Gratitude-Inspired Excellence

In 2015 Duke University head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski implemented a powerful strategy that would give his players an extra motivational push as they prepared for March Madness.

He designated a special team ball, and asked everyone — coaches and players — to sign the ball with the names of those who had helped them get to where they are in life. They wrote the names of coaches and teachers and pastors and parents and friends and family members, until dozens of people were represented.

And then they took it with them everywhere: team meals, airplane trips, in the classroom, in the locker room.

Significantly, the ball’s existence wasn’t public knowledge. It wasn’t intended to attract outside attention. It was intended to challenge the team to perform with gratitude-inspired excellence throughout the remainder of the season.

It worked.

After the Blue Devils had won yet another national championship, everyone whose name had been written on the ball received a special note: “Thanks! You were with us every step of the way!” [You can read more about Krzyzewski’s gratitude strategy here.]


There are, without a doubt, at least a few people in your life for whom you could say, “I thank God every time I think of you.”

What if you were to make a memento — a whiteboard, a blank page in the back of your Bible, or even a porcelain coffee mug — and cover it with the names of those who have helped you become the person you are?

What if you made it a point to live each day in pursuit of gratitude-inspired excellence?

Can you imagine the kind of championship you might win?

Nothing To Do With Anything

Jim Abbott grew up dreaming of playing baseball with his friends, even dreamed of someday playing in the major leagues, but the dream was considered all but impossible.

The reason? Jim was born with only one hand.

Still, every day he would practice throwing a rubber ball against against a brick wall, quickly shifting his glove to his hand to catch the rebound. In the process, he developed speed, strength and accuracy.

Soon, he was good enough to play Little League ball with his friends, in spite of his handicap.

And then, good enough to stand out as a top level pitcher in high school.

And good enough to lead the University of Michigan to two Big 10 championships, where he was also named the nation’s best amateur athlete.

Even good enough to be drafted by the California Angels in 1989.

A few years later, while playing for the Yankees, he experienced the highlight of his career: He pitched a no-hitter against the Indians during the ‘93 pennant race.

In a post-game interview, he said…

“When the final out was made, a lot of things went through my mind. The only thing that I didn’t pay attention to was my handicap. It had nothing to do with anything.”

Today there may be so-called limitations in your life that you’ve let yourself believe are holding you back … but, ultimately, they have nothing to do with anything.

That’s because we serve a God whose power knows no limits, and whose grace can sustain us through whatever life brings our way.

Even the circumstances that appear, on the surface, to be impossible — they have nothing to do with anything, because we serve a God whose power has everything to do with everything.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves. (2 Corinthians 4:2)

Confronting Procrastination

Confronting Procrastination

Jackson Brown, author of Life’s Little Instruction Book, once said, “Where there is a hill to climb, don’t think that waiting will make it any smaller.”

Waiting, in fact, tends to give hills the time they need to become mountains. For every challenge that accidentally becomes manageable by benefit of procrastination, 999 just get bigger.

There are items that were on everyone’s to-do list last week that didn’t get done. Things important but not urgent. They didn’t get done because that dreadful, demanding, take-no-prisoners last minute hasn’t confronted us yet.

But you know and I know these items could have been — and should have been — marked off the list.

Surviving or Thriving?

Elbert Hubbard said that postponement is the father of failure. It’s also the best friend of mediocrity. The things that we postpone most often are the things that define the line between surviving and thriving — the things that mark the difference between eeking out an average existence and experiencing the fullness of the abundant life.

This includes getting serious about a closer walk with Christ, following through on a ministry opportunity, putting a business idea into action, taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle, making an effort to strengthen a struggling relationship. And so on.

The only thing that stands between you and God’s blessing in any of these areas is inertia. The sooner you move, the sooner the windows of heaven can open.

Joshua once asked the people of Israel, “How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?” (Joshua 18:3) He then outlined a simple action plan to follow for their progress.

His idea worked.

How Long Will You Wait?

Maybe we should follow Joshua’s example. You might have 50 things nagging you right now, and there’s no way you can get to all of them this week, but you can knock out one or two — and maybe more than a few.

Take a look at your list. Which items represent a “possession” that you are certain God wants you to take — a victory you are certain he wants you to claim? Put these items at the top, and scratch out a plan that moves you in their direction.

