Are You a Jerry Rice-Like Christian or a JeMarcus Russell-Like Christian?: A Study in the Effort We Must Put Out To Be Effective Christians

Posted: July 1, 2015 in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 — Athletic analogies were often used by Paul to make points about being a Christ follower. Many believe that Paul was possibly an athlete in his younger days before becoming the church planting evangelist that he is famous for. Here, he uses running and boxing as analogies for the self-discipline that is required of us when we become Christ followers.

Using the sports analogies, it reminds you of those athletes that have been the greatest at their sport and those that weren’t. When you think of Jerry Rice, you think of precision in motion. You think of graceful speed and sure hands. What many don’t know about him was that he worked harder, practiced longer, repeated drills incessantly. As a result of his tireless work during offseasons and during practices in season, he became the greatest receiver the game of football has ever known, maybe the greatest player the game has known. On the other hand, there have been players that have come into the NFL that have had great raw talent but lasted only a few seasons before they were out of the game. JeMarcus Russell comes to mind. He was a great college quarterback at LSU and was the number one draft pick of the Oakland Raiders coming out of college. As many football aficianados know, he was perhaps the biggest #1 draft pick flop ever. He never reached the potential he had because he was more interest in the NFL football player lifestyle than he was in the game. He allowed the hangers-on that come with being a wealthy NFL player lead him down a path of a party lifestyle such that he rarely practiced more than he had to and did not try to develop or improve his skills to the level necessary to have a long NFL career.

Do you want to be a Jerry Rice kind of Christian or a JeMarcus Russell kind of Christian? Being a Christ follower is not easy. It takes hard work, self-denial, and constant preparation. As Christians we are running toward our heavenly reward. The essential disciplines of prayer, Bible study, meditation on God’s Word, and worship among other spiritual disciplines equip us to run our race with stamina. Without physical exercise and repetitive practice at your position in football, you never develop those skills and stamina that become second nature to you.

Spiritual disciplines are the same way. Without constant prayer, we do not know our Father in heaven intimately. Without prayer, we do not allow ourselves to become aligned with the nature and will of God. Without prayer, we are not guided toward answers that we need. Many of us claim to pray to our Father daily but most of us just having conversations with him while we are doing other things. It is difficult to discipline ourselves to have intimate, undistracted time in prayer with God. It is awkward even. I know I have this problem myself. A former pastor of mine from years back always told us that in order to enforce that discipline upon himself, he physically went into one of the closets in his house so that he would have no distractions and no sensory perceptions while he prayed. This might be an extreme way to enforce the discipline but it points out that we often have “look! a squirrel!” mentalities when we pray. We can be distracted by the least little thing. Let us develop the discipline where we can all have undistracted,completely focused prayer time. Jerry Rice used to run up and down the steps of Candlestick Park stadium alone for hours so that he could have undistracted time making himself physically fit. Let us learn how to make specific time for prayer.

The same is true for Bible study, Bible meditation, and Bible memorization. I personally get up an hour and half earlier than I need to each day to study God’s Word and meditate upon that which I have read. That discipline is why I do this daily blog. The blogging is not so much to preach to others about God’s Word but rather to help me process in my mind what I have read and attempt to reason out how to apply it to my daily life. Without this daily effort, this daily discipline, I would remain a spiritual infant, a spiritual raw talent like the football player who has great natural talent but never took the time to develop it through hard work and discipline. I think we priortize what is important to us. If learning God’s Word in detail is important to you, you will make it priority. Worship is the same way. We get out of it what we put into it. If you go to church on Sunday because that’s just what we do in the South, then you will not develop your understanding of the need for worship. Lake outings on Sundays can become more important that just going through the motions at worship service. If you prioritize service to your church, you will be there when your church needs you. Otherwise, the excuses come. If being at men’s ministry meetings are important to you, you will be there. Otherwise, the car needing new spark plugs is more important. JeMarcus Russell thought partying it up with his new found wealth was more important than developing his job skills as quarterback. End result – out of football in less than 4 years.

Why then do we have to be spiritually disciplined? When we do the hard work of the spiritual disciplines of prayer, study, meditation, worship, and service, we are developing our spiritual strength. When we have well-developed spiritual strength, we can resist situations that we know are against God’s Word and would lead us away from Christ. We can have the spiritual fortitude to not to succumb to the power of casual sex outside the marital bond of man and woman. We can say no to changing cultural tides that we are clearly in opposition to God’s Word. We can say no indulging in laziness toward Satan’s call to get that extra hour of sleep instead of studying God’s Word. When we don’t exercise our spiritual disciplines, we can easily be lead astray. When we don’t study the Bible we can be easily led astray by those who claim this is what the Bible says. We can know the qualities of God through Bible study and know that He never contradicts Himself. Thus, we can learn simply by nature that something someone says that inconsistent with the general tenor of Scripture is false. Without intimate prayer seeking the will of God, we can be led astray as well. Through prayer we do not change God, He changes us to His will. Without prayer our thoughts are not his thoughts and we can easily be misled by others. Without worship, we do not have a proper perspective on who God is and it is easy to slip into thinking that we are our own gods. Without worship, we fail to see how mighty and magnificent our God is and where we are in that relationship. Without service to others, we cannot put what we learn into practice. Without service, we are not doers of the Word, merely readers. Without service, we are not the hands and feet of Christ. Without service, we do not have opportunities to demonstrate to the world the qualities and character of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Gentlemen and ladies, we live in a time in history where we must be fully equipped to live in a world that determined shake its fist at God, in a world that Jesus is only a nice guy that would never judge us, in a world that is seeking itself and turning away from God. We must be prepared. We must have Jerry Rice-like dedication to being a Christ-follower. We cannot be lazy and have JeMarcus Russell attitudes where we can lose our way and be disqualified by not focusing on the job at hand. Although we can never lose our salvation, we can lose our effectiveness through moral lapses and lack of attention to discipline. We live in a time where it would be easy to be lazy and just accept the ways of the world, but we must continue to work hard at being a Christ follower. It is a tough world out there, we must be prepared. We must practice. We must have discipline so that we can preach the word to a world looking for ways to drag us down and disqualify us.

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