In Australia, it’s football finals time and in the U.S. the last Grand Slam event for the year has just concluded. I find a lot of life lessons from observing elite athletes — including and especially those who play football and those who play tennis. Most people might consider football to be a team sport and tennis to be individual sport. But the distinction is not so clear these days. Often times footballers are individually coached by “position coaches” and a tennis player is often just who the public sees of a team of people responsible for the performance of that player. At the time of writing, there are four remaining Australian Rules Football (AFL) teams about to play off in the Preliminary Finals (including my beloved Geelong Cats). Last weekend, Carlos Alcaraz of Spain defeated Casper Ruud of Norway. Both players have intriguing stories which I will mention shortly. In the AFL, after a disastrous last season, the Collingwood Magpies appointed a new coach for this season, Craig McRae. Even though they got off to a slow start this season, under McRae’s oversight they ended up having an 11-straight winning streak toward the end of the season and now look like genuine Premiership contenders. What do Carlos Alcaraz, Casper Ruud, Craig McRae, and the Collingwood football team, all have in common? All the players at the elite level of their sport make an enormous commitment to train, practice, sleep, hydrate, and eat a regulated diet. Yet at the very highest levels in their respective sporting codes the difference between the elite and the extra-elite is no longer a matter of skill or fitness. In fact, the difference between them is so applicable to everyday life that it may be the most relevant and do-able thing you hear for a long time. So, think about this.
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature,
because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees:
man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
First Samuel 16:7
God wanted the prophet Samuel to think differently about the type of person who was ‘king material’. As each of Jesse’s sons, tall, strong, handsome, appeared before Samuel, each of them looked like would be God’s choice for king. But God was thinking differently about what the ideal king looked like (1Sam. 16:7).
For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways My ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts.
HOW YOU THINK DETERMINES WHAT YOU BELIEVE
How you think determines what you think. How to think well begins by learning to ask good questions and seeking good reasons for accepting a claim as true. For example, this atheist meme has been doing the rounds on the internet:
This atheist claim asserts that Jesus was just one of many religious leaders who were born on December 25th, born of a virgin, had 12 travelling followers, were executed and then raised from the dead 3 days later. This atheist meme attempts to claim that the person and story of Jesus Christ are just a myth. The only problem with this assertion though is that it is entirely and utterly false false! If you’re interested in the reasons why—and the reasons for Jesus Christ being unique among religious leaders—consult former Cold-Case homicide detective, J. Warner Wallace’s book, Person of Interest – Why Jesus Still Matters in a World That Rejects the Bible.
What you think determines what you believe. And this is where there are lessons to be learned from Carlos Alcaraz, Casper Ruud, Craig McRae, and the Magpies AFL team. Casper Ruud (this year’s US Open men’s finalist) took up tennis at a very young age because of his father, Christian Ruud, who was also a professional tennis player. Christian was born in Oslo Norway and had a career high ATP ranking of 39, in 1995 at the age of 23.
“Why didn’t you make Number 1 in the world Dad?” his young son asked.
“Because son” his father replied, “I am Norwegian. It was just not possible for a Norwegian tennis player to ever become Number 1 in world.”
“Why not?” enquired his son.
“Because no Norwegian has ever done it.”
“I will.” Casper told his father.
Last weekend, the young Casper, now 23 years old, reached Number 2 on the ATP world rankings and was within one match reaching world Number 1. He still determined to get there – and believes he will. His journey began when he began to think differently.
¶ Brothers, do not be children in your thinking.
Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.
First Corinthians 14:20
Carlos Alcaraz, who was crowned ATP World Number 1 a few days ago after defeating Casper Ruud in the US Men’s Open, began to think differently about how the way tennis was played. The 20-year-old Spaniard has now introduced a new to think about moving on a tennis court which enables him to return balls from his opponents that were previously thought unreturnable. What was once thought impossible, has now been proved possible by the young Alcaraz. Like Ruud, Alcaraz challenged the way people thought about the artificial limits people often place on other people. And like Ruud, he has also proved them wrong.
LIFE’S IMPOSSIBILITIES ARE OFTEN AN INVITATION TO FIND NEW POSSIBILITIES
Craig McRae took on the Collingwood Magpies when they were at their lowest point for many years. Many people thought the rookie senior coach had no chance to turn the fortunes of this football team around. But McRae thought differently. As a player, McRae had already played in a ‘turn-around’ team under the Brisbane Lions’ coach Leigh Matthews (“the coach of the century”) who turned the Lions into the “most successful team of the 20th century”. McRae ended up playing in four AFL Grand Finals and winning three. He had already learned that what many people thought was impossible could become possible if you learned how to think and as a result what to think, which then determined the contents of your beliefs. As a result, the team that no-one thought had a chance of playing in the Finals this year has done what McRae believed they always could.
But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
If you are a Christian, you already think differently. When you became a Christian you did so because you received a touch of the Holy Spirit in your soul that enabled you to discover how to think. This led you to know what to think about your true condition (as a sinner needing a Saviour) and to accept that Jesus was the Saviour. Thus, you are already used to thinking differently. Your life as a Spirit-filled follower of Christ involves continually being renewed (Rom. 12:3), in your thinking –
¶ Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,
whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence,
if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—
practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
From my reading of God’s Word, I think that we are called to think and to think well. This involves thinking about how we can glorify God in the so-called mundane choices we have to make daily; and, whenever we are confronted with impossible situations. How we think when we know God changes what we think about seemingly impossible situations. As we ponder the greatness of God, we think great thoughts – and believe that great things are possible and then, to paraphrase William Carey, we are prepared to attempt great things for God!
Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
¶ Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel
Second Timothy 2:7-8
No matter what you’re facing, or what challenges might be overwhelming you, or how many people are telling you there’s no possibility of things improving, remember that we are invited to cast all our cares onto Christ (1Peter 5:7) and to take Christ’s burden-bearing ‘yoke’ upon ourselves (Matt. 11:28-29). This is worth thinking about!
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.
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