And then, take the first step.

Waiting won’t make the hill any smaller, but start moving in its direction, and you’ll discover the hill doesn’t look nearly as big up close as it did from a distance.

So how long will you wait before you begin to take possession of all that God has given you?

Choose Your Chair

As a teenager, Luciano Pavarotti had more than one good idea about his future, and more than one option to pursue.

He loved sports, and dreamed of being a football goalkeeper (what others would call a soccer goalie).

He loved teaching, and was attracted to the security this profession offered.

And, of course, he loved to sing.

When an elite professional tenor offered to take him as a student without cost, Pavarotti faced a decision: Which future should he choose?

His father said to him, “Luciano, if you try to sit on two chairs, you will fall between them. For life, you must choose one chair.”

Pavarotti later told Guideposts: “I chose one. It took seven years of study and frustration before I made my first professional appearance. It took another seven to reach the Metropolitan Opera. And now I think whether it’s laying bricks, writing a book — whatever we choose — we should give ourselves to it. Commitment, that’s the key. Choose one chair.

Of all the words written by the Apostle Paul, perhaps his most powerful phrase is: “But this one thing I do.”

Everything about Paul’s life pointed in one direction. Everything he did led him to one chair. His prize was doing what God had called him to do — to know Jesus and to make Jesus known.

Life is a reverse of the game Musical Chairs, in which there are more players than places to sit. You have lots of chairs to choose from. Those who live life best are those who have the courage to choose one chair.

Have you chosen yours?

Who Needs a Team?

On May 26, 1959, Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Harvey Haddix accomplished something no one else in baseball has accomplished. He pitched 12 perfect innings in a game against the Milwaukee Braves.

It was enough to set a record, but it wasn’t enough to get a win.

The score was tied at zero in the bottom of the 13th when the Braves’ lead off hitter reached first on an error. Two batters later, Joe Adcock knocked in the winning run.

The Braves took the game, 1-0. And Haddix took the loss. The Pirates had men on base all afternoon — more than a dozen altogether — but they couldn’t manage to get anyone across home plate.

And so, with no help from the offense, Haddix’s brilliant record-setting performance wound up in the “L” side of the ledger.

Nothing Takes the Place of Teamwork

Today many leaders are convinced if they themselves can maintain a certain level of brilliance, it will be enough to guarantee the success they’re looking for.

While brilliance won’t exactly work against you, it will never take the place of teamwork. You’re not enough by yourself.

Whatever it is you’re trying to do, you can’t do it alone. You need a team — a team of team players.

Solomon wrote…

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up… Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:10, 12)

I encourage you to remind those on your team today that you’re committed to doing your part, that you’ve got their back, and you’re thankful that they’ve got yours.

Life Takes a Team

Today’s reading is an illustration from a sermon I preached back in the nineties … and the principle is still true.

On July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, he was the focus of attention for the entire planet. Even today, his is the name most associated with the moon voyage. His statement “One small step for man…” will never be forgotten.

What often is forgotten, however, is that the Apollo expedition succeeded because a team of committed individuals sacrificed day and night for years to make it happen. Neil Armstrong was only one of 218,000 people involved.

He may have gotten most of the recognition, but he would be the first to tell you that it was a team effort.

The County Fair.

There’s a story about a horse-pulling contest held at a county fair.

The second place winner pulled a sled of 1000 pounds.

The first place winner pulled a sled of 1500 pounds.

But when the two horses were teamed up, together they pulled 4000 pounds of weight.

Life is a team sport. God intends for us to work together in order to achieve success.

It’s as Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

And as Solomon said…

“Two can stand back to back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple braided cord is not easily broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

Do you want to accomplish more each day? Resist the temptation to go it alone. Look for ways to help those around you pull more weight.

Walk On

The day before Walter Carr was scheduled to begin a new job working for a moving company he found himself facing a dilemma: His car broke down and he had no way of getting to work.

Or, rather, no easy way of getting to work.

He realized his only option was to walk the 20 mile distance from his home to the job site — the home of a family he was to help move.

After sleeping a few hours, Walter left at midnight, expecting the walk to take about 8 hours. At the half-way point he stopped to rest. When police officers stopped him for a routine check, Walter told his story.

