The Rules of Improvement, Part 1

Those who know me well know that I love golf. Now “love” may seem like a strong word, but it’s more than “I like to golf.” Of course, I do like to play the game. But I also like to watch it. (Really!) I even read about it!

Life may sometimes be like a box of chocolates, but it is also very much like golf, and a recent article by the legendary golf instructor and analyst, Peter Kostis, offers a great comparison. In this post and the next, I will show how his three great rules of golf instruction are equally applicable to Christians and the Church. (The article is “The Rules of Improvement” from Golf Magazine, November, 2013.)

By way of introduction to his rules, Kostis wrote:

One good thing about getting older? I’ve now seen every “new secret” and “magic method” that’s come down the pike. When I started teaching in the 1970s, we had nothing but the club, the ball and our eyes to diagnose swing flaws. Eventually, video came along, and then high-definition/high-speed video. Now we have launch monitors like TrackMan. Technology was supposed to solve all our problems. It hasn’t. … Sure, technological developments help teachers, but they’re merely tools to aid students. They don’t fix every flaw.

Before we explore Kostis’ three rules in the next post, let’s draw a broad parallel between golf and the Christian life. A golf instructor has one main job: make me a better golfer. This includes doing what it takes to correct my flaws, improve my skills, and, ultimately, lower my score. He teaches and corrects to make me better at the game.

The Scriptures say that Christians have an ultimate goal, too: to become like Christ (Romans 8:29), and our Christlikeness can be seen and measured by how well we “play” this game called the Christian life. Our accomplishments will be the basis for our final scorecard at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10).

In the same way that Kostis and others have very specific methods for improving golfers, Christians have the Scriptures to improve us. Notice the similarities (2 Timothy 3:16-17):

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful [the best players are the ones who seek and listen to the best help] 
for teaching [what I should do to play well] 
for correction [what I should not do to play well] 
for reproof [point out the flaws in my game] 
and for training in righteousness [create good habits, build “muscle memory”] 
so that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work [correct swing, club selection, putting line, and (hopefully) lots of birdies]

We don’t need the latest technology or new theology, emergent ideas or ancient rituals. There are no secrets or tricks to spiritual growth. The best golfers in the world are the best because they are intentional about being the best. They practice hours every day, hitting hundreds of thousands of golf balls every year. They evaluate every part of their game, always tweaking, looking for that “groove.”

Most Christians? We rarely read our Bibles, we suffer through church services so we can get on with our Sunday plans, and we wouldn’t dream of picking up a theology book. We let culture tell us what is important, and we pack our calendars so full that there is no room to breathe, much less to spend time intentionally meditating on God’s written plan for life or listening for his Spirit.

And then we wonder why our game doesn’t improve. We keep missing the mark to the left and right of the fairway. We end up in bunkers of depression. The rough and weeds seem to choke out the joy we once had. And when we finally do hit the green, it seems that we’re always putting for bogey or worse.

Simply put, we will never play well as long as we refuse to practice hard. I’m not talking about following a list of rules to make God happy. I’m talking about deliberate, intentional, practical steps toward spiritual growth.

  • Regular, prioritized time with God and his people
  • Actively exercising our faith and spiritual gifts wherever and whenever we can
  • Stretching our minds and hearts through increasingly deep study of the Scriptures

The next post will focus on the role of teachers, but let’s not forget our role as students (“disciple” means “learner”).

Grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the honor both now and on that eternal day. 2 Peter 3:18