Today, by the graciousness of my family and staff, I’m at a conference center out of town having a personal sabbath. A day of rest. A day of reflection. A day of refuge.
Over the past couple months, I’ve seen God do some pretty incredible things. Between large-scale projects, international mission trips, a growing and thriving ministry and personal struggles, this season of my life has been…well, busy. I’ve felt distant from the Lord and I needed to reconnect. The times when I am most involved in my own life are always the times when I am furthest from Jesus.
So, this morning after I dropped my son off at school, I headed out of town. I spent the first couple hours here in prayer for the circles of people closest to me; my family, the pastoral staff around me, the leaders on my team and my small group. I spent time in Scripture which was a cooling balm for my weary soul. Following a very simple plan, I started reading through Psalm. Today is the first day of the month, so I read Psalm 1 and added 30 to it reading Psalm 31, 61, 91 and 121. I quickly found myself becoming refreshed as I prayed with the Psalmist, “into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord; faithful God,” (Psalm 31:5).
After lunch, I headed out to play a nine-hole disc golf course. I’m not very good at disc golf, but I enjoy it. The course is par-3 throughout and I’ve played it several times over the last few years. As I walked, I spent time in prayer, in meditation and reflection of the lessons God wanted to teach me during this time of sabbath. Hole-by-hole, I started to find parallels between the game and life. For anyone who finds themselves disconnected and astray from the Lord, here are a few reflections from my round of disc golf with Jesus.
Hole 1: On this first hole, my drive took the flight I wanted it to, bending around a group of trees to the left and landing a few yards from the hole.
The first thing I did this morning was confess my sins and shortcomings. All the pride and selfishness and gunk. All the personal, dark and rotten things. I had to get them off my chest. I had to start this time with God with a good approach. “Lord, be gracious to me,” (Psalm 31:9).
Score: 2, (-1 for the round)
Hole 2: My first shot went off the fairway (a dirt path in the woods) and ricocheted off a tree. I thought for sure this happy start was quickly going to be ruined. Where I landed was great, but it certainly was better than I anticipated. Once I arrived at the problem, I found that it wasn’t really as bad as I thought it was. Even though I was behind a group of trees, I simply bent down and found an opening.
I’m an emotional person, I act quickly, but deliberately. I pray for wisdom and have faith that I’m moving in the right direction. But, admittedly, there are times when I see a problem and it seems much larger from a distance. I’ve got to remember that even when my shot smashes in to a tree and I think there’s no way around it, I just need to look at it from a different perspective. Just like my shot behind the trees, creativity and perspective often lead to an effective solution. “Lord, make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love,” (Psalm 31:16).
Score: 3, (-1 for the round)
Hole 3: Oh, how I hate this hole. As I mentioned, I’ve played this course several times before and I know exactly what’s going to happen. The fairway is a dogleg to the right (which I can never do with a disc) and there’s a huge 6′ ditch to the left of the hole. Of course, as always, my second shot went straight into the ditch.
I had to hold on to some trees in order to climb in the ditch and a couple shots later, I finally ended the pain by landing my disc in the basket.
So often I find my life being just like this hole. I know the dangers. I know the hazards. I know my habits. I know my tendencies. But, still, despite recognizing those things, I still end up in the same situation. For some it might be an addiction, a certain sin, a specific vice. For me, most times, it’s busyness. I’m only around for a short time and I want to serve the Lord with all my heart. I want to lead my ministry to do things that we’ve never done. I want to push the envelope for what missions means in the scope of the Church. I want to be the best dad, the most dedicated husband. I have goals as an artist, a writer, an adventurer and an athlete. But, not all those things go together at the same time and I know that I need to reign those things in. “I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction,” (Psalm 31:7).
Score: 5 (+1 for the round)
Hole 4: I love the woods and the outdoors. I do not love spiders. They are creepy and horrible creatures and I just about walked in to several of them. I couldn’t finish this hole fast enough.
The things we fear are all around us. Whether it’s inadequacy, anxiety, immaturity, depression, sense of worth, risk of failure – any of our fears – they are right around us all the time, just like those spiders. So, what do we do? We can freeze and wait for someone to come kill the spider (typically my wife’s job around our house, though I’m getting better) or we can find a stick and move the problem in order to move on to the goal. “Rescue me from the hand of my enemies and my persecutors,” (Psalm 31:15).
Score: 3 (+1 for the round)
Hole 5: This tee is at the bottom of a hill and you can’t see the basket without running up the hill. Because I’ve played this course before, I could visualize where the goal was in relation to the tee. I took a breath and let the disc go. It soared. It cleared the trees overhead and avoided a large pine at the mouth of the trail. I ran up to see the disc land at a reasonable distance from the basket.
That’s faith. Faith is not being able to see the goal, but aiming for it anyway, trusting it’s there. I can’t see heaven. All I have is John’s description from the book of Revelation and promises about heaven throughout Scripture. But, I trust that’s where I will be because God is faithful. So with my life, I will aim and go. “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God,'” (Psalm 31:14)
Score: 3 (+1 for the round)
Hole 6: This tee is at the top of the hill just in front of the basket for hole 5. There is a wide open fairway, the widest of the course. Today, there was a soft breeze that cooled me on a warm day. There were no obstacles, no ditches and no awful spiders between me and the goal. My drive was low, firm and level. (And far!) It landed right next to the goal. I couldn’t have done that again if I tried (trust me, I did). From a technical standpoint, I have no idea why that shot was different than the rest. Maybe the wind was just right. Maybe I adjusted my grip. I could tell when I let it go that it just felt…different.
Recently, I helped create an outreach project in my town that got a lot of attention and went viral online. Tens of thousands of people (maybe more) were reading articles about it online and people from all over the world emailed me about it. Everyone wanted to be a part of it or ask me how they could do the project in their city. “What made it work?” they asked. “How did you get all the media involved?” others wanted to know. “Where did the idea come from?” people inquired. The idea came from God. He gave it to me. He helped it grow. He guided my hand. I just released it and he directed it, level and far. When the project started, I just knew that it felt…different. “Oh, how abundant is your goodness,” (Psalm 31:19).
Score 2: (Even for the round)
Hole 7: This one took me a while to get started. I couldn’t find the tee marker anywhere. I knew roughly where it used to be, but I just couldn’t spot it. I had just about decided to estimate where it was and begin my drive, but then I saw the faded yellow paint from the top of it poking out from some pine needles. Evidently, after years of being out in the woods, it rotted and fell over.
Sometimes, we’re lost. We don’t know which way to go. We don’t know if the decision we’re about to make is productive or destructive. But, with some time, reflection and patience, we will see the way. “You are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me,” (Psalm 31:3).
Score: 3 (Even for the round)
Hole 8: Another great drive, followed up my a terrible second shot. I was about 10 yards from the basket, but I overshot and it veered to the left, blowing a decent chance at a birdie. With my third shot, I corrected my mistake and nailed the shot.
There are very few things in life you get one shot at. Making mistakes is just part of life. Luckily, my wife and children are very forgiving people. Lord, help me to correct when I overshoot and keep my eyes on the goal. “Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily!” (Psalm 31:2).
Score: 3 (Even for the round)
Hole 9: A long hole, but straight as it parallels a road. I feel good about the round I’ve played, but I haven’t added up my score. I usually shoot in the low 30s when I play and I think my best was 29 (I said I wasn’t very good). My drive was strong, though it headed into some trees. It’s funny, in disc golf, sometimes the trees can be your friend as much as they can hinder you. In this case, the shot hit a tree and bounced back towards the goal. The shot was within reach, but I was just off and parred the hole.
I started with momentum and had a strong first approach. Now, it was time to finish strong. I was the only one out there and I wasn’t playing for any prizes or competing with anyone. But, I really didn’t want to end on a bogey – and if I did, there goes the idea for this blog post. As a kid, I’d play basketball for hours by myself before and after dinner and during any other block of time I could. Before I’d go inside, I had to make my last shot. It was a rule I had; a commitment to myself. I was going to end with success. I want my time on this earth and my walk with the Lord to be the same. I want to end farther than I was yesterday and leading other people for tomorrow. I want Jesus to see my efforts and be proud.
I want to have evidence and an answer at any point of my life of what God is doing in me, through me and around me. I remember one time helping a student with his job interview skills. One employer (a Christian sports ministry) asked him, “what is God doing in your life?” He didn’t have an answer. He hadn’t considered it. He had not taken the time to reflect on what God was using him for and it caused him not to finish the interview strong and ultimately, he didn’t get the job.
I want to finish strong. “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord! (Psalm 31:24).
Score: 3 (Par for the round)
Oh…by the way. I went back and played another round of nine holes. Remember that hole #3 with the ditch? Finished it in three shots.