For four months last year, I was able to be in a locker room with popular names such as Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork, Matthew Slater, and Julian Edelman to name just a few. Two weeks after the 2014 NFL Draft, I signed with the New England Patriots as a Rookie Free Agent. In a matter of 24 hours, I had moved across the country and began a four month long test of trying to sprint a marathon. Whether you’re a sports fan or not, I am sure some of the lessons that I learned are similar to some of the things God has taken you through or will take you through. So, in no particular order:
- God is supremely desirable.
By the providence of God, I came across two books that could not have been any more influential for me during that time: Desiring God by John Piper and The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards by Steven Lawson. Through these men, the Holy Spirit awakened me to more of the inestimable riches of the glory of God. John Piper put into detailed words much of the desires of my heart. Steven Lawson showed through the life of Jonathan Edwards that God is infinitely desirable to live for. It was God, who He is and what He has done and will do, who became my Treasure. Even in the midst of playing in the NFL, God was heavy and constant on my heart and mind. After being at the top, I can tell you that ‘the man who has God has all things’.
- Stay in the company of godly people.
Work can be a dark and dry place spiritually. Again, the sovereign work of our great God provided me with solid men to be around. One is Jack Easterby, the team chaplain I wrote about earlier. Other men such as Matthew Slater and Asa Watson became people who I came to greatly admire because of their relationship with God. God tells us that in order to love people, we actually begin by loving and obeying Him first (1 John 5:2). The glory of God was witnessed in the lives of these men and it shined brightly in the locker room.
- There is never a place where God is not applicable.
Some people have said that God does not care about sports but I tend to disagree. God cares about the smallest hair (Luke 12:7) and He tells us to bring before Him even the smallest of requests (Philippians 4:6). God has a passion that His glorious nature be known in the locker rooms across the world. There is not a single street, office, neighborhood, country, or field where God is not. And where God is, there He calls us to magnify His Name. When God was seen as the Ultimate Treasure, people began to ask about who He is. Even in the NFL, there is a great need and desire for the one true God.
- Don’t forget your parents or mentors.
Honor your father and your mother (Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:2). That is a great command! God commands us good things! While in Foxborough, I realized how blessed I was to have supportive parents and mentors. My career was mightily blessed by people who poured into me. I learned in college and in professional that parents are still important and that I needed to call home and check in with them. I learned that my mom wanted to tell me what funny things my dog was doing and my dad wanted to know if I was chewed out by Coach Belicheck. I wasn’t embarrassed at all when my dad bought my jersey because I knew the love that he had for me. One time my dad was dying to see practice so bad that he flew from Motngomery, Alabama to Richmond, Virginia to watch us practice against the Redskins during Training Camp. I may have been on an NFL contract but my parents were still most influential and still are.
- The local church is crucial.
During my time in Foxborough, I attended CityLife Presbyterian even though it was in downtown Boston. God greatly used the local church to fuel me for the week ahead. Was I using the church for my own performance? “By no means!”, as Paul would say. God is revealed through the preached word and the gathering of the saints. When God is your treasure and joy, you long to gather with fellow believers and worship God. The local church is critical for our growing in Christ. A true Christian longs to ‘be still and know’ that God is indeed God. Is it your desire to be in the local church? Are you desperate to know God?
- New cleats wear out, God’s covenant does not.
Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman used to mess with me because of the single pair of cleats I wore for a long time while I was there. Cleats become well worn and at some point they cannot be used anymore. While in New England, I became fixed upon God’s unbreakable covenant that we have with Him through the blood of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit pressed upon me the unfailing promises of God (2 Corinthians 1:20). When practices went bad or off the field struggles grew, I realized that one thing was always constant and that was the eternal love and sovereignty of God. In a place where you walk into work every day wondering whether you’re going to get cut or not, it is an unrivaled joy to know the surety of our God.
The chapter in Desiring God about the joys of prayer was massive for me. It was when I was nervous and anxious about making the team or not that I read that chapter. Beforehand, I knew ‘about’ prayer but I didn’t know prayer. I didn’t intimately know what it meant to be alone with God. God will do things in our lives that will make us fall to our knees and cry out. I began to see why Jesus Christ would wake up early to pray (Mark 1:35). Prayer is where I could come in the presence of God and speak with my Creator. Prayer was more than just a pre-game habit, it was real communication with the Almighty God.
Without a doubt, I had to study the playbook. As one can imagine, the Patriots’ playbook is massive. To make the team, one had to be a great student of the game. I learned quickly that you can’t make the team unless you know the plays mentally and can know them habitually when the game is played. I equally realized that you can’t know God or grow in Him unless you read about Him in His Word. Having disciplined times of reading the Bible is not legalism, it’s common sense for the spiritually alive. Why would we not read if God is known through the Bible? It was so loving of God to put me through extremely tough moments so that I would be driven to the Scriptures. His Word was a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105). I saw men like Asa Watson who would long to catch even a single verse from the Bible in between meetings or at lunch. Seeing his passion and zeal flowed over onto me. I realized that my faith certainly came by the words of Christ (Romans 10:17). When God is most highly valued, His Word is most deeply meditated on.
- Learn names.
One of the most impressive things that I saw was the personal interest Robert Kraft had in the players. I had heard that he prided himself by knowing every player’s first name. Sure enough, I passed him in the hall one day to have him call out my name. Mr. Kraft is the highest man in the organization yet knew the lowest. Jesus Christ is the Supreme Ruler of all things, yet names the stars (Psalm 147:4). Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, yet He called His disciples to follow Him by name (Isaiah 43:1, Matthew 4:19).
- There is a Patriot way.
No doubt about it, the Patriots had their way of doing things. I learned respect it so much that I still examine myself to see if I am doing it the “Patriots’ way”. Reaching out to the community, carefully watching your words, being professional in all environments were just a few of the values I learned. The bottom line is that they took seriously what they did and the image they wanted to give. In the Christian life, I learned to take God seriously. When you truly see the glory of God, He does not seem like a trivial matter anymore. When God is evident and has revealed Himself to you, everything changes. There is a Christian way and that way is Christ and Christ alone.
- Sweet Victory
Hip hop artist Trip Lee has a song called “Sweet Victory”. If you haven’t heard it, you should take a listen to it. If you don’t like hip hop, you should at least read the lyrics. This song was huge for me. Even during my year of playing professional football with the Packers, Patriots, and Boston Brawlers (FXFL), life was hard. Matter of fact, last year was probably the most alone I have ever felt. This song proclaimed the hardships of life and yet simultaneously the ‘sweet victory’ we have in the life, death, resurrection, and reign of the Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes we have “everything” and yet feel like we’re in the darkest moments of our lives. This song reminded me about how Christianity is not merely some cliché sayings but true, solid, eternal promises in God. The Holy Spirit reminded me of His sure presence and the inseparable union with Him. This song was playing over my headphones before every game and every practice because I knew that God was all I had and all I wanted. And indeed, we have ‘sweet victory’ in Him.