Intrigued by Walter’s determination to get to work on time, the officers gave him a ride to the jobsite — after taking him to breakfast.

The client family, as well as his co-workers, were impressed with his determination.

And so was his boss, the moving company’s CEO. So impressed, in fact, that he drove from his home in Chattanooga to have lunch with Walter Carr.

While Walter walked the half-hour distance to his lunch meeting, his boss waited for him — along with the clients, the Pelham police, and his co-workers. When he arrived, his boss gave Walter the keys to a Ford Escape SUV.

The clients said their family will be inspired by him whenever they have tough times. “He’s like the poster boy for no excuses. He’s just got this deep faith, he wasn’t alone.”

There will always be times when you can easily (and understandably) get out of doing what you know you need to do. Or … today you can choose to walk on.

For we walk by faith, not by sight…(2 Corinthians 5:7)

Stay a Little Longer

We have no control over most outcomes in life. We do our best to influence them: eat right to stay healthy; drive carefully to avoid an accident; invest wisely to accumulate a net worth — we try to influence outcomes, but we can’t control them.

Sometimes we get sick anyway, sometimes the fender-bender isn’t our fault, sometimes seemingly good investments go south.

You can’t always control outcomes, but you can control one thing that is biblically guaranteed to work in your favor every time.

What is it?

Perseverance. Stick-to-it-iveness. The habit of getting back up and trying one more time.

You can’t control results, but you can control whether or not you quit. No one else can make that decision. It’s yours alone.

This is how Johann von Goethe said it: “Perseverance lies within the affordings of everyone; its power increases with its progress, and it but rarely misses its aim.”

He’s saying: Persevering is something anyone can do. The longer you do it, the stronger you get, and the more likely you are to succeed.

Almost every minister, missionary, pastor, church planter and Christian disciple knows about this. You’ll have a chance, and sometimes many, to give up before you really get going. A greener pasture and a wider path will tempt you from time to time.

Sometimes quitting just seems to make sense: it’s easy and appears to be painless. But deciding to stay is often the key that opens the door to God’s abundant blessing.

Napoleon Hill said, “Effort only fully releases its reward after a person refuses to quit.” I believe he was speaking from both observation and experience; this principle has certainly been true in my life.

Babe Ruth’s take on it was, “You just can’t beat the man who won’t give up.” (Even the devil knows this; when you resist him, he flees. James 4:7)

Paul challenges us…

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Let’s begin this week determined to keep doing good. Let it not make you weary. There’s a harvest waiting

Persistence (John 21:6)

The How of Persistence

It’s been said that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing again and again, hoping for a different result.

Someone then asked, “What’s the difference between that and persistence? Isn’t it irrational to keep trying, failure after failure, expecting this time the outcome won’t be the same?”

Business leader Seth Godin had something to say about this.

“Persistence isn’t using the same tactics over and over. That’s just annoying. Persistence is having the same goal over and over.”

There’s a story in the gospel of John, after the resurrection of Jesus, when the apostles had spent the entire night fishing, but caught nothing. Jesus called out to them from the shore…

“Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. (John 21:6)

It was like he was saying: “Keep trying, just do it a little differently this time.” The goal didn’t change. The strategy didn’t change. But they modified their method a little bit, and it worked.

If you’ve been in pursuit of an elusive goal — one that you know is worthwhile — the solution is not to give up. Instead, consider what you might do differently. Consider how you might approach things from a new angle. Instead of giving up, ask yourself: What would it mean, in this case, to cast my net on the other side of the boat?

The how of persistence is not that you keep doing the same thing again and again, trying and failing, trying and failing, hoping for a different outcome.

The how of persistence is that you keep pressing on, toward the same goal, adapting as you go.

1 Peter 1:2

Living the As If Life

James MichenerDuring World War II, James Michener worked as a naval historian in the South Pacific. Overall, a fairly mild tour of duty, till one fateful brush with death, a near fatal landing in French New Caledonia, forever changed his life.

He later wrote in his autobiography:

But as the stars came out and I could see the low mountains. I had escaped, I swore: “I’m going to live the rest of my life as if I were a great man.”

And despite the terrible braggadocio of those words, I understood precisely what I meant: “I’m going to erase envy and cheap thoughts. I’m going to concentrate my life on the biggest ideals and ideas I can handle. I’m going to associate myself with people who know more than I do. I’m going to tackle objectives of moment.”

From there Michener began to pursue his life’s work, publishing Tales of the South Pacific in 1947, ending some fifty books / fifty years later with Miracle in Seville.

It’s the as-if part of his declaration that most captures the imagination: I will live the rest of my life as if I were a great man.

To that point, his life had been, for the most part, non-descript. Maybe he didn’t yet believe he had greatness in him. But he chose to live as if greatness were already there.

Is there an as-if declaration waiting to be made in your life? Chances are, it’s already there, waiting for you to reach out and take it.

I will live today as if I’m forgiven. (Because you are, by the way.)

I will live today as if Christ lives in me. (Because he does, you know.)

I will live today as if I can make a difference. (Because you most certainly can.)

I will live today as if the words “I am with you always” were meant for me. (Because they surely were, and they still are.)

There is no limit to how meaningful every day can become when you dare to live as if the purpose of God can be fulfilled in your life.

You were chosen according to the purpose of God the Father and were made a holy people by his Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be purified by his blood. May grace and peace be yours in full measure. (1 Peter 1:2)

Satchel Paige

Your Time Will Come

Satchel PaigeSatchel Paige threw his first major league pitch at the age of 42.

Actually, he was good enough to play in the majors at 18, but he couldn’t: Satchel Paige was African American.

Seven years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, Paige, an undisputed superstar everywhere but in the major leagues, finally got his chance.

Cleveland owner Bill Veek was criticized for adding such an “old man” to his roster; some sportswriters and critics called it a publicity stunt. Others said Paige was finally getting the break he had deserved for years, though most doubted his ability to compete effectively at his age.

Paige silenced the critics when he won his first three games as a pro, shutting out Chicago twice in the process.

All along he knew he was good enough to pitch in the major leagues, and when he finally got his chance, he proved it. He went on to win 28 games during his pro career, and even made a brief comeback at the age of 59, pitching three innings for the Kansas City A’s.

He approached his major league pitching debut no differently than he approached any of the 2,500 games he pitched during his career. “It was just another game,” he said. “And home plate was where it always was.”

Though Paige had the ability to make throwing a baseball look effortless, he spent his life perfecting the art. And, eventually, he got his chance to show the world he was capable of competing with the best.

King Solomon said…

Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men. (Proverbs 22:29)

Solomon is emphasizing that commitment to quality is more important than self-promotion. Do your job well, he says, and you’ll get your chance to serve before the best.

In the work that you do, you may have to wait years before you get your chance to play in the big leagues. And the fact is, the chance may never come in the way you would like.

But you can be sure your time will come.

Believers can work with the assurance that our jobs — even the most menial tasks — are performed before our King. Our efforts do not go unnoticed. All the more reason to pursue excellence in all we do.

Your time will come; never give up on the dream of being the best.

Albert Schweitzer

Your Best Argument

Albert Schweitzer was a theologian, humanitarian, musician, and medical missionary.

For many years he was also the target of a great deal of criticism. Some didn’t like his theology, others didn’t like his way of ministering to the poor and caring for the sick. So, naturally, they talked bad about him.

Instead of explaining himself or campaigning for himself or debating with the naysayers, he just kept working.

In a letter to a friend, he explained his reasoning:

“I decided that I would make my life my argument.”

As you no doubt know, over the course of time he won the argument. He did, ultimately, get the recognition he deserved, including a Nobel Peace Prize. He wasn’t perfect, his theology wasn’t perfect, his methodology wasn’t perfect — but he decided that he wouldn’t spend his life promoting himself or defending himself. He left that to others, preferring to let his life, his work, and his actions speak for themselves.

I guess he remembered the words of Solomon…

Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips. (Proverbs 27:2)

Schweitzer also once said (quoted here):

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”

When it comes to setting a good example, no one can claim a perfect track record. Especially in this day and age, when your slightest misstep has the potential to go viral.

But what if — for today — we took Schweitzer’s words to heart? What if we were to say: I will make this day my argument. Today I will seek to influence others not with an abundance of words, not with a series of lectures, but with a living example of what the Christian life should be.

It takes longer to influence others with your life, to be sure. But the impact of your example goes far deeper than your words ever will.

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)