By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Like many Americans, I normally latch on to that “Cinderella” team, the team that wins against all odds.
This year, that team was Saint Peter’s University.
Quite frankly, I knew nothing about this school before they pulled one of the biggest upsets of the tournament by beating the University of Kentucky, a traditional basketball power from the Southeastern Conference and winner of multiple national championships.
Most people thought the “slipper” would fall off but Saint Peter’s kept winning, beating Murray State and Purdue, before eventually losing to North Carolina in the Elite Eight.
After the monumental tournament run, a lot of people now know that Saint Peter’s is a small (about 2,200 undergraduate students and around 3,100 total students) Jesuit, Catholic university located in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Cinderella stories like Saint Peter’s are what makes March Madness so special.
So, how did a team that didn’t even win the regular season title of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference make it to the “Big Dance?” Well, they won their conference championship tournament which gave them an automatic bid. In other words, they didn’t have to depend on a tournament selection committee to decide their fate. They earned their spot on the court.
Are there lessons to be learned from this small university in New Jersey? No doubt.
1. Don’t just show up. Saint Peter’s could have been happy to “just be there.” They could have been satisfied to just be in the tournament, but they wanted more. Sometimes, Christians are satisfied if they make it to church on Sunday morning. That is important and necessary, but God doesn’t want us to be satisfied with showing up. He wants us to share the good news of His Son outside the four walls of our church buildings.
2. Don’t make excuses. The Saint Peter’s basketball team could have looked at the lineup of the Kentucky Wildcats and thought, “We can’t beat these guys. Most of them will be playing professional basketball in a few years.” Saint Peter’s did not fall back on the excuses that they were a small school playing a giant powerhouse or that their talent level was