HomeFaithDooley Noted: The spiritual value of madness

Dooley Noted: The spiritual value of madness

They don’t call it March Madness for nothing. While everyone has differing opinions, to me, no sporting event rivals a field of 68 teams fighting through a seeded bracket hoping to experience their one shining moment. Legends of bluebloods and dreams of Cinderella captivate our imaginations during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament like no other competition. With victory and defeat sometimes separated by a single play, the unexpected becomes commonplace throughout the entire contest.

In addition to the aforementioned thrills, the spiritual lessons in the background of each hardwood matchup are even more valuable and enduring. Here are just a few examples of what we can learn from the madness of March.

Everyone has a role to play. The beauty of a team sport is that no single athlete can succeed alone. Though the leading scorer receives most of the accolades, underestimating the impact of less visible contributors is a sure recipe for failure. Yet, when an entire roster learns to function as a single unit everyone shares in the success that follows. Doing so requires each player to accept the unique role that most benefits the team.

What is more important, the shooter who finishes the fast-break or the rebounder who started it? Who is more valuable, the assist leader or the game’s highest scorer? Which is more vital, the defender who keeps points off the scoreboard or the hot hand who adds them? Does the teammate who leads in steals contribute more to victory than the athlete who never turns the ball over? Is the guy who cuts down the lane wide-open more essential than the individual who sets his pick? Can good players strategize without a wise coach?

In a similar way, albeit with a slightly different analogy, the Bible describes the church as the body of Christ made up of various members with different functions (Rom. 12:4-5).

Despite the variety, however, we should never attach the value of an individual to their designated assignment within a Christian community (1 Cor. 12:14-26). Some water, others plant, but God works mightily through every Christ follower to accomplish His work (1 Cor. 3:4-7). Ultimately, each believer is invaluable solely because they make up the roster of faith.

The past does not guarantee or limit future success. Certainly, a team’s performance throughout the season determines their opportunity to be part of the Big Dance. But once placed in the bracket, records and seeding neither assure nor prevent victories on the court. Unforeseen success found 8-seeded Villanova in 1985 when they become lowest ranked national champion in history. In 2010-2011, Connecticut cut down the Final Four nets despite losing nine regular season games and finishing ninth in the Big East.

Likewise, unexpected defeat is just as difficult to predict. Prognosticators seldom forecast 16 seeds to upset 1 seeds, but the heavily favored teams fell twice (Purdue in 2023; Virginia in 2018). On eleven different occasions, the 15 seed overcame the 2 seed. As the parity of college basketball grows, any team in the field has a legitimate chance to make a magical run.

The stakes are higher in real life, but the principle remains the same. In order to reach for what was ahead, the Apostle Paul insisted that he chose to forget what was behind him (Phil. 3:12-14). Past sin often intimidates us, making it difficult for us to accept God’s forgiveness and live in victory. Previous suffering sometimes angers us, birthing a root of bitterness and suspicion in our soul. Perhaps most challenging of all, yesterday’s successes can leave us wishing for our glory days, blinding us to what God desires to do in our lives today. Unshackling ourselves from the past is often the key to living by God’s design in the present.

Some things are completely out of our control. Our enchantment with March Madness is not only WHO wins each game, but also HOW each team secures their victories. Who can forget Christian Laettner snatching victory for Duke from the jaws of defeat with his famous shot against Kentucky in 1992? Or what about Kris Jenkins heroic 3-pointer to beat North Carolina in 2016’s championship game? North Carolina State’s iconic victory due to Lorenzo Charles’s put back gave us the heartwarming Jimmy Valvano moment we love to remember.

The mayhem of a buzzer beater is electrifying precisely because both teams have played well enough to move on to the next round. Life can be like that. You work hard, doing the right things and treating others as you want to be treated, and yet, unexpected heartache still comes. The blindness of life reminds us that the only guarantee is that there are no guarantees (James 4:14-15). These are the moments when you trust God and prepare for whatever is next (James 1:2-4), which brings me to a final observation.

The final score is not the only indicator of success. No matter how badly we wish it were different, there can only be one national champion. But does that mean that every other team is a failure? What if a group reaches or exceeds their potential? What if a group of individual stars learn to play as a team? What if lessons from the season carry over into a lifetime? Hoisting a trophy may be the ultimate success, but it is not the only success.

The same is true for each of us. Being crucified with Christ means we won’t achieve every goal we set (Gal. 2:20). Taking up His cross and denying ourselves means that some of our dreams will necessarily die (Matt. 16:24-26). But in a kingdom where dying is gain (Phil. 1:21), the Lord doesn’t measure success merely by what others can see, and neither should we.

Dr. Adam B. Dooley is pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, TN, and author of Hope When Life Unravels. Contact him at adooley@ebcjackson.org. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBDooley.

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