Ask any golf expert what separates the pros from the pack of beginners and intermediate “hackers” on the course, and they will all tell you its the putting game. Many people mistakingly believe that its the 300 yard drive that makes the pros so good. While a long tee shot doesn’t hurt at all, it’s a polished short game that really saves you the most strokes. And how many of us prefer the time on the driving range over hours of practice on the putting green?
Putting excellence requires extreme patience and an obsessive commitment to practice and fine-tuning. Putting involves great attention to detail and a mastery of the art of reading the smallest slopes and slants, bumps and grooves. If we think of a potter making a jar, the tee shot, approach and chipping game all give the jar it’s basic shape and mold. Yet, the putting game is the gentle, artistic touch of the detailer that gives the jar its finishing touch of beauty.
Putting also reminds us of the significant and much neglected virtue of “finishing well.” How many of us put great care into our tee shot, nail our fairway wood, sticking our pitching wedge shot in the middle of the green but then get lazy and impatient on the green and blow what was an otherwise great hole? We have not mastered the art of finishing well. We get sloppy on the green.
When it comes to the spiritual life of discipleship I believe putting represents the diligent task of living out our salvation and always growing in sanctification through the help of the Holy Spirit. We live in a world overflowing with knowledge and information, but lacking significantly in wisdom and virtue. Christians place a high value on biblical knowledge and correct doctrine. We know the right stuff, have the verses to back it up, love debating the so-called heretics and defending a biblical worldview. There is nothing wrong with any of these.
Yet, all of this basic knowledge and right beliefs simply show us the way to “the green” and help us land our faith somewhere on the putting surface. Unfortunately, I believe far too many Christians are content to just know we have the right knowledge to safely land ourselves on the green. The goal for many seems getting as many people “on the green” (or saved) as possible. Many are solely concerned with identifying who’s on the green and who’s off the green, and trying to figure out what the heck to do with those still lying on “the fringe” somewhere.
Yet, the Bible seems to be very concerned with helping those who are already “on the green” to finish well by reading the green well and mastering our putting game until the ball is in the cup. We must not get sloppy on the green. The Apostle Paul would advocate the giving of many “mulligans” (grace) but would never give someone a “gimme” 2 feet from the goal. Rather, he continually reminded his fellow spiritual golfers:
I have not yet sunk the putt, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting past shots and looking forward to the hole that lies ahead, I press on to sink the final putt and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Phil 3:12-14 My paraphrase).
Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (or diligent putting), for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil 2:12).
Paul serves as a wise caddy who knows that the real game is just beginning once we’re on the green. He is filled with a passion and burden for those who would, after coming so far with Christ, then get sloppy on the green. His writings are filled with an urgency to make sure he nor any of his fellow believers give up the game before the ball drops into the cup. Paul’s a master putter, a Tiger Woods of the spiritual green, and he shows us what it looks like to “finish well” on the course of life.
I have played a valiant round, I have played my best to the very last putt, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the Green Jacket of God’s Masters tournament, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Tim 4:7-8 My Paraphrase).