18 Holes of Golf & an Invitation to The Masters

Yesterday, I played eighteen holes of golf with three of my good friends; it was the worst game I have ever played in my life; and that is saying a lot. Though I enjoy golf immensely, I've come to accept the fact that I'll never get an invitation to the Masters, because I'm simply not that good.

Be that as it may, having played my best game ever, just a couple of weeks earlier, I thought that maybe I had finally turned a corner. I thought maybe I was done slicing and hooking my ball roughly ninety percent of the time. I thought perhaps I was finished playing from the wrong fairway. I thought quite possibly I was through taking so many swings that my score looked like I had played the course twice. I thought maybe, I was finally getting better, but obviously, I was wrong.

Though I'm not certain why I played so poorly (beyond the fact that I'm a bad golfer), I do have some theories. Of course, these are not intended to be excuses for my poor performance, but simply factors that contributed to it.

For example, this was my first time playing on this particular course. As a result, though every fairway ultimately looks alike to me, the course was different enough, that I really had to try not to mess up, which resulted in me doing exactly what I was trying not to do.

More importantly, though, were the guys with whom I was golfing. Since this was our first time playing together, I found myself wanting to give a good "first impression." After all, I didn't want to make a complete fool of myself, especially in front of my friends. Consequently, I found myself trying really hard to prove myself and impress them with every swing. Unfortunately, the harder I tried, the worse I played; and though I'm usually not one to get upset about such monumental athletic failures on my part, it was still quite frustrating, to say the least. It reminded me of the way I often feel about my faith.

Though I know I am flawed and continue to fail at faithful obedience to Christ, I am not extremely eager for others to see that side of me, whether they know me well, or not. In fact, much as I did with my friends on the golf course yesterday, when it comes to my walk with Christ, I want to make a good "first impression" on everyone I meet. After all, I don't want to make a complete fool of myself. Quite the opposite, I want to prove myself, and show my merits. I want to earn their respect, and demonstrate my worth. I don't want others to think of me as some bumbling, buffoon that's so spiritually inadequate and weak, that he can't pray his way out of a wet paper bag. I want people to think of me as spiritually mature, biblically knowledgeable, and practically wise.

As a result, whether I'm with strangers, acquaintances, family, or friends, I often find myself trying very hard to others, and show them my religious prowess. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I try to be like Christ, the results are always the same as those I achieved on the golf course yesterday complete and utter failure.

More and more these days, feel the way Paul must have felt when he wrote about his struggles with sin in Romans 7-8. He wrote,

"15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:15-24, NIV 1984, Grand Rapids: Zondervan).

Like Paul, I often feel quite "wretched" about myself and my repeated failures to obey Christ as I should; for despite my best efforts and attempts, I am always doing the things I don't want to do. Though I do have good days now and then, the successes I have in my walk with Christ are so inconsistent, at times, it just feels like I am playing golf.

That is to say, my spiritual walk often feels like I am always slicing or hooking the ball. It feels like I always end up playing from the wrong fairway. It feels like I'm taking so many swings just to get one good shot, I can't even begin to keep track of my score. Although God's Spirit is at work in my heart, it feels like I'm not getting any better at all.

Of course, if my friends were hyper critical, or anything but compassionate and kind, I'd probably stop playing golf, and take up something easier, like croquet, or maybe, tether ball. Fortunately, they are tremendously gracious and encouraging, which is exactly what keeps me going back. More importantly, though, what is true of my friends, is doubly true of God.

Despite our limited spiritual successes, constant failures, and endless struggles, he is gracious, generous, and kind to remind us that now, there is no condemnation for those who are united to Christ Jesus through faith in him (Romans 8:1), and I'll take that over an invitation to the Masters any day.