Playing The Back Nine

Have you ever stepped out on to a dew covered grass and felt a freshness you could taste, a cleanliness you could see, and experienced an early morning exhilaration which coffee can only pale in comparison? Have you ever stood between two blue rocks on the top of a hill covered in neatly trimmed grass, looking out over a vast expanse of steam rising above a carpet of living green? If you haven’t, then I highly recommend playing the back nine holes at your local golf course the next early morning you have free. It is an experience you won’t soon forget and most courses have a reduced rate for early morning tee times. But most of all, it is the views and the inspiration which can change your life!

This summer I dug my bag out of storage, dusted off my driver, and decided to try and find my golf game. I want to conquer the monster “shank” which, in the past, had chased me off the course feeling defeated and leaving me frustrated. I felt that it was time to commit myself to this game and really give it the time and attention it required to make a difference. Golf is funny that way, you can play at it for a long time without making any kind of commitment, you may even hit a few good drives or have a great time with the boys, but you never get good at it. See that’s the problem. You can feel all the peace and excitement I described above in just a few short hours early in the morning and then head off to work, leaving the game behind and forgetting about it until the next time you venture out. But you never get good at it. There always seems to be this elusive feeling that you are missing something, you are falling short of all you could be. While playing the back nine makes you feel good, the feeling also fades quickly. Life takes over and soon the peace you found on the course disappears and the realty of life sets in.

As I stood in the tee box of hole #9 I looked back and was struck by the view I had of the city. There it was, all spread out before me. Life was waiting while I was playing the back nine. It was merely 6:45 in the morning and the city was shrouded in a heavy haze, yet the busyness had already started and I knew I would soon have to finish and head off to work. There was only one thought that comforted me. I had already committed to this game. Playing the back nine was not merely “playing the back nine” for me anymore! I now played the back nine to prepare for eighteen. When I left the course I was not losing the peace but taking it with me and carrying it into everything I did throughout the day and into my preparation for a full game. No longer was golf something I did once a month or once a year but a weekly occurrence of joy and dedication which I pray transforms into a lifestyle

Now many of you may laugh at the thought of a “lifestyle” of golf or think that I have taken my love of this game to an extreme obsession. You would be wrong. I don’t walk around in a golf shirt with knee high socks and have little golfers on everything I own. In fact, if you walked into my home you may never know I golf, yet in talking with me you will sooner or later find out that I play the game. You will not find me to be a fanatic but one who has dedicated to that which he loves. This also plays out in the rest of my life with all that I love.

Looking at the city that morning I was also struck by another reality. Upon looking closer, deeper though the haze, there were two buildings which stuck out to me. Churches! There were two big churches standing above everything else. Then it hit me. Playing golf was like being a Christian! How many people had I played the back nine with who where only “playing” the back nine? They came for their morning fix and then went off about their day, week, or even year. It was the same with church. People seem to come on Sunday morning for a few hours which make them feel at peace, good about themselves, and then go out into the world, forgetting about where they have just been. There is no commitment, no change. Their lives, the game they play, have not been transformed. They have not improved in the least and yet they go about their day telling everyone they play golf/ go to church. You may look around their homes and find crosses on every wall and bibles on the book shelve but as you talk with them you may find yourself questing what you see.

For many, playing the back nine or going to church requires no commitment because they are not serious about the game. They are not seeking life transformation or the skills one needs to grow in the game. They are merely seeking the morning buzz, a good time with the boys, and the recognition they receive from their association with such an entity.

The burden then falls upon us, those who have made the commitment to grow in the game, to guide others to such an outcome. It is the true “players” who seem to be the silent minority yet have the only message of hope and peace worth hearing. It is not through what we flash on the outside which is going to lead people to a commitment but that which we possess on the inside. I do not dream of golfing because of the knee high socks and uptight looking shirts I could wear but because of the personal satisfaction I get from playing the game and playing it well. In fact, those knee high sock make me think twice about playing, however, after getting over the ridiculous image of some, I find the game quite worth the effort. It is the same with church. It is not about what we see from other people which leads us, but the personal relationship with God which we find once we commit. Often it is the image some Christians portray which holds people back from committing and that is a shame.

So here I am sharing with you my love of golf and I can’t help but be lead into thinking about the church and being a Christian. It is not my love and commitment to golf that makes me more committed to being a Christian. Just the opposite! Because of my love and commitment to God and the church I am able to commit to things as trivial as golf and as important as being a good husband. Hardy Greaves says, “God is happiest when His children are at play.” Not when they are just wasting time, but truly committed and playing the game.

But we must remember that as with golf it is also true with the Christian life. We cannot win the game! As Bagger Vance said, “It’s the game that can’t be won, only played. So I play. I play on. I play for the moments yet to come. Looking for my place in the field.” In golf we strive to get better for personal satisfaction. In the Christian life the game has already been won by Jesus Christ. What is left up to us is how we play the game, where we are in the field and by whose strength we play.

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