the party line.
Then one Saturday evening while in the throes of my decision I went to the movies and watched Chariots of Fire, a movie I knew little about, but that left a mark like no other. For a kid trying to make a decision about what to do with Sunday sport in the 1980’s it was like God had jumped into my world and given me a hero to champion the cause of faithfulness and sacrifice in the face of great temptation. When I watched the movie and saw Liddell made his decision not to run in the heats of the 100m at the Paris Olympics just because they were on a Sunday I felt my question had been answered directly. I felt like God literally spoke to me thru that movie.
That night the decision was made not to accept the offer to join the Perry Lakes Hawks team (or whoever they were then) and to simply keep on playing church league basketball and going to church on Sunday. I remember feeling both deep peace and bitter disappointment at the same time. The boat I wanted to be on had sailed and I wasn’t on it… and I never would be. But I had put a stake in the ground in relation to faith and that was significant. I would say it was one of the most important decisions I have ever made, because it set the trajectory for my life.
I vividly remember the moment in the movie where Liddell was about to run in the 400m final and he was slipped a piece of paper with a Bible verse on it.
‘He who honours me I will honour’ 1 Sam 2:30
Liddell went on to win the 400m in record time and is credited with being the man who turned the middle distance race into a sprint because he knew no other way to run! He was inspirational and his story still inspires me today.
Liddell enjoyed athletic success as a result of honouring God. I didn’t. And truth be told I was never going to be a star – no matter how highly I rated myself. I have very small hands and in basketball world that is a liability. I doubt I would have ever progressed beyond playing off the bench in SBL, but what did happen in that decision was a catalysing of life direction. It was probably the first time I had to make a call between following Jesus or chasing my own dreams. That tussle has stayed with me for the rest of my life, but I’m happy to say it has been a genuine wrestle and never a simple case of rolling over and taking the most self serving path.
So maybe if you’re wrestling with a decision at the moment where the answer is not clear, my advice is to take the path that will ultimately lead you closer to Jesus and to the kind of life he calls you to. I don’t know what it will look like for God to ‘honour’ that, but I trust that he will.