Links Daily Devotional

Tender or Tough?

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32, NASB)

If you are a golfer, you probably know your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to hitting the ball. Maybe you hit it as long as Bubba but you struggle when you get in the sand. Or perhaps you putt like Brad Faxon but don’t hit enough greens.

But do you know where your strengths and weakness lie on the mental side?

Although I’ve been playing golf for decades, my practice of the mental game pales in comparison to the hours I’ve spent on the range and around the putting green—and it shows. My strength is that somewhere deep inside me I believe I am pretty good, because I’ve had some great scores. My biggest weakness is that I am what has been called “tender-minded.”

Tender-minded and weak-minded (which I’ve also been from time to time) are not the same. Tender-minded is basically the same as being tender-hearted. It manifests itself in caring about those around you and your relationship to them—even if you don’t know them!

If you find yourself thinking about what other people think of you or your game as you prepare to hit a shot, you are tender-minded. If you worry about holding up the group behind you instead of focusing on your game, you are tender-minded. If you notice the flaw in your fellow player’s swing and make sure to tell him or her about it at the first opportunity, you are tender-minded. And when you are tender-minded, you are probably not playing your best golf.

The polar opposite of being tender-minded is being tough-minded (as Deborah Graham and Jon Stabler describe it in The 8 Traits of Championship Golfers) and that is a challenge for many of us who follow Christ. We are taught to focus on others rather than ourselves, and we try to live out Paul’s advice to the Ephesians to be kind and tender-hearted. That has served me well as a husband, as a friend, as a teacher, as an elder, and especially as a pastor. As a golfer, not so much. And I confess that some days it has been just a little frustrating.

Honestly, I seem to focus more clearly and care less about others when I play competitively. But I don’t necessarily like it, because I want to both play my best and be tender-minded all the time.

I think the answer is to be like Jesus. I believe he was in fact both tender-minded and tough-minded all the time. Although it sounds a bit silly, I’m being sincere when I say that Jesus had the ideal temperament to be a championship golfer. We ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?” but we seldom ask, “How would Jesus think?”

When I am on the course I do not want to set my discipleship aside so I can practice gamesmanship or be selfish in my pursuit of a winning score. Instead I want to use that opportunity to increase my discipleship—to be even more like Jesus. I want to enjoy the beauty of my surroundings and give glory to God for them. I want to be thankful for the skills and gifts I have for golf, such as they are. I want to rejoice in the fellowship and accomplishments of other golfers who love the game. I want to use the tools of the sport with excellence and give God credit and thanks in the process. I want to help my opponents (within the rules) and have them play well—both so they can have more joy and so I can beat them at their best. I want to focus on the shot at hand because that is the task God has put in front of me, and it honors him when I do it. When that shot is over, I want to accept it and move on to the next shot and do the same thing over and over until the match is done.

How does that apply to my life, to my family, to my work? I also want to be like Jesus—both tender and tough—in those places. Look at Jesus with the children and look at him with the Pharisees. Look at him with Pharisee Nicodemus, where he was both tender and tough at the same time. Look at Paul, who considered himself an imitator or Christ, as he spoke to the thinkers on Mars Hill, and look at him as he wrote to the church in Corinth.

It is sometimes said that we are supposed to hate the sin and love the sinner. Perhaps that is an example of being both tough and tender at the same time. Be tough-minded in the execution of your shots. Don’t rush a putt because you think someone behind you might be impatient, but apologize if you fall behind. Don’t focus on the other players in your group when you should focus on your shot, but do care about them, and rejoice with them when they do well.

When it comes to being tough and tender, let me suggest that in life we should err on the side of being tender. Even if it costs you a stroke now and then, the real score will undoubtedly tilt in your favor.

Lewis Greer

April 4, 2013

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