Early Celebration Syndrome

July 15, 2021


I once lived for sports. Whatever could be kicked, rolled, shot, or thrown, it was my sole focus. Sports taught me about grit and determination. And how to do a graceless face plant, to the amusement of all my friends. One day during an all-day football game, I caught a long pass and trotted towards the end zone. With the finish line in sight, I slowed down and hoisted the ball triumphantly, only to be tackled by Jan Boutwell two yards from the end zone. Don’t gloat, I learned. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled.

Golfer Mike Clayton knows this. He played in nine pro tour events, but he is better known for his infamous putt. During the 1997 Australian PGA Championship, Clayton tapped a 7-foot putt toward the hole. The ball was going in, so Clayton hoisted his putter in triumph, but the putter slipped. In his panic to stop the runaway putter, Clayton lurched and landed face down on the green next to the hole. The putter landed on top of the ball, knocking it into Clayton’s elbow. The replay of this is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. You can watch it here. (After reading this blog, of course.)

Other early celebration gaffers include pro cyclist Luca Pibernik. When he crosses the finish line triumphantly, he slows down, arms outstretched, waving to the crowd, unaware that he still has one lap to go. To Luca’s credit, he finished—in 148th place. Then there’s the young boy who skis toward the finish line. Suddenly, a little girl leaps from the crowd, runs alongside him and places a wreath on his neck. Unfortunately, the girl trips and yanks the wreath down to her hero’s knees. The boy plunges headfirst into the snow, hogtied by his victory wreath.

Sadly, this can happen in our spiritual life, too. We started so well, but are easily distracted. Today, let’s remind ourselves to fix our eyes on the prize. Without a doubt we will stumble at times, but may we stumble heavenward. May we pull ourselves up by the Reeboks and press on. Our muscles ache, but life’s trials and failures can drive us closer to God, as we look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. And one day, with God’s help, we will say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day.” (2 Timothy 4:7,8).

Never forget, we are not home yet. Just ask the runner who threw his arms upward in celebration, tripped over his feet and face-planted 5 feet from the finish line.

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