Ask any serious fan of basketball in America who the greatest coach of all is, and you will more than likely hear the name John Wooden. He is the first person ever inducted into the basketball Hall Of Fame both as a player and as a coach. As a coach he led the UCLA Bruins to victory in 10 NCAA National Championships in a twelve-year span. This record remains unmatched by any other basketball coach. The Bruins won 664 games in 27 seasons under Wooden’s leadership.
But each year as the new season began and great players such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Bill Walton gathered together for their first day of practice, Coach Wooden would begin by teaching everyone how to tie their shoes.
What? That’s right. And often the team would bulk over this, complaining that they were great champions and had played for years!
But Wooden brought it all back to the simple basics. If a player doesn’t tie his shoes correctly they may come loose, causing his feet to slide around and form blisters. Not a good thing for a basketball player to have blisters! Or perhaps the shoestrings would come untied, causing the player to get tripped up.
Watching the greats of this sport it’s hard to imagine them ever having problems with their shoes. Who even thinks about their shoes during a game, other than the squeaking sound of rubber against the court? But Coach Wooden did. And he made sure this one, simple, basic discipline was attended to before his team left the locker room.
As worship leaders and members of worship teams we may often bulk at going back to the simple, basic discipline of making sure we are properly suited up for leading worship.
We may not be champions in the sense of great basketball players, but many of us have played for years. We know the moves. We anticipate the loose balls. We’ve tasted the victory of seeing God’s Spirit move and we rest confidently in the laurels of our abilities and calling.
But shoestrings can come untied if we are not careful. And what slips is not the foot, but the heart. In the Psalms there are several places where the psalmist speaks about a foot that slips. Asaph, in Psalm 73 talks about how his foot nearly slipped and how he almost stumbled because his heart was off course. Later in Psalm 94 the psalmist thought his foot was slipping but was reminded of God’s steadfast love and the blessing of his discipline.
The Apostle Paul exhorts us to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the Gospel of peace.” (Eph. 6:13-14) He continues with the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, all necessary for the battles we encounter.
Suiting up properly for warfare or basketball or worship is paramount. We are to stand firm, to withstand evil, to keep our heart in focus, having put on the readiness given only by the Gospel of peace, which is grounded in a daily, vibrant relationship with Christ.
Coach Wooden , a dedicated Christian, would often remind his players “it’s not about basketball, it’s about your life.” And I must remind myself, and my team, “it’s not about our worship, it’s about our lives, and that is what will make the greatest difference in our worship!”
So check your shoelaces!