“Hard work always pays off…” Proverbs 14:23
“Put God in charge of your work, and what you’ve planned will take place.” Proverbs 16:3
“Appetite is an incentive to work; hunger makes you work all the harder.” Proverbs 16:26
I stood on the DeKalb tennis courts, October 1996. I had just lost my first Sectional tennis match, and though I knew that my opponent was a better player than I was, it hurt like something I’d never felt before. I ran around the back of the middle school that was adjacent to the tennis courts, threw my racquet down into the grass, and I sat down with my head in my hands. That day something new was born inside of me that I had only felt in a vague sense before, it was the beginning of a hunger in me to do more than lose in the first round of Sectional.
Now, there are three things that you can do to end the need of hunger. The first is to satisfy it by accomplishing your goal. When I’m hungry for a nice juicy steak, I can drive to LaSalle Grill in South Bend, drop thirty bucks on a New York Strip Au Poivre, and feel very light in the wallet (but full in my tummy) as I drive home. So, if the goal is a Sectional win, then you can stop this hunger by accomplishing the goal. But there is work involved to satisfy hunger.
Just thinking about all the things I did throughout the next year to go after my goal of a Sectional win makes me tired. I started taking private lessons at a racquet club that was an hour-and-15 minute drive from my house. I played every couple of days with my father, brother, teammates, and anyone who would play. I ran several miles each day, knowing that Sectional was a two match event, two matches in one day meant I’d need stamina. Just like buying that juicy steak meant shelling out 30 hard earned bucks, getting a Sectional win meant shelling out hours of work in practice.
But working and accomplishing your goal is just one way of getting rid of hunger. Another way is to be half-hearted. You snack every now and then so the hunger subsides, but it never is really satisfied. You tell yourself that it is great to win the LaVille Invitational every year, when you know you want a bite of that Sectional. You work a little bit, and that little bit is rewarded with just enough. Yet, you still feel something missing.
The third way to get rid of hunger is to die. If I really want that hungry feeling to go away, I can stop eating and die. Of course, I won’t feel anything then. I will never feel disappointment, but I will also not even get the faint happiness of trying. It’s just nothing. Nothing.
That last response is born out of fear. I quit because I’m afraid that if I try I’ll fail. It is a lack of faith issue, a lack of belief. The truth is that even if you try your absolute best, you may fail. There are no guarantees, except this: IF YOU DON’T WORK, YOU WILL FAIL.
Back to my story, I came into my junior tennis season ready to go. I racked up a record of 14-6 heading into the Sectional. I made first team All-Conference. I had worked hard throughout the season and pre-season with our #2 player, and he was having a fantastic year as well. We drew Howe Military in the first round and won easily, putting us into the Sectional final against our arch-rival, DeKalb. We had lost to them 5-0 earlier in the season. I went out into my match confident, knowing I had worked my hardest. I upset my opponent, 6-2, 6-3. Our #2 upset his opponent as well. We came off the court pumped. Angola 2, DeKalb 0.
What came next was agony for me to realize. As I watched the remaining three matches on the court I saw it clearly: there was no hunger from my other teammates. DeKalb went on to win the remaining matches because they wanted a Sectional championship, all 7 of them did. As their JV cheered them on from behind the fence, I realized that all 20 on the team had the same hunger.
So my work, my off-season, preparation all led to this moment, but my goal was not attained my hunger not satisfied. So you know what I did to prepare for the next season: I quit. I figured, I’m not going through the heartbreak again of working hard and not reaching my goal. The next season for me I finished with a record of 13-9, and was bounced in the first round of Sectional. Of course, my team lost only 3-2. I ran around the other side of the middle school, this time crying, haunted by tears of “What if?”.
You see, the key to all this is hope. Look at the verse that I wrote for you today at the beginning. “Appetite is an incentive to work; hunger makes you work all the harder.” Guess what, if you read on in the Bible from that verse, it doesn’t say this: “And since you worked all the harder, your appetite is always fulfilled.” Mine wasn’t, I have still not won a Sectional. But when I tried to kill my desires, to quit, I felt nothing for an entire season, then indescribable regret at the end. There was no going down with all guns firing, in a blaze of glory, for my last match. There was a weak me, a quitter, who had no hope.
Last season, there that feeling of hopelessness was again in my chest, as I stood on Northwood’s courts with the realization that we lost because part of my team had quit. There were matches being played at Sectional that had no business being played, because one of the opponents didn’t have the hunger, and hadn’t put in any of the work necessary because of that hunger. However, I tell you what that frustration did for me. I clenched my fists and realized that the hunger in me was demanding more than ever. At the least it wanted and desired my best effort, at the most…It still wants that Sectional win.
You see, hunger, need, frustration, desperation, all these are God-given emotions. God doesn’t do things for no reason, God always has a purpose. I wonder if the purpose of the desire to win that God has placed in me isn’t so that God can develop my will to work. What about you? What do you hunger for? What type of will must you develop in order to meet these desires? Is it possible that God has given you a desire in order to develop your character through the work it takes to meet that desire?
My number one goal in life is to do all that I do in God’s will. That’s my number one goal for our season. Yet, right behind that, I want to develop in our characters the WILL TO WORK, that is born from our DESIRE TO WIN. Not only do I feel that meshes nicely with God’s will, I think that it may be one of the character traits that God is trying to build in you this year. It is a Godly hunger, helping to build Godly young men.
A WILL TO WORK, A DESIRE TO WIN