How Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic Inspire Our Spiritual Fitness

Posted on Sep 12, 2011 in Faith | 69 comments

I am so excited for the match to begin! At the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, New York, of course…the Men’s Final at 2 p.m. Colorado time, TODAY! The world’s #1, Novak Djokovic, versus the world’s #2, Rafael Nadal. For me, a dream day in sports.

Yes, we’re in for a fantastic tennis match with two men of extraordinary athletic abilities, but what makes them two of my favorite athletes is even more noteworthy: they both, in different ways, inspire me toward excellence in my spiritual fitness. Although I don’t personally know them or their relationships with God, just by watching them over the years do I think Rafa and Djokovic exude Christlike qualities consistently and powerfully. They overflow with traits I highly esteem—probably because in these areas I have much room to grow. Whether you’re a tennis fan or not, please indulge me for just a bit, and I can almost guarantee these two lavishers of tennis love will inspire you, too.

First, Novak Djokovic. You may know him from his smile and fun-loving attitude. Remember in Gladiator when Russell Crowe’s character is told to “Win the crowd”?  Novak Djokovic consistently wins the New York crowd—the largest tennis stadium in the world—with his light-hearted comments and dancing after his victories. He says he’ll dance if the crowd dances with him…his joy is contagious. He reminds me to let “the joy of the Lord (be my) strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Both on and off the court, his carefree attitude and antics make me laugh. In the midst of an incredibly close match—even after he has lost the point—he will smile and clap for his opponent who made the winning shot. Yes, he wants to win, but very few players look like they are having nearly as much fun in the heat of the battle. He reminds me not to worry or take things so seriously; instead, to “laugh at the days to come” (Proverbs 31:25). Lastly, in Friday’s semi-final victory over Roger Federer, Djokovic came up with an unbelievable forehand winner when he was two match points down in the fifth set. Right before he hit the now-famous-on-highlight reels return of serve, his facial expression defined confidence and boldness. He reminds me to “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Then, there’s Rafa. He’s been in my heart for a longer time and for very different reasons. I’ve seen many post-match interviews, and whether he has won or lost, a genuine humility seems to pour out of him. He reminds me that my “attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). He consistently gives praise to others and, after Friday’s semi-final victory, was far more interested in speaking to those who had lost loved ones ten years prior—remembering with honor the victims of 9/11—than basking in the glory his interviewer was trying to give him. He reminds me to “in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Lastly, although every now and then we spectators are blessed by one of Rafa’s “arm pumps,” the majority of the time there is a quiet strength about him, which seems to reside deep within. This impressive quality reminds me of the power which comes from resting in the presence of God…that “in quietness and trust is (my) strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

While these admirable traits inspire me, they also convict me. What would someone think of us simply by observing us over the years, watching us during intense times, listening to our words…both when we’re happy and when we’re sad? Ouch…I don’t know about you, but let’s just say I’m grateful for new beginnings!

For now, let’s honor two of the greatest tennis players of all time. Let the games begin!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *