My football career ended at the high school, but I carried lessons from those years that remain powerful for me, today. I was a defensive tackle on a team with regional dominance; our coaches were remarkable. One day, Manny Peñaflor – our defensive line coach – taught me a life lesson on the scrimmage field. He delivered it to me privately, with only 50+ of my teammates listening in.
Manny stopped the action, grabbed my facemask and put his face in front of my nose: “Chawnk! How big is the football field?” My immediate reaction was technically true: 300’ x 160’. Right on the nose… but he was looking for a different/better answer.
“Not your field!” He released my head, turned his shoe sideways and drew a 10’ x 10’ square around me, in the dirt of the practice field. “That’s your field! If anybody from the other side comes into your field, put ‘em on their ass!”
I was trying to protect 48,000 square feet, but Manny assigned me just 100. The other guys on the defense would do their parts, and – if we all did our portion – we’d win (and, we did).
There aren’t many people more notable – in history – than King David of Israel. Yet, when Paul presented his first archived message – in Pisidian Antioch (in ruins today, in the middle of modern Turkey) – to a Jewish audience in the synagogue there, he mentioned their common historic hero in this way: “For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed (Acts 13:36).
In modern culture, there are trendy nuggets of advice that are repeated because they are succinct and credible. Wisdom fit for a fortune cookie: Find your niche. Stay in your lane. Figure out your sweet spot.
Attributed to no one in particular, they are recounted ad nauseum because they ring true. You can’t do everything, so don’t try. Instead, find your one thing and devote yourself to becoming the genius in your narrow category of expertise.
David was the timeless Super Hero of Israel: he was elevated from last-of-eight in his farm family – relegated to tending sheep while his brothers fought Philistines – to ultimately become the King of Israel’s 12 tribes, and progenitor of the family line that would birth the Messiah, Jesus, 1000 years later. How did he do it?
He found his niche. He stayed in his lane. He figured out his sweet spot.
In the beginning, that put him in charge of a herd of sheep. While delivering GrubHub to his brothers on the battlefield, his confidence in his Big God put him up against a Big Philistine (the one he dropped with a well-placed sling-shot rock). He graduated to 300 mighty men (while on the run from Saul); ultimately, he became the dynastic sovereign over the 12-tribe Nation of Israel for 40 years.
Early on, the Kingdom advanced under the influence of Apostles who figured out their part in the Great Commission that Jesus passed to them as He left Earth to return to Heaven.
When Jesus was fulfilling His calling, he restricted himself, intentionally: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). Chosen People would be given first access to their Messiah.
Paul’s calling was focused as well, but to a very different population. The day of Saul’s conversion, God revealed His long-term assignment for him: “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel…” (Acts 9:15-16).
God has drawn boundaries around your field of play; your assignment – done in concert with other faithful teammates – will serve God’s purposes in this generation. That’s all He wants from you.
As we re-start a New Year, I’ll ask you what Manny asked me: How big is your field?