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What UConn basketball teaches me about Jesus

April 5, 2011 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

I am a huge UConn basketball fan. I attended UConn many years ago, and during my time as a student, I attended every home game, often waiting in line for hours in order to be as close as possible to the court. This past Monday night culminated a few months of great excitement as the UConn men won the national championship. Having followed the team for years, I was amazed that they pulled it off – after all, they weren’t even picked to make the NCAA tournament in most preseason publications, let alone compete for the title. But under the leadership of Jim Calhoun, and guided by the play of Kemba Walker and his supporting cast, they shocked even this diehard fan.

But this is not an article about basketball. My experience with UConn basketball over the last 24 hours was a reminder of something fundamental about our faith that I would like to share with you. Upon watching UConn win the national championship, these were my natural reactions:

(1) I wanted to praise the ones who brought me such joy. I found myself wanting to thank Jim Calhoun, hug Kemba Walker, and write notes of thanksgiving to every player who chose to come to UConn and gave their all so that the team could win the championship.

(2) I wanted to share the championship experience with others who feel the same way I do. I wanted to talk about the season with other UConn fans, recount the great moments from the past year, and watch the highlights with them again and again.

(3) I wanted to tell the world about how great UConn is, and convince them to become fans themselves. Especially my children (lest they grow up and become – God forbid – Duke fans).
In other words, experiencing such joy leads me to want to praise and worship the ones who brought me such joy; to fellowship with others who dared to put their faith in UConn; and to evangelize those who have not yet been converted to becoming fans of the team.

Notice, if you will, that none of this is forced. UConn did not train me in how to convert others to become fans of UConn. They did not hold workshops on how to enjoy a basketball game. And they did not set up artificial settings in which I could gather with other fans and enjoy the game. No – all of those desires arose spontaneously out of my enjoyment of UConn basketball. And so it is with all things that we truly enjoy.

I am not the first to notice this reality. Consider the much more eloquent words of C.S. Lewis from his book, Reflections on the Psalms:

But the most obvious fact about praise – whether of God or anything – strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise – lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game – praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians of scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least…

I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about.

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.

I love that last paragraph. I tell my wife that I love her because my delight in her wells up until I can not contain it, and must speak it. It is meant to be the same with God.

I hope my point is clear. Our greatest need as followers of Jesus is not for evangelism training, or to create opportunities for fellowship, or to teach people how to worship. Our greatest need is to be captivated by the beauty and majesty of our God. To enjoy Him. To marvel at who He is and what He has done. To try to comprehend how much He loves you, how much He delights in you, how full of grace and mercy He is. To be honest about who you are, and what He has rescued you from. To consider the eternal bliss that awaits you. Get a hold of that… and the pull to worship, the longing for fellowship, and the desire to evangelize will well up within you until it overflows joyfully and authentically.

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