For Youth Workers Post

Sports Fan

Will Penner

“In the Habit” session for devozine meditations for February 17–23, 2014.


“I am a sprinter, not a distance runner. I like short bursts rather than long, sustained effort. That’s true for me in sports, academics (no studying for a week followed by an all-nighter), writing tasks (computer focused for 68 hours one day then not at all for a couple of weeks), housecleaning (4–5 hours of frantic activity one day and absolutely nothing for a week or two), and a variety of other tasks. While these bursts are incredibly productive, ultimately my spirituality and other areas of my life suffer when I try to put off disciplines that are meant to be exercised daily.” —Will



Will PennerWill Penner has been in ministry with young people for more than two decades in Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches, public and private schools, and as a popular speaker at youth retreats, camps, and conferences. He has served as the editor of both leading professional journals of youth ministry and has authored or edited numerous youth ministry curricula and books, the latest of which is It Happens: True Tales from the Trenches of Youth Ministry. Most important, he is the husband of his amazing wife, Christine, and the father of five children ranging in age from 4 to 22.





  • The video “Heart (The Pregame Speech)” won the “Outstanding Promotional Video” category of the 2010 College Sports Media Awards.
  • Rocky 4 training montage,” which highlights the different training styles from the movie Rocky IV, is also inspirational.



Open with a little competition for group members who are willing to join in. See how many pushups they can do, ideally all at the same time, until only one person is still going. If some members of the group are willing, have them do the same thing with sit-ups and/or deep knee bends.

Bring the group together. Ask people to brainstorm and to create a list of ways to prepare for physical competition. Record their ideas on a sheet of newsprint. Then have them craft a basic physical-fitness regimen that will help them do better the next time they participate in a similar challenge. Try to steer the conversation toward frequency and consistency of practice if it doesn’t naturally take that tack.



Scripture: 1 Corinthians 9:24–27

Paul is crystal clear: Athletes who win do so because they have prepared in a way that increases their likelihood of winning. Certainly, some people are born with natural athletic talent, and sometimes they can jump in and compete locally without a great deal of effort. But to compete at a state, national, or international level, natural talent isn’t enough. Winning takes discipline, skill, and focus.

Paul’s description, “I punish my body and enslave it” (1 Corinthians 9:27), runs completely counter to both his culture and to our culture today, as well as to most of our natural inclinations. Generally, when we feel like doing something, we do it; and when we don’t feel like doing something, we don’t. Paul is saying that he makes short-term sacrifices in order to achieve long-term results.

If athletes have no clear goal, they have no motivation to train. If they don’t have some guidance from coaches or experts, they don’t improve as quickly. But even with the best coaches and the clearest goals, they will never be winners at the highest levels without the day-to-day effort to improve.

First Corinthians 9:24–27 is an analogy. Paul isn’t trying to win a physical race. Rather, he is talking about his commitment to serving Jesus.

Ask group members to look at the list they created in “Checking In.” Invite discussion:
       What similar principles could be applied to your spiritual lives?
       If we want to be a stronger Christians, what will we do?
       What daily disciplines need to be in place to achieve a goal of deeper faith?
       Who will your coaches be?
       How will you hold yourself accountable?



Invite the group to pray with you:

“Lord, we know you have called us to be more than we are now. We also know that achieving that goal will take a lot of work. Please give us the willingness and strength to follow where you lead and the discipline to stay true to our commitments so that we can be better serve you. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.”



  • Have group members try to harness their image of a strong Christian into a concise vision statement that could be hung on their bedroom mirror, written on a bookmark to go in their Bible or in their copy of devozine, or placed somewhere they will read it every day as a reminder to keep their eye on the prize. You may want them to read Philippians 3:14 as an example.
  • Suggest that group members outline three to five steps they could take each day for the next month to develop new habits that will lead toward their goal. Additional weekly actions could be added as a separate commitment, but try to help them hone in on small, manageable, daily disciplines.

—from devozine In the Habit (January/February 2014). Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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