On most Sunday afternoons in the fall, you can find me relaxing on the couch watching football. I grew up in Western New York watching the Buffalo Bills, but I don’t get to see them play much now that I live in Ohio. As my wife will attest to, however, I still watch a lot of football.
There is one part of the game that always irritates me. I cannot stand it when a team begins to play prevent defense, especially when the score is still relatively close. Prevent defense is a strategy where the winning team begins to play soft coverage and is much less aggressive than usual. Inevitably, the team on offense is able to move the ball a lot easier than they were able to throughout the game. The reason why teams move to prevent defense late in the game is to prevent the other team from scoring quickly and mounting a comeback.
The problem at the heart of prevent defense is that you are no longer playing to win. You are playing not to lose. There is a world of difference between the two. When you play to win, you are aggressive and making decisions to advance your position. When you play not to lose, you are just trying to hang on for dear life and hope the other team cannot amount an impressive comeback. It’s the difference between active versus being passive.
If we are honest, we find ourselves playing prevent defense with our faith. We go through life more concerned about playing it safe than we are with advancing the gospel in our communities. Our idea of discipleship is to avoid doing anything wrong. We reduce the faith to a list of things we shouldn’t do and words we shouldn’t say.
Jesus told a parable about a master who entrusted money to his servants. One of the servants played prevent defense. Worried that he may lose the money or something of the sort, he hurried it in the ground until his master returned. He was playing it safe.
When the master returned, he was not pleased. He took the money away from the servant and gave it to the other servants. They did not play it safe. They did not resort to playing prevent defense with what their master gave them. They took the money and put it to use. In doing so, they were able to double the amount they started with.
God gives each one of us certain talents and abilities. Each one of us is uniquely gifted by God. But he doesn’t want us to sit on our gifts. He doesn’t want us to bury the treasure in a field, keeping it safe but never using it. No, he wants us to put our God given talents to use. He wants us to actively participate in the life of faith. He gives us these gifts and talents so that we can serve others, love one another, and build up the church.
What does this look like? It is different for each one of us. I am a pastor, so I spend a lot of my time in the church and helping build up others in the faith. That is my particular calling and context. For you, however, using your God given talents may look very different. The question is: how can you be faithful to God where he has placed you? How can you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself? Your answer may look very different than mine. Being a faithful follower of Christ will look different for a construction worker, a stay at home mom, and a student. The key is that we actively pursue Christ and put our God given talents to work for his glory.
Stop playing prevent defense. Stop playing not to lose. Play to win, and in the end you will hear the words of Jesus: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”