Advice to a Successful Young Athlete Desiring to Live for Christ
I appreciate your clear love for Christ, and your desire to serve Him. I'm 50 now, but I remember like it was yesterday being 18 and eager to go where God wanted me and do what He'd called me to. I guess that's why I want to take the time to write you, even though time is scarce these days.
God has given you your physical and mental and spiritual gifts, to provide you a platform from which to draw attention to Him and bring Him glory.
Over the years God has given me some strong relationships with some professional athletes, especially NFL players. Some of them call me on the cell phone periodically, and we talk and pray together. I've spoken in 4 NFL chapels. Here's another article that relates to that.
The chapel message develops Deuteronomy 17, a great passage that gives warnings to any future king of Israel. We need to emphasize the critical difference between fame and character. Athletes, like musicians and sometimes even we writers and speakers are respected for our abilities and images, when in fact we should only be respected for our character. We live in a culture that elevates celebrities as heroes, but Christ calls us to something much higher—he calls us to be humble servants.
Consider the Scriptures, this in 1 Peter 5:5-9:
Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
Christ says that He opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. So if we want God to oppose us, pride will do it. If we want him to give us grace, we better choose humility. He says if we humble ourselves He will lift us up. He also warns us to be self-controlled and alert to the temptations Satan thrusts upon us.
Pride is one of the big temptations, the root of most of the others. But temptation to sexual impurity is huge as well. When you go to college, some girls will target you, for the wrong reasons. But it is really Satan who has you on his hit list. He wants you to fall. Here's a link to several things I've written about spiritual warfare, and doing battle against Satan.
You need to have the right heroes. I hope you do, but if not, cultivate them, read their biographies. You will tend to become like the ones you admire, and those you spend time with.
I was recently asked who some of my heroes are. This was my response. Here is an article I wrote on Lewis Tappan and the Amistad slaves. We all have different gifts and callings, but in terms of character, commitment and vision, Tappan is one of hundreds of thousands of strong role models who have gone before us.
I just returned from a Generous Giving Conference in Colorado Springs, where I spoke, along with Rick Warren and Nancy Leigh DeMoss. The room was filled with multi-millionaires. But many of them came to the conference because they are realizing that there is a joy in serving Christ, and a joy in giving that far exceeds the joy of keeping, hoarding and spending. I've had the privilege of knowing that joy. All the royalties from my books, close to $3.75 million dollars, have gone to feed the hungry, support missions organizations and other worthy causes, as well as some to help facilitate the giving away of our books to people all over the world. Jesus said, where your treasure is your heart will be also. Put the treasures of money and time into helping the needy, and getting the gospel out, and God will bless you for it. (EPM note: through 2012 this number is over six million dollars in book royalties given away.)
I hope you're involved in a good Bible teaching church. Perhaps you are involved with something you volunteer your time to. Maybe you already have a missions connection. If you don't, I'd recommend you find something. Stay close to godly men, surround yourself with people who love you enough to tell you the truth...even when it hurts. I help coach a high school tennis team. I see the Christian young men who on the team who are making wise and godly choices. They are able to find joy. Then I see some who are nominal Christians, but making unwise choices, hanging out with the wrong people. I see the shadow of misery hanging over their lives. One of the things I say in several of my books is that what is right is always smart, and what is wrong is always stupid. That which is for God's glory is also always for our good.
God wants to use the next years of your life, while you're in college, to send your roots deeper into His Word, deeper into a walk with Christ. He wants you to draw from the reservoir of a solid Christian life, with strong personal accountability to godly men, and from that reservoir to stand strong for Jesus. Satan, on the other hand, wants to mess you up with pride, sexual impurity and every other thing he can do to discredit your testimony for Christ and derail you from serving Him.