I used to shoot my best scores at Lakeview Golf course just two miles outside my hometown of Mound, MN. I grew up playing Lakeview weekly and later worked two summers on the grounds crew mowing and maintaining the course. I, therefore, became very familiar with every detail of this particular course. I know every hole’s unique difficulties and hazards, as well as the distance and recommended club for each approach. I know which holes one must par or birdie to shoot a good score, as well as which holes one should be happy with a bogey. I am familiar with each green’s hidden slopes and breaks.
Now, is it any surprise that I tend to shoot my best scores at Lakeview? I usually do well because I have taken the time to study and learn the ins and outs of each individual hole on this course. Now, compare this to playing a completely new course for the first time on vacation up north? Last summer I spent some time in northern Minnesota at a resort on the Whitefish chain of lakes. I scheduled an afternoon tee time at the Whitefish Golf Club.
It was a complete disaster. My distance was off and club choice poor. I found every hidden bunker, went repeatedly out of bounds and misread putt after putt. Now, there were many factors that led to my pathetic score, but the most significant may have been the simple fact that I was unfamiliar with the course. In fact, I was so disappointed with my first 18 holes that I went around a second time. I now knew the course better, learned from my previous mistakes and did much better.
As we tee off with God on the links to a deeper life with Christ, I would like to invite us all to do some pre-game preparation and study the course we are about to play. Too many people just jump blindly onto the tee box, tee it up, “grip it and rip it” without examining the unique features and challenges of the holes that lie ahead.
Let’s pull out the map of God’s course, get a bird’s eye view from the MetLife Blimp Cam and take a look at each unique hole facing the golfer brave enough to tee off on what I’m calling The Front 9 of Faith.” Let’s first identify what each of the 9 holes or targets we are aiming for represent.
Just as professional golfers aim to develop their game and skill set in order to master each hole they play, so also the follower of Christ aims to grow in their faith, by the power of the Spirit, in order to become the kind of people who more and more manifest what Paul calls the nine “Fruit of the Spirit.”
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22).
That’s right. The front nine of faith in Christ have as their targets nine distinct qualities that God longs for us to master over time and practice — and the power of the Spirit. As we will see, each of these 9 holes (or “Fruit of the Spirit”) present the golfer with it’s own unique challenges and obstacles. Each hole is also filled with unique rewards and benefits for those who successfully master it. These are 9 holes well worth playing and mastering — though you will need plenty of divine help along the way.
Before we tee off, let us spend a few minutes determining our own “spiritual handicap” and rating our own spiritual game with the help of the questions and scorecard/table below. And then we’ll see you on the tee!
1. How well have you studied the course of Christian discipleship? Do you approach your faith with great care, preparation and forethought? Or do you just tee off “blindly” every morning with no preparation and just deal with each faith obstacle as they come?
2. Do you find yourself getting better the more you play out your faith? What are some ways you have learned from your mistakes and mis-hits?
3. COURSE HANDICAP: Each golf course ranks the difficulty of its holes from easiest (18) to most difficult (1). Each of us can rank the 9 Fruit of the Spirit from 1-9 according to which fruit we find toughest to manifest in our own lives. Fill in the handicap for each hole in the chart below.
# TARGET DEFINITION HANDICAP
1 Love Unselfish, benevolent concern for another
2 Joy Great delight; deep, abiding, gladness of heart
3 Peace Tranquility, rest, harmony, absence of discord
4 Patience Ability to endure persecution and ill-treatment
5 Kindness to act for the welfare of those taxing your patience
6 Goodness Beneficence, ready to do good, love in action
7 Faithfulness Dependability, loyalty and stability
8 Gentleness Gracious, kindly disposition, controlled strength
9 Self-Control Restraint or discipline exercised over one’s behavior