Here in the nation's capital, we've been waiting a long time for our NBA team to win a second-round playoff game. Thirty-two years, to be exact.
It was 1982, and I was taking finals during my senior year at Duke University when the Washington Bullets scored one victory over the Boston Celtics in the second round of the playoffs. Now, my son Sam is about to take finals in his senior year at Lafayette College, and the Washington Wizards have started the second round by defeating the Indiana Pacers.
That's quite a wait. A lifetime. In fact, longer than Sam's lifetime.
I commend the members of Washington's team for working hard and playing well together (their name was changed from the Bullets to the Wizards in 1997 because of the owner's concerns about gun violence). The Wizards clearly have talent, but no one player is making all the shots. They are being unselfish and playing as a balanced team, with a variety of players emerging as the top scorer. As Charles Barkley said on a TNT post-game show, "To have a [different] leading scorer in every single playoff [win], that's remarkable."
The Wizards have been rebuilding for years, and the players have shown persistence. While it's true that they are gifted and highly-paid professionals, it must be tough to work hard for years without having much success. I'm a true amateur as an athlete, running a marathon a year through my 40s, but that experience taught me how difficult it is to remain focused through injuries and disappointing performances.
The Bible tells us to "run with perseverance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1)," and this is harder than it sounds. Our society values immediate results, and critics from the left and the right are quick to attack any effort that does not result in instant success. We have lost the ability to be patient with long-term efforts such as the global war on terrorism and health care reform, and we jump on leaders who do not lead us quickly to victory.
The Washington Wizards have renewed my faith in persistence, as they endured a great deal of ridicule during a time of rebuilding. It's no accident that the Bible recommends that we run our own races with perseverance, "looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God (v. 2)."
In the life of faith, there are no instant successes or quick victories. We may have to endure suffering and shame. As Jesus himself shows us, there can be no crown without a cross.
So, after a lifetime of waiting, the Wizards are moving through the second round of the playoffs. I give them credit for not growing weary or losing heart, for surely, in the words of the Bible, they had to "endure trials for the sake of discipline" (v. 7). And when they return home from Indiana to play in Washington, Sam and I will be in the stands, cheering them as they continue to run with perseverance.