Theology Lessons From Phil Mickelson
I love golf, and it’s always been a big part of my life. As is the case with all golfers, there are a few revered courses and tournaments that I look forward to playing and watching. Augusta and the Masters top the list. So when this week rolls in each year, I admit to getting Masters tunnel vision.
The week really starts on Tuesday with player interviews. I love listening to the players talk about their preparations and thoughts going into the tournament. As I was listening to Phil Mickelson on Tuesday, something he said stuck out to me. After struggling for much of his career and not winning at the Masters, he finally had a break through in 2004. During Tuesday’s interview, he was asked what has changed for him since getting that first win. He answered, “For a while the pressure to win was building. Now that I have won one, the pressure is replaced with excitement. I genuinely get excited about coming here. Excitement has replaced pressure.”
Mickelson wasn’t talking about faith or theology, but what he said resonated with me on a spiritual level. For many years I felt constant pressure to perform like a Christian. With each sermon, lesson, or book, the pressure mounted. The list of things to do and not do grew each week. In high school that was what being a Christian was to me—not doing the things others did and trying to do godly things. The task was burdensome.
Things changed in college when I began to understand the gospel in a different light. I learned that my faith was no longer defined by who I am or what I do, but rather by who Jesus is and what He’s already done for me. He has secured the victory that I labored to achieve. He has conquered death and sin, a battle I couldn’t win. Once I better understood the gospel, the pressure to perform went away. There is still work to do, but now my motivation comes from gratitude and grace, rather than fear and pressure.
For Mickelson, once the pressure was gone, excitement took its place. He still trains constantly, works hard, and focuses his game to peak during the week of the Masters. But now the practice, the discipline, and the work comes from a place of excitement and passion and isn’t clouded by the pressure he used to feel. Apparently, the shift in perspective makes a difference, because he went on to win in 2006 and 2010.
Praise and worship have different meanings when you truly understand what Christ has done for you. Instead of singing because that’s what you’re expected to do, you can praise God because that’s what you get to do. No more drudgery in trying to read the Bible in a year, or checking a quiet time off your daily to-do list. Now there is anticipation and joy in reading God’s love letter, and treasure found in those quiet moments with the Creator.
I don’t know where you are in your spiritual walk, but I hope you can grasp this one thought heading into Easter weekend: The truth of the gospel allows you to claim a victory you could never earn. The pressure is off. Let excitement take its place.