Dale Jr., LeBron, Tiger and Success

18 Jun

My favorite sport is baseball. I watch some football, basketball and just a little golf and racing. But yesterday, I saw the end of the NASCAR race in Michigan where Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won for the first time in 143 races. The  celebration was great and I found myself feeling happy for Jr., as he pulled into victory lane. Then last night, I caught just a few minutes of the NBA Finals game three between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The central drama of this series is the pursuit of a championship by LeBron James, the three time NBA MVP who has never won a title. Between these two events yesterday was sandwiched the U.S. Open golf tournament, where Webb Simpson rallied late to beat Jim Furyk. Of course, this was not the story of the U.S. Open. The story of the Open was Tiger Woods who, after sharing the lead going into Saturday, collapsed over the final 36 holes to finish well off the pace.

The weekend was the story of three men who have all experienced spectacular success but who are, by many, regarded as chokers because they are on a losing streak or have never won a title. Yet consider their success. Dale Jr. was near the top of the points chase in the Sprint Cup before his Sunday victory. LeBron is widely regarded as the best active basketball player on the planet. Tiger has been, even in the midst of his moral failures and his health issues and the retooling of his swing, still considered among the best golfers in the world. Dale Jr. has the monkey off his back and after last night’s victory the same looks possible for LeBron. And I’m sure another major championship could come to Tiger in the near future.

Nevertheless, what does it say about us that we regard men who are better than 99.9% of the world at what they do as “chokers” because they don’t win championships? Do we have an unrealistic view of success? Does this view trickle down into our lives to breeding in us a deep discontent?

I believe the answer to both of those questions is “Yes.” We do have an unrealistic view of success, probably nurtured by too many corny TV movies and self-help books and “reach for the stars” pipe dreams. We also let this unrealistic view of success rob us of much joy in our lives, as we focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do have. We get the idea that success is found in perfect achievement rather than persevering faithfulness. So we are always chasing the brass ring of beauty or victory or wealth or fame. A woman who is perfectly beautiful in every way obsesses over her nose being too long. A man who is a blessing to his family becomes bitter when he is passed over for a promotion at work. A child goes into dance or football or singing or tennis thinking they will be a star, constantly puffed up by their parent’s cheers, only to fail or to achieve a certain measure of success, but never perfect success. And once again, discontent sets into the heart.

Paul gives us the solution for the perversion of success in Philippians chapter 4, when he writes: Philippians 4:11  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Now notice, contentment did not cause Paul to be a do-nothing loser. Paul accomplished great things by the grace of God in his ministry. Contentment fueled his success and fortified him in failure. When churches he worked in walked away from God, Paul didn’t walk away from God. When Paul was arrested, he did not cower but willingly stood for Jesus. Our lives can be like his when we get off the success treadmill and seek to walk in faithfulness in the place God has given us for this season of our life.

Just to bring this full circle, this is why I love baseball. I love baseball, not because it is an escape from reality but because it is a window into reality. The gold standard of batting is a .400 batting average. Ted Williams was the last to do it, over 70 years ago. But notice that number, .400. That means a batter gets a hit in 40% of his at bats. Forty percent. That means he fails to get a hit 60% of the time. Most players hit far less than .400. Nolan Ryan pitched 7 no-hitters, an all-time record. But he started 773 games and pitched over 5300 innings in his career. So the no-hitters, for all their glory, happened in less than 1% of his career starts.  Most pitchers who wear a big league uniform never pitch a no-hitter. Every baseball game is the story of effort and failure and dozens of little good things and an occasional spectacular success. Just like life.

It is not failure to fail. Failure comes when we fear failure so much that we don’t try.  Success in God’s eyes is faithful effort dedicated to His glory. Be a success this week by aiming at faith-filled, Spirit empowered effort and leave the results in God’s hands.

One Response to “Dale Jr., LeBron, Tiger and Success”

  1. Jill Kight June 18, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

    Great article, Scott. It seems to have begun in the sixties, this idea that everyone is a winner. Instead of building confidence, I think we created a world where it is not enough to do a job well – we must be a star in our field. A good dose of our own insignificance would teach us to look to God for our sufficiency. And make us fit for serving others.

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