There is a famous saying about Marmite spread – ‘you either love it or hate it’! The same could be said of golf – just speak to a ‘golfing widow’ or to someone who has just played the perfect shot ... swish, click, a bounce on the green and you have a happy golfer. Where it began is debatable – France, the Netherlands, China, Persia and England are all possibilities but the earliest claim is back to the Romans in the first century BC. The game was called ‘Paganica’ and involved players using a bent stick to hit a stuffed leather ball. However, the modern game of golf originated in 15th-century Scotland where the first written record of golf is James II's banning of the game in 1457 as an unwelcome distraction to learning archery. James IV lifted the ban in 1502 when he became a golfer himself. The aim of golf is to be able to hit a ball straight and true but, like life itself, it takes lots of practice.
- ‘Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots – but you have to play the ball where it lies’ – Bobby Jones
- ‘The shortest distance between two points is a straight line – Archimedes
- ‘The Lord doesn't always take you in a straight line. He tests you sometimes’ – Tony Dungy
- ‘An object in motion tends to remain in motion along a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force’ – Isaac Newton
How many times have you wanted to take that straight line but an outside force has thrown you off course? It doesn’t take an earthquake – it might be a nudge to the elbow, a raised head, a distraction, a lapse in concentration or a sudden gust. Whether you are on the first nine holes of life or you are on the second half, you still need to hit the ball correctly – true!
- ‘I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong’ – Abraham Lincoln
- ‘A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true’ – Martin Luther King Jr
- ‘To understand the true quality of people, you must look into their minds, and examine their pursuits and aversions’ – Marcus Aurelius
- ‘To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man’ – William Shakespeare
There are many life parallels which the golfer will fully grasp but may elude a non-golfer. Hence an easy summary of the game of golf – you select from a range of different clubs to hit a small white ball off a tee into a hole the other end in as few shots as possible to beat your opponent! If you complete the hole in the recommended number of shots, you have done it in ‘par’ – doing this often will give you a low handicap. The lower your handicap, the more proficient you are! Simple ... and yet there are so many problems that can happen. You might hit your ball into ‘the rough’, into a bunker, lose it in the water or, worse still, see it disappear into the back of a passing truck as has been witnessed!
How to prevail and improve is the challenge for the golfer but also for the Christian. Perseverance and practice are key disciplines for both. A coach can identify bad habits that may have developed and need training for correction. With an open heart, encouragement and diligence can work wonders. Where there is stubbornness, a lack of practice or an unwillingness to learn, maturity will be elusive. If your Christian life was like that of a golfer, would you be hitting straight and true more now than when you began? What bad habits would need correction? What disciplines might you be neglecting? What grace do you need to get back on course?
In 1980, Richard Forster published his book ‘Celebration of Discipline’ with the subtitle, ‘The Path to Spiritual Growth’. He wrote about the problem of ‘instant gratification’ as ‘a primary spiritual problem’, his opening statement being that ‘superficiality is the curse of our age’. Whilst it makes an interesting and provocative read about areas of life where we may have grown lazy or flabby, the danger is that it puts the onus back on what the individual can achieve by their own abilities. By contrast, Terry Virgo wrote a book in 2004 entitled, ‘God’s Lavish Grace’ as a response to his early years as a Christian which he described as being ‘zealous but rather condemnation-driven’.
For a golfer, getting a hole in one is like a short cut to heaven away from all the challenges of life’s golf course! Most of us will need to cope with the many struggles that come first. Here then are some top tips to help you on life’s course!
- ‘Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed’ – Proverbs16:3
- ‘We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners all our life’ – Thomas Merton
- ‘Grace should never lead to passivity, but to outrageous adventure, a lifestyle that baffles those who play safe. It threatens the status quo not only of tentative religion but also of cynical unbelief’ – Terry Virgo
- ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work’ – 2 Timothy 3:16
In the Rough:
- ‘Deep calls to deep’ – Psalm 42:7
- ‘Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray’ – Proverbs 10:17
- ‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’ – Matthew 6:33
- ‘Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long’ – Psalm 25:4-6
Stuck in the Bunker:
- ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ – 2 Corinthians 12:9
- ‘He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God’ – Micah 6:8
- ‘In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines the steps’ – Proverbs 16:9
- ‘Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus’ – Philippians 3:12-14
The Lost Ball
- ‘I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands’ – Psalm 119:176
- ‘For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’ – Luke 19:10
- ‘For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. So they began to celebrate’ – Luke 15:24
On the Green:
- ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’ – Jeremiah 29:11
- ‘For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end’ – Psalm 48:14
- ‘The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail’ – Isaiah 58:11
- ‘Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever’ – Psalm 23:6
Will there be golf courses beyond this earthly life? For some it would be heaven but not for everyone! The important thing is to have a good coach who can show you how to get out of life’s bunkers, hit a clean ball from the rough and know which club to select for each shot. Straight and true is the best way to go.
TAGS – diligence, commitment, likeness, transformation, glory, maturing