It takes balls to golf the way I do-lots of them! When often asked what my handicap is, without a thought I tell them-Golf! I love to play, even if only once or twice a year. There is a sane madness in trying to knock a small ball into a hole located four hundred yards away with a club that has a mind of its own. There is no more humbling sport to an otherwise natural athlete than the game of golf. If you don’t believe that watch one of the Pro Ams sometime when pro athletes team up with pro golfers-it can be amusing to see a millionaire athlete shank a shot into a tree or worse, a spectator. And there may be no other sport in which the name of God is evoked more often!
I find that the tiniest of sand traps appear to be the Mojave Desert from the tee, and the smallest of water hazards may as well be Lake Superior. No matter how hard I try to avoid them, they become magnetic fields seeking small white round objects with a force much greater than my aim. This past week my son turned thirty so I thought it would be fun to do something memorable for the occasion. I took him and his younger brother, neither of whom had played on a golf course before. I was wise enough to reserve the last tee time so as not to be a hindrance to players behind us. They would have been playing through us on every other hole. Being the experienced golfer I was I went first and drove a beautiful drive that landed right down the middle of the fairway-that is the fairway of the adjacent hole we weren’t playing. I haven’t sliced like that since I was a meat cutter on the west side of Indianapolis. Being the great leader I am the boys followed suit and we all agreed after the first hole that keeping score was not going to be beneficial to our esteem. But they will never forget how we celebrated a milestone birthday!
I have been a Christian much longer than I have been a golfer, but I wonder sometimes what my true spiritual handicap would be considering my game. There are those times when I feel like I could knock it in the hole from five hundred yards away-I feel blessed, I feel like I’m walking upright and doing the things I need to be doing to develop my Christian game. And then there are those days when I knock it on the green only to three or four putt-nothing seems to be working. The harder I try the worse my score and the greater my handicap. I’m sure each of us if truly honest could say much the same thing.
I know in my life those things that are to me sand traps or water hazards-the things I need to avoid that draw me in. But just like on a golf course, seeing and recognizing hazards does not always equate to staying out of them. The harder you try the more balls you lose-the deeper the trap the closer to the edge you land, making it impossible to hit your way out of it. And even if you are fortunate enough to avoid the hazards on your way to eventually hitting onto the green, the cup can appear to be nearly the same size as the ball, much like the hoop and over-sized basketball at a traveling carnival-impossible to sink.
Unlike golf, God has given us an unlimited amount of mulligans in the form of grace. He knows my game and that left to my own ability, I could never finish the course. He doesn’t make the drives any straighter or the hazards any smaller-He doesn’t make the cup the size of a crater like that commercial on TV. He just doesn’t keep track of how many strokes it takes us to sink it-He’s pretty forgiving that way! And with God, those who finish well under par and those who, well don’t, receive the same prize at the end of the day-the victor’s crown of life to those who remain faithful and remain in the game, even with soggy sand filled shoes to show for it.
The Apostle Paul said “I have finished the course”. He too must have been a golfer. Paul gets me.