True signs of mature athletes is there ability to play well while they are away from their home turf. Especially when they are going into "hostile" environments, such as LSU's Tiger Stadium or the Oakland Raiders' stadium or Duke's student section in college basketball. And if you missed the sports reference, you'll understand it by the end---I promise.
And it's always beautiful to watch those mature athletes like Cam Newton who makes a big play that quiets the entire stadium, and they taunt with a hand over their mouth or a finger to their lips to rub it in. Too bad I haven't been that guy.
Coaches dream of their teams reaching a maturity where they can win road games. It's a known fact that a team has to be good on the road to win championships. But what area are they expected to be maturing in? It's actually quite simple, "Still playing well even when facing adversity."
Let me explain why playing at home is so easy. Everyone in the stadium believes in you. If they didn't they wouldn't even be there. When you're at home, the fan base is for you. They're on your side. Their presence alone is encouraging. And especially when they start to cheer for you when you take the field, that's encouraging. Momentum is easier to manage because you have so many people excited when you do even the smallest thing well. You get a first down, people scream. You make a decent play, people cheer. You score a touchdown, the entire crowd erupts and there's a celebration. It's easy to keep your emotions on a high level when playing at home when you have all this excitement and encouragement backing you up and pushing you forward.
But when the team becomes the Away Team. When they go into the hostile environments, the expectations alone are beginning to weigh on the players. The anticipation before the game is intense, but the butterflies doesn't get stirred up until you leave home heading to the opposing city. It doesn't feel much different until you're doing the same thing you've done in your home stadium, but this time there's boos....or even silence. You run out on the field, normally cheers from the crowd when they see the team you're representing stitched on your jersey. But now, sneers and bad blood is present for that same stitching. The same play you ran that got great yardage on your home field, gets you boos this game. And when you score, no one cheers. Rather, you hear a deflation of everyone around you, disappointed in you for doing something you thought you did well. And when there's no momentum, how do you recover from the adversity? How do you continue to play well even when everything is working against you? The opposing team, the fans, all are out to be sure you do not succeed in what you've come to do. The coach calls a time out because he sees your body language. He can tell his team is getting worn out by the hostile environment. Nothing is going their way. And its frustrating when people are nagging it on. The team huddles around the coach, tirelessly hoping that he has something uplifting to say. The coach looks at his team and he says one sentence.
"Play your game."
In that one sentence, your heartbeat starts to thump again. In that one sentence, air is breathed back into your lungs. In that one sentence, you run back out onto that field or court and you focus on that one thing, "playing your game." But what does it mean to play your game?
Paul in the New Testament was remarkable at playing his game. When Paul arrived in Jerusalem, he was met with some hostile opponents who eventually had him arrested and thrown in jail. Paul was passionate about sharing the Good News of Jesus and establishing churches, so of course being arrested could be considered a wrinkle in his plans. But as we can see in our New Testament being mostly written by Paul, Paul didn't let that stop him. He played his game. He continue to share the Good News with the prisoners and the guards and he wrote letters to churches that we're reading today. Paul was a mature "athlete" of the Gospel because he continued to play well even when facing adversity. He was so confident in who God made him and what He had called him to that nothing could slow him down. Not fourth and long. Not down by 15 with 5 minutes left to go in the half. Not an injured star player. Paul continued to play well---he continued to play his game.
Now, I'm not saying Oxford is similar to prison. Lol. It's seriously not that bad at all. However, it was not in my plans to be here this long. Just as Paul didn't plan to be sitting in a jail, I didn't plan on sitting in my old room looking for jobs. But for some reason God moved in His sovereignty to get us to consider His plan (imagine that). And since I've been back in Oxford I've had my share of difficulties, but have been internal. If you're a reader of my blog, you've heard of them. But there's this deep cry within my soul that is begging for more. There's a God breathed vision and gift that is itching to be released, talent beyond what I can see. Movements beyond my control. It was easy to tap into those things when I was the Home Team. Hundreds of people encouraging you. Hundreds of people believing in you. Hundreds of people responding to every good play you make and now.....I'm the Away Team. The locker room is unfamiliar and the fan base is different and rooting for a different team. All I have is the coach yelling from the sidelines, "Claude, play your game!"
So as we break from this huddle, remember one thing. It does not matter where you are. Be confident in who you are. And play your game.