15 Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. (Psalm 116:15)
I had the privilege of coaching child and youth soccer for many years, so I got to see many boys and girls, young men and women grow before my eyes. There were so many characters there – everything from the deathly shy, to the exuberant energizer bunny. In terms of talent, there were those with three left feet (if that were possible) to potentially the next National team player. As I pondered what impressed me as a coach of competitive athletes, while I’d be lying if awesome God-given athletic talent wasn’t one of those things, it certainly didn’t make my top 5. Here is my list of Top 5 Things that Impressed me as a Coach.
- Listening – when speaking/teaching and I looked around the circle, you could immediately see the kids who were “actively listening”, and not surprisingly doing those things on the field later.
- Being a Student – to pursue sports at an elite level, you need to study those who do it best. In today’s age of internet access, an athlete has better access than ever before – if they want it!
- Commitment – I was impressed with those who prioritized the team, especially when they got older and had options of friends, dating, parties. Those with commitment stood out.
- Unselfishness – the best team members are those who put the good of the team above their own accolades or stats. They care for others, not only themselves.
- Physical Sacrifice – athletes willing to push themselves to another level (this starts in practise), to push through pain when the mind says stop. This stands out when others won’t.
I’ve often thought about what impresses God. While we could come up with a pretty lengthy list starting with LOVE, I wanted to concentrate on something else – sacrifice. After the flood receded and Noah and his family exited the ark, the first thing he chose to do was make a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma.” (Genesis 8:20-21a). I picture God hovered over a perch in heaven, inhaling a big breath through his nostrils and smiling from cheek to cheek.
This concept of a “pleasing” sacrifice comes up again in the New Testament through Paul’s writings. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1). Odd wording – “a living sacrifice” as the Old Testament sacrifice required death. But as we consider this further, there is a death required for this “living sacrifice” – death to our personal agenda and our old sinful self. “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:6-7).
King David wrote many Psalms to the Lord and Psalms 116, in particular, sets the scene of David crying out to the Lord in his time of greatest trial. One of my favorite Old Testament verses comes from this chapter where David recognizes that: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15). David, although having sinned in the most dreadful way with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), also learned to die completely to himself and live with a passion for God as we have a passion for oxygen. David is even called “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14).
What does it look like to be a living sacrifice? It means being humble and saying “God I’m willing to let you do radical surgery on me. Deal with areas of my life that are not pleasing aromas, rather a stench.”