This story appears in FCA Magazine’s May/June 2017 issue. Subscribe today!
Doesn’t it seem like the emphasis has shifted to self rather than sacrifice? Empty of mercy, full of “me?”
We see it in the chest pounding, the pointing to the name on the back of the jersey, the pump-up-the-crowd moments even when they’re already at deafening levels.
In the quest to one-up the competition and rise to the top no matter the cost, competitors risk losing all sight of humility in the glare of the spotlight. And when success or championships come, they can quickly yet subtly shift perspectives, letting God slip to the wayside as they run up and down the court of their own lives.
Yet Christ’s living example dispels this notion. In His Kingdom, front and center does not mean first.
It’s an upside-down way of living, but what does it truly mean to sweep away pride? How do we stay diligent and aware of our tendency to pull away from God’s lead?
It is such an abstract thought that layers much of life, but perhaps two anecdotes will help. They’re stories of God steering hearts away from self-indulgence, back to a more humble point of view, letting Him hold the reins.
• • •
On a whim, Nick Doan signed up to run in a track meet his sophomore year at Great Oak High School in Temecula, California. In his first race, he had to borrow a pair of track spikes. He missed qualifying for state by 0.3 seconds.
It was there that Doan discovered he could run. Really well.
What followed over the next few years was a journey of finding freedom, transforming from a self-serving, socially awkward adolescent facing spiritual struggles to a gently confident college athlete giving every step to God.
But it wasn’t a smooth ride.
As Doan slashed through times even seasoned veterans took years to achieve, the running world took notice. By the time he was a junior in high school, he soon found that people knew his name. Invitations to elite meets, interviews with top track websites, and an inner drive to become the best began to be the norm.
He was enjoying his newfound popularity.
“I had never experienced people loving me or liking me for an ability that I had,” he said.
In the beginning, he kept God at the forefront of his running and entered cross country season with that mindset. But as the weeks went on and Doan’s split times continued to diminish, so did his dedication to God. By the time track season rolled around, when asked about his running, Doan’s dialogue drifted to his accomplishments, his work ethic, his works. The only thing said about God was that he liked to go to church.
Pride continued to penetrate his spirit, and soon he took this self-sufficient attitude into everyday life, right back to where the past spiritual struggles he’d worked to overcome remained. Like his solo running career, Doan believed he could overcome temptations on his own, so he shifted God to the passenger seat.
Shouldering all these burdens alone significantly slowed his running, but Doan pressed on. As a senior, his cross country team won state. Also a soccer player, his final season was curtailed when he began to experience an incredible pain in his foot. An MRI showed a broken second metatarsal. Doan was done with everything for five months. For a runner, that’s practically a lifetime.
During this time, Doan met Southwest Riverside County FCA Area Representative Phils Sabordo and began attending the campus Huddle. Joining in on their beach days, Doan discovered a tender understanding of Christ beginning to replace his old pride and self-centeredness.
“I grew in my faith more in those five months than I did in the three years I was a Christian,” he said. “The only thing I could do was sit around and praise God.”
Doan discovered one of the best, most humbling experiences of his life. It was in this time that God began to reassemble his brokenness. Unable to lean on his athletic accomplishments or find comfort in the applause of people, his heart broke open, and only then could God reenter the spotlight.
This renewed passion for Christ now leads him as a sophomore at Liberty University. He’s competing again, but this time with a different purpose: “I’m not running for myself anymore; I’m running for God.”
“The only thing I could do was sit around and praise God.”
Oftentimes, it’s in an absolute state of depletion that God does His best refinement. In Doan’s case, it took a literal physical and spiritual breaking to become whole.
“Once we begin to find that the only things that matter in life are pleasing God and having a relationship with Him,” he said, “we begin to see drastic changes in our lives.”
• • •
Boston College High School defensive line coach Jack Travers used to say he “coached for the kids.” But an honest look at his true motives revealed it was less about them and more about recognition and praise for his “good coaching” with an emphasis on “me.”
When Travers recognized the significance of Christ and the magnitude of His personal involvement in all aspects of life, everything shifted. His relationship with Jesus helped change his perspective and bring the bigger picture into focus. Beginning with the Apostle Paul’s encouragement to be humble and gentle in Ephesians 4, Travers set out to live the truth of the cross again and again.
“I go back to that moment of realization that Christ died for me, and wow,” he said. “If that’s not humbling, I don’t know what is.”
Travers began to ask deep questions about his purpose, wondering about the why behind coaching and teaching, and started weaving Christ into his daily roles and routines. Through digging into the Word and spending time in prayer, God transformed his heart, and he now genuinely makes it “all about the kids” when he steps onto the field or into his classroom–including in his role as an FCA Huddle Sponsor at the school.
Acknowledging the grace available through Christ’s humble submission to His Father can allow the most prideful mentality to merge into grace. Humility is bending beneath the weight of others, sharing a similar lens to find faces transformed into the likeness of Christ’s, and a liberating freedom to operate out of selfless motivation.
As Travers said, “I no longer coach for myself, but for the greater glory of God to help build the Kingdom.”
• • •
Spirit realignment may come through inconvenience, but in God’s eyes, our experiences and the timing of it all is always right. He brings an eternal perspective to the here and now.
Romans 5 reveals that suffering produces a chain reaction of perseverance, character and hope. Placing priority on others and stepping out of the spotlight runs counter to what is considered the norm. For Doan and Travers, the core of it comes from encountering Jesus in a real way, revealing the unfathomable lengths He went to when leaving His throne and power in Heaven to come save and serve.
As we let God lead us in our weakness, in our surrender of higher position, power and authority, His strength gives us an opportunity to glorify Him in all our athletic and personal endeavors. We search for Him through the wider lens of love. Not for the booming crowds cheering our name, but for the privilege of His presence alone.
CHECK OUT THE FCA MAGAZINE “HUMILITY” READING PLAN
Download the YouVersion Bible app or visit YouVersion.com and search “FCA” to find and begin the five-day plan. Invite a teammate to join you on the journey, or make it a team challenge. Whatever the case, use it to humbly seek the Lord!
Day 1: Walk Humbly with God
Day 2: A Harnessed Power
Day 3: Put on Humility
Day 4: Putting Pride Aside
Day 5: Fully Known, Wholly Surrendered
To download our new FCA Magazine Reading Plan: Humility on YouVersion, click here.