“But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” — Philippians 1:18
This year’s women’s basketball NCAA Tournament was not only one of the most competitive in recent history, but one of the most popular too. Women’s basketball took a huge leap as we were introduced to a new, up-and-coming crop of young female players. One of the stars was Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith.
Reporters were clamoring to get a sound bite from this fiery and talented guard. They were probably ready for an impassioned answer after her team was eliminated from the tournament, as Hailey was asked about being named honorable mention in the national awards and not on the All-American first or second teams. But what reporters got was a theological truth every athlete can glean from.
“I’m not motivated by external factors,” she said. “I’m motivated by myself and I always have been. If we would’ve won the national championship this year, I would’ve had the same amount of motivation. That’s just who I am. I’m not motivated at all by the fact they named me honorable mention. I know who I am, and I know what God thinks I am, and God doesn’t think I’m honorable mention, I’ll tell you that right now. I don’t need external motivation, I’m internally motivated.”
On the surface it seems like a very solid answer from someone who acknowledges God, but her perspective toward this foundational truth is not only impressive, it’s life-changing for many of us. An athlete doesn’t need to compete on the largest stage to feel the temptation to put their identity in their performance. If we were honest, we ingrain this thinking into athletes at the little-league level. If a boy or girl scores a goal during a game, Mom and Dad jump up and down, and if the team wins there is a huge celebration and a probable trip to the ice cream parlor. But if they strike out every at-bat and the team loses, there may be the typical “I love you, it was fun watching you play, you’ll get ‘em next time” affirmation. But typically there isn’t the same kind of celebration or chocolate ice cream cone on the way home.
There is something about sports that deceitfully positions itself on the throne of our lives and impacts our identity. This is why Hailey’s comment is so fantastic. She eloquently declares that her identity is not in what others say, how others vote, or even how she plays. Her identity is placed somewhere else — and the key word is “placed.”
We find this principle at work in the apostle Paul’s life. In his letter to the Philippian believers, he finds himself in prison, yet the letter he writes is full of joy and encouragement. What would propel a man to encourage others to be full of joy when he finds himself imprisoned by the most ruthless empire to rule the world? The answer is found in the first chapter.
Paul was not only in prison, he was sentenced to die by the decree of the emperor. While he’s locked up, various false prophets started to criticize Paul’s ministry back in Philippi and start preaching on their own. But Paul addresses the reality of him being in prison and shares incredible perspective on his circumstance: ”But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).
Can you imagine how frustrating of a prisoner Paul must have been to Rome? Paul sees himself in a win-win situation, while Rome is in a lose-lose situation.
Look to Paul and his example. Listen to Hailey and her conviction. Know that your sport or career is a great activity, but it’s a horrible identity.
— Reza Zadeh, Denver Broncos chaplain
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