I don’t usually watch a lot of soccer but I’ve really enjoyed watching some of the games in the World Cup over the last few weeks. Soccer (I know, I know, "futbol") may not have the raw strength of American football or the strategy of baseball or the high flying excitement of basketball but it has its own admirable characteristics. For one, it is truly global game in a way that no other sport is. In that way, the World Cup has an Olympic-like appeal to it as it athletes gather from all over the world to compete but in this instance they are all playing the same game.
However, if there is one thing I have come to appreciate about soccer more than anything else it is perseverance. Soccer involves running up and down a field larger than an American football field for over an hour and a half. Of course, if you’ve ever watched a soccer match you also know that these are not usually high scoring affairs; a zero-zero tie or one to nothing game is not uncommon. So not only do you have to run nearly non-stop for 90 minutes, you often do so without the thrill and adrenaline of scoring to keep you going: perseverance.
Today, the U.S. team played a game they had to win in order to advance. If they lost or tied, they would be eliminated and would go home seriously disappointed. The game remained tied at zero through most of the game even though the U.S. had a lot of good shots at scoring. They even scored a goal at one point but the referee waved it off because the U.S. player was off-sides. As the game went on, you could feel the pressure begin to mount; it seemed inevitable that the U.S. would be eliminated with so little time left in the game. It must have been tempting for the players on the U.S. team to become desperate, to give up on their game plan and to just start taking crazy shots at the goal hoping to get lucky. The 90th minute expired and the game went in to stoppage time, the time added on to compensate for parts of the game where played had stopped but the clock continued to run. After 91 minutes of scoreless soccer, the U.S. made a quality team play that lead to the game winning goal which allowed them to win their group and advance to the next round: perseverance.
Ministry often feels like that. Sometimes we feel like we’ve been pouring all the energy we’ve got into this for a very long time and we have very little to show for it. We wonder why God hasn’t rewarded our faithful service with more tangible results. We wonder what we are doing wrong. Perhaps there is even fear that the clock is ticking on our future. In times like that, it is tempting to give up on the things that make us who we are; things like honoring God in all that we do and discipling and serving those around us. It may even be tempting to just give up altogether when all our best shots seem to come to nothing.
But our God calls us to perseverance. Our God calls us to remain faithful to the identity and mission that He has given us and to trust that He will take care of the results. Our God calls us to place our trust in Him even as things seem dark and hopeless. We are a people who give our all until the final whistle because we serve the One who can work miracles in the 91st minute.