One of my favorite pastimes here in Florida is playing golf. I find that I truly love the game and enjoy playing it as much as possible. When we moved to Florida almost six years ago, I was looking forward to playing more golf than I did in Ohio. But what I did not expect was that my bride of 49 years would eagerly take up the game and enjoy it even more than I do. In fact, she has enjoyed golf so much and has excelled in playing the game so well that she has now to her credit seven – count ‘em — seven holes-in-one!
We have a neighbor who has a T-shirt with four slogans on it. On the first line – “I HATE GOLF!” On the second line: “I HATE GOLF!” On the third line: “I MADE A GOOD SHOT!” And on the bottom line: “I LOVE GOLF!” That T-shirt so describes the way the game is for most golfers. Give them a good shot at the end of a round of many bad shots, and they will come back tomorrow for more.
As someone once said, a bad day playing golf (or even a good day playing golf badly) is better than even the best of days doing almost anything else. I have discovered that it is a joy to play whenever I play, even though I may play terribly. The irony of playing golf is that on one hole you can play brilliantly, and on the next hole it is almost like you have never played the game before. That has happened to me before. On one hole I hit the ball in a sand trap and took four shots to get out (that’s bad). On the very next hole I sunk a long putt for a birdie (one under par – that’s good). Then on the third hole, I scored a triple bogey (that’s bad). On more than one occasion, I find myself turning to my playing partners and proclaiming, “I know what to do! It is just the doing of it that is so difficult.”
Once, when General Ulysses S. Grant was visiting Scotland, his host gave him a demonstration of a game called golf. Carefully, the host placed the ball on the tee and took a mighty swing, sending chunks of turf flying but not touching the ball. The general watched the exhibition quietly. But after the sixth determined but unsuccessful attempt, General Grant commented to his embarrassed host that, “There seems to be a fair amount of exercise in the game, but I fail to see the purpose of the ball.” As the caption on another T-shirt reads: “Been There. Done That!”
You know, golf is a lot like life, and particularly the life of the true follower of Christ. We know what to do, but the doing of it is what is so hard. We somehow think that if we take the right swings at life, our “game” ought to be of championship quality and our “score” should be a winning ticket. When it does not turn out that way, often we just simply give up and go on living our lives knowing what to do, but not caring and figuring that God will forgive us, so why bother?
I am convinced that the majority of people mean well and have good intentions as they walk their Christian walk. They go to church, give money and time and talent to a variety of Christian ministry projects. But to say that they are truly executing the Christian life, well, no, not really. They are just going through the motions. They know what to do, but putting feet to their knowledge is something they just never have done.
But in order to be good at the game of golf, you cannot play only once a week. It takes practice, and lots of it. Over the years I have had the privilege of attending several professional golf tournaments, usually on practice days. As a golf enthusiast, those days for me are the best times to go to tournaments simply because the pros and their caddies are friendlier, less serious, and more willing to talk with the fans informally.
I specifically remember one tournament and one golfer who impressed me tremendously. His name was Walt. When I arrived at the course on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. I first saw Walt on the driving range. He spent about an hour just hitting balls with one or two of his clubs. When I left that night, Walt was still on the course, walking through each of the holes on the course with his caddie and marking specific yardages down in a book in preparation for the tournament on Thursday. Walt had been out on the course diligently practicing all day and was not done when I finally decided to go home.
I only wish Christ-followers were as dedicated to following Christ as Walt was to excelling at the game of golf. When the Apostle Paul said, “To me to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21) and “…I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27), he was emphasizing the importance of practicing the Christian life.
You know, I don’t practice golf the way I should. I guess that is why, when I play for real, I get a birdie on one hole and a triple bogey on another. Golf though is only a game. Life is another story. I want to do well in life, and to accomplish that I must practice and develop discipline. That involves regular Bible Study and prayer and worship and giving and all sorts of other spiritual practices that honor God.
Don’t you want to hit the ball straight in life? Well, then… practice.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor who now resides in Florida. He can be reached at [email protected]