There were only 6.6 seconds left on the clock. The Duke Blue Devils had, in dramatic fashion, bounced back from a 15-point deficit at the end of regulation. I know pastors aren’t supposed to pull for devils, but we all have weaknesses. Duke hadn’t beat Carolina at the Smith center since 2016. The Bible says there is pleasure in sin for a season. I was hoping this would be our season. The score was 96 -95 in Carolinas favor, and Tre Jones was going to the line to shoot two. He made the first shot, tying the game 96 all. Nervous didn’t even begin to describe how I felt. Everything was riding on the next shot.
Honestly the Heels deserved to win the game. They had played better, harder, and smarter almost the whole game. Even if Jones made the second free-throw, I was well aware a lot could happen in six seconds. My stomach was in knots as I scooted to the edge of the couch waiting to see the outcome of the final play. Then something occurred to me, something I knew, yet was somehow overlooking, I had no reason to be nervous. I knew how the game ended!
My wife and I had gone out to eat with our families for her birthday that evening. The fact that I would miss the biggest game of the season wasn’t a big deal, because I could always record it. As soon as we arrived back at home, I grabbed the remote, jumped on the couch, and pressed play all in one smooth sweeping motion. In the first few minutes of the game, I was painfully aware that things weren’t looking good for the Devils. I looked at the time left on the recording and instinctively knew this one was going into overtime. Then, I impulsively did something I try to never do. I looked ahead at the final score. The headline read, “Carolina falls to Duke 96-98 in crushing overtime defeat.”
As the game was winding down, I literally breathed a sigh of relief and sat back to watch the epic last few seconds. The final few minutes of that game will go down as one of the all-time rivalry matchups between Duke and Carolina, but I got something more than just the pleasure of the win that night. I learned a valuable spiritual lesson. No matter how bad it looked, it didn’t change the fact that the final score had already been posted and my team had won. Knowing the final score freed me from the anxiety of wondering how the game ended.
Of course, there is an unmistakable parallel here. Listen to what James said in his letter to the early church.
You also be patient. Establish your hearts,
for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
The word establish means to stabilize. James was telling the suffering church, though things may look bad, Jesus is coming and when does, we win. Now, stabilize yourself with that truth. God’s kindness has been made evident to us in many ways, one way being His revelation of how the game ends. He hasn’t left us reason to fret about the final score. Over and over throughout scripture, He hit fast forward and showed us how the game ends. We know the game is fixed and we can’t lose. If He controls our destinies, there is no valid excuse for allowing that nagging nervousness to dictate our lives.
Knowing the final score shouldn’t cause us to lose interest in the game. Rather, it should be a catalyst to make us consider how we play our remaining minutes. Knowing the final score, there are three encouragements I want to leave you with.
Give it all you’ve got.
If we know we win in the end, there may be a temptation for some to coast through the final seconds. I encourage you, don’t waste your minutes running out the clock when you could be running up the score. You see, stats matter. According to the scriptures, we will not be rewarded because we were on the court. We will be rewarded based on how we played the game. Please don’t misunderstand me; our goal is not applause from the stands. Our goal is a “well done” from the coach. I encourage you to allow the promise of his smile to be the motivation for how you play the game. Don’t just play to finish, play to win.
Be foul conscious.
Just because our team is ahead doesn’t mean we can’t foul out. Consider how embarrassing and even ridiculous it would be to earn a technical with seconds left on the clock. Knowing the game is already won, don’t play dirty. Be careful to represent your team with integrity. Play with an awareness that flagrant conduct will not be tolerated. There is wisdom in developing a healthy fear of being benched. None of us are above fouling out. In Mark 13 after instructing His disciples about the events of the end times Jesus said, “But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.” Knowing how the game ends, don’t just guard the ball, guard yourself. Memorize the regulations and play by the rule book lest you miss out on the joy of participation in the final play.
Enjoy the game
Since we know the final score, we don’t have to fret about the buzzer. We’re up, and we will never be down again. Darkness will not be able to mount a comeback. There will be no surprise last-second buzzer-beaters. When God showed us the final score, there was no error in the replay. We really will win in the end. That said, enjoy the rest of the game. Celebrate every good play, learn from your turnovers, cheer on your team, and enjoy your minutes on the court. Our name is already on the trophy, Heaven’s band is standing ready to play our fight song, the saints are about to storm the court. The pressure is off, enjoy the game!
-Pastor Ben Webb