Grace Doesn’t Keep Stats

I live in the performance driven world of sports. We too often measure value not by character but by statistics like how many tackles for loss or how many yards gained per carry. Character is a nice bonus but performance is king.

I remembered a comment from Northwestern University football coach Pat Fitzgerald about the impact of negative stats on a football player’s performance. Coaches often talk about the need to reduce “missed” tackles and they keep track of each miscue. Coach Fitzgerald has a different philosophy. His staff does not keep track of missed tackles at all. The staff evaluates each play by their effort even if it does not produce perfect results. His next comment stuck with me. “I don’t like to put negative results in their minds because you become what you think about.”

It immediately hit me how profound that comment is for followers of Jesus. We tend to keep spiritual stats on failure. We beat ourselves up over “missed” opportunities. We fixate on what we have done instead of what Jesus has already done for us. We write our game plan to do better on the board.

Don’t sin.
Do better.
Pray more.
Study more Scripture.
Be more forgiving.
Less angry.
More loving.

And we try really, really hard to do all of those things. But the bad stats overwhelm and discourage us. We do sin. We don’t always forgive. We get angry. We don’t study or pray as much as we think we probably should. The net result is frustration and spiritual fatigue.

I wrestled with idea of how we can deal with sin in my book Stay: Lessons My Dogs Taught Me about Life, Loss, and Grace.

In Hebrews the text tells us to “strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”

Even though it sounds like a daunting and even impossible task, the author of Hebrews sums up how to do that in one powerful sentence: “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2, NLT).

That is it.

There is no other way to consistently live that life apart from keeping our eyes on Jesus.
The same is true for me. When I keep my eyes on Jesus, I have the strength to be bold and the ability to produce fruit that is pleasing to God. When our rambunctious Labrador Maggie cannot settle down, I tell her to sit so she can focus on calming down and doing the right thing. When she stays and regroups, things go well for her. When my thought life and actions cannot settle down, I need the Holy Spirit to firmly but lovingly tell me to sit . . .stay . . . abide.

Only then do I realize that I have turned my eyes away from Jesus. When I stay, I can focus on His peace, love, forgiveness, and grace, and have the ability to resist sin. If I am anxious, fearful, have doubts, or am sad, I need to sit, stay, and abide, looking at the One who initiates and perfects my faith.

What a difference between that approach and what too many of us experience. We tend to address the sin first. Stop that! Quit! Do better! And by the way, Jesus loves you. Or worse, He will love you when you do better. Paul always took the grace exit instead. Remember who you are! You are saints! Beloved! Adopted! Redeemed! Those same truths are ours to claim as we keep our eyes on Jesus. When we quit fighting to get better and do that one simple thing, something amazing happens. We get better.

We do become what we think about. It is always a pretty good game plan to think about Jesus.