As our weather finally warms up – Spring was long in coming for us this year in central Illinois – I’m looking forward to playing more golf than I have in the past several years. I’ve often thought of how a game of golf is like the Christian life.
I used to play a lot of golf by myself. With a season’s pass, in the summer after dinner I would frequently head around the corner to the local course to get in as many holes as possible before dark, hopefully 9. Stepping to the first tee, there was excitement and optimism, kind of like we felt as a new believer. Back then, everything was fresh and new as we read our bibles, prayed, and devoured Christian books and sermons. As I stood on the first tee I knew I was in for a journey. Over the course of the 9 holes my emotions would ebb and flow depending how I was playing.
I remember far too clearly playing these same first few holes many years ago in college, back before I was a believer. I sliced the ball a good deal. Oh yes, and since I play left-handed, there is out of bounds on the left side the first three holes. Back then I’m sad to admit that I had quite the temper. More times than I would like to recall, I walked back to the clubhouse – sometimes after throwing my driver in the cornfield after a drive sailed out of bounds on one of these opening holes. And once as a teenager, I broke an entire set of golf clubs while on vacation with my family… but that’s a story for another time.
So, as I played that first hole I begin my journey. Perhaps I would start out poorly, with a double-bogey, or worse. Think of that as your Christian life. A bad hole is like sin. We didn’t want that to happen, but it did. Emotionally we are upset, but there is no time to rest. What’s done is done, we can’t change it. You’ve got to calm yourself to tee it up on that second hole. In the Christian life we need to confess and repent of our sin, and then move on.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
Sometimes you’ll be reminded of past sins, and they can lead you off course – Satan is definitely an accuser and will bring them to mind. So here’s Satan sitting on my shoulder… “Oh, you’re on the first tee – remember how you’ve lost your temper so many times on this hole and are off in the cornfield? Just quit and walk off the course.” Just remember Revelation 12:10: “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.”
Over the course of the next few hours, you proceed around the golf course (and in life), having successes, such as a good hole, or growth in our Christian life, or failure/falling into sin – hitting the ball out of bounds, three-putting or hitting the ball in a pond. Neither golf, nor life, will ever be all good or bad. But we must persevere, pray and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit. Maybe even find joy in the journey! Although John Feinstein (a golf author) called the game of golf ‘a good walk spoiled’.
Doesn’t it seem like you’ll be cruising along, hitting the ball exactly where you want it, and then all of a sudden your game falls apart and you’re wondering what in the world happened? Same as in the Christian life – being on the mountaintop can quickly lead to being humbled and off in the rough once again. Remember the prophet Elijah? Here was a man who was able to call down fire from heaven to prove Yahweh’s preeminence (1 Kings 18:1–40). But when the Lord seemed to leave him all alone while Jezebel sought his death, Elijah could only flee to a cave and complain that God had not been with him to bless his ministry and keep him safe (19:1–10).
Golf also requires you to be a person of integrity and character. Character can be defined as doing the right thing when no one else is looking (I know, God is always watching – hence the Latin phrase Coram Deo!) Temptation to make yourself and your scorecard look good is always riding along with you in the cart. “Oh, just take a mulligan.” In the woods? Use that foot wedge or drop that extra ball in your pocket and give yourself a clear shot. Being a good loser and a humble winner is important – knowing you played your best and counted every stroke.
There’s even lessons about showing courtesy to others – let others play through if you’re playing slowly, don’t step on other players’ putting paths, take turns, etc. The game of golf can be a delight or a drag – it can tempt you to vent your frustrations (a nice way of saying swearing or throwing your clubs).
Billy Graham said golf (and life) is a game about recovery. It’s not about the man who doesn’t make mistakes, but has the courage and skill to overcome his errors. Recently at the Masters a player had a shot onto the green that could tie him with the leader. Instead he put it in the water and it cost him a number of strokes; not just on that hole, but on the remaining holes. He couldn’t take his thoughts ‘captive’, (2 Corinthians 10:5), and he allowed his failure to get him off track. It takes maturity, concentration and discipline to make a double bogey and then birdie the next few holes. The Christian life is not about shooting a perfect par on every hole. Have you lost your temper with your wife? Take her by the hand and ask for her forgiveness and continue your walk together.
So dear ones, be encouraged, and keep persevering and pressing on in your Christian life. In theological terms, this is called progressive sanctification.
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:14
Do you have any more examples of how the game of golf is like the Christian life? Please share your thoughts. As I’ve learned from the book Pilgrim’s Progress, playing through this game of life is easier when you have friends walking beside you to help in your Christian journey.