I once had a basketball coach who gave me a valuable insight into life. During practice one day, I was charging down the court on a fast break heading toward the basket. As I approached the basket, another player stepped in front of me, so I pulled up and shot the ball. The coach asked me, “Why didn’t you keep going toward the basket?” I said, “Because I might get hurt, and I do not want to risk getting hurt in practice.” The coach responded by saying, “You play in practice like you play in the game.” The coach was making the point that I cannot expect to excel in the game unless I commit myself to excel in practice.
I have thought about that statement a lot since then because it says something about how people play the game of life. If an athlete does not excel in practice, it is unlikely he will excel in the game. Likewise, people cannot expect to find satisfaction in life if they do not prepare themselves. For example, if a young lady wishes to have a good marriage, she should be careful about whom she dates because the kind of person she dates will be the kind of person she marries. This is the case because of God’s law of harvest, which says that we cannot expect to sow one thing and reap another. To illustrate further, if her boyfriend is physically or verbally abusive, he will continue to be that way after they are married. A common mistake people make is that they believe people will change after marriage, or that they can date one type of person and marry another. Dating is like practice before the game, and you play in practice like you play in the game.
The Bible says, “Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). We tend to become like our friends, which is why it is important to select good friends. There is no closer friend than the person you marry, so the kind of person you marry will help set the pattern for the rest of your life. For example, if your faith is important, then do not marry someone who is not going to support your faith. I chose to marry someone of like faith because I wanted to be encouraged in my faith. I knew there would be times when my faith would not be as strong as it should be and I wanted a spouse who would encourage me at that time. In addition, I wanted someone I could trust to raise my children if something happened to me. I once preached a funeral for a divorced Christian lady who was in her late 30s when she died. Her husband was not a Christian and did not share her values or faith. At the time of her death, she was living with her parents who were helping her care for her 3 year old daughter. This little girl had known only her mother and Christian grandparents and was being raised in the church. At her death, however, her unbelieving husband came and took the child away. I thought at the time how sad it was that her child would be raised by someone who had no interest in the faith of the child’s mother and grandparents. This woman could have prevented this by including God in her plans when it came to choosing a husband. You play in practice like you play in the game, and if you date non-Christians then you will marry a non-Christian.
This principle also applies when it comes to earning a living and building a career. Preparing for a future career is like playing in practice. If people do not work hard and prepare, it is unlikely they will ever find satisfaction in work or financial security. Making the sacrifice to get the necessary training and working hard at a job are some things people do if they want to have a successful career.
Work is honorable and good for all Christians (Ephesians 4:28). Work is not a curse because of sin but a blessing from God. Before Adam and Eve sinned, they were told to work in the garden (Genesis 2:15). Not working is contrary to God’s plan, and Paul gave this rule to the church: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). So, work is good and God expects people to work, but some people do not like to work and they work hard at not working. This has always been hard for me to understand because the family I grew up in honored work and I was encouraged to prepare myself for a career. The Bible says we should consider the ways of the ant because “it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest” (Proverbs 6:8). The ant has “no overseer or ruler” (v. 7) to force it to work. The ant works because it somehow knows that working hard is in its own best interest.
There are people, however, who do not want to work. I have counseled with a number of women who were married to men who would not work. These men expect their wives to provide them with an income but they always had excuses why they could not work. They were always getting training of some kind, or their bosses had it in for them, or certain jobs were beneath them. I continue to be astonished at this behavior because it is foreign to my beliefs and values. The counseling strategy that I use in working with these men is to help them see that it is in their own best interest to work. Their refusal to work makes them vulnerable to many bad things in the future. They are like ants that do not work in the summer and then wonder why the winter is so hard. These men will enter middle age without any job skills and very little work history. If their wives get fed up with their laziness and leave them, they are destitute unless they can find some other woman to support them.
There are women like this as well, but they are less noticeable because it is more socially acceptable for a woman not to work than a man. For example, I know of a woman who lived in poverty with her disabled husband rather than get a job. Perhaps she did not mind being poor, and it is her right to be poor if she wants to, but life could have been much better for her and her husband if she had gone to work. Some women marry so they will not have to get a job. I once counseled with a woman in prison who was there because of the illegal activity of her boyfriend. I asked her, “Why did you choose to live with this man?” She answered without hesitation, “Because it was easy.” As long as she lived with this man she did not have to work or take responsibility for her life, but now she is in prison.
When I talk to women about marriage, I warn them of three bad things that can happen in the marriage relationship. First, her husband may someday walk away from the marriage. Many women never prepare themselves for the possibility that they may be alone someday. A 45 year old woman who has never worked or prepared herself for a job will be living the last half of her life in poverty if she cannot find another man to support her. In this day and age, there is no reason for a woman to be this vulnerable. Second, he can die. The most wonderful and faithful husband can die. A 55 year old woman who has just lost her husband is not only traumatized by the loss, but now she must now enter the workforce unprepared. Even a generous life insurance policy or nest egg may not provide all that is needed because she will have many years left to live. Third, he can become disabled. Even with disability insurance, it will be difficult to support yourself and a disabled husband. So, for your sake and his, you need to be prepared for such a time. Experiencing any one of these three negative events will force you to play the game of life. Your preparation for these events is the practice that prepares you for the game.