The Game Before the Game
While cleaning out a closet in our house recently, my wife and I stumbled upon a collection of my old sermon notes from when I first began preaching. In the earliest of days I would actually pace around and record the message into a little hand-held tape recorder and play it back so I could hear how it was going to sound, and then sometimes if I didn’t like it, the process would start all over again. Looking at those old materials, I was instantly transported back sixteen years in time to the days where I would get physically sick before taking the stage. I relate to Eminem who is puking in the bathroom of the club before his first hip-hop battle in 8 Mile. It wasn’t my mother’s spaghetti (I could never preach with something that heavy and rich in my stomach) but I would almost always end up dry-heaving before speaking, and it went on like that for a year or so. I would feel shaky, light-headed, and absolutely terrified that I would go blank as I tried to remember the key points of my message. I usually felt better after throwing up and I always felt instantly fine the moment I took the stage. All the jitters would dissipate and I would be a duck in water doing what I was born to do, it was just agony to get there. Here’s the deal. The bridge between all that practice and the performance is the pre-game routine. The same is true in nearly every endeavor. You have to win the war inside before you can win the war outside.
Now, I will never speak without going through an important ritual. It involves being on my knees in prayer and admitting my weaknesses so that I can enter into Christ’s strength. Some things I have integrated into my preparation have come from athletics.
The best athletes know how to quiet themselves as they get ready to compete. The Brazilian Pele is considered the greatest soccer player of all time. In his book “Mental Gym” Gary Mack interviewed Pele about his game before the game ritual. He would go into the locker room and grab, not a soccer ball, but a couple of pillows. He would go lie down somewhere all by himself. He would put a pillow under his head and a pillow on his face. This is so weird, but it gets better. He said he would go back to his childhood in his mind and imagine himself playing soccer on the beach, because that’s where he first started to love the game. He wasn’t playing for money, he was just playing because he loved the sport. Then he would flash forward and start to remember the highlight reel of his career. He would picture the best moments when he had performed exactly like he had wanted to. After watching all of these great moments in his career, he would flash forward now to what he had come to do, the reason he was in the stadium he was in. And he would then begin to think about the way he wanted to play and he would actually feel himself watching himself in the movie theater of his mind doing what he had come to do. Then he would get up, join his team, do some stretching, and he was ready to enter the stadium as an unstoppable force. He would be cool and calm—he’d already watched himself win, now all that was left was to do it.
When I read this, I immediately thought of something Peter said. He wrote, “So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control.”
I see this in Moses. Moses knew what he was supposed to do. Make a nation out of slaves, unite the clans, bring God’s people into the promised land. But he wasn’t winging it. He was given the steps: stick to snake, hand to leprosy, water to blood, and he did this twice before he got to Pharoah’s court on game day. He prepared his mind for action and made sure it was locked in.
When it comes to unpacking what God has put inside of you, we can’t overlook preparation. What if instead of referring to your time with Jesus in the morning as “quiet time” we just referred to it as getting your game face on. Take a pause, take a breath, hear from God, spend time in His word, let His truth wash over you.
No matter what is in front of you today, be it a stadium full of people you will be performing in front of, a rocket launch to Mars, a classroom of students you will be speaking to, or a toddler you will be parenting, this much is true: You’re not ready to face the game until you’re ready to put on your game face.
Questions to ask yourself:
- What things should I remove from morning routine to start my day strong? What things should I add?
- What is something God has put inside of me that I might be hindering from coming out by not preparing my mind for action?
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.1 Peter 1:13 NIV
Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”
Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. The Lord said, “Throw it on the ground.” Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it.
Then the Lord said to him, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. “This,” said the Lord, “is so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has appeared to you.”
Then the Lord said, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, the skin was leprous—it had become as white as snow.
“Now put it back into your cloak,” he said. So Moses put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like the rest of his flesh.
Then the Lord said, “If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first sign, they may believe the second. But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground.” Exodus 4:1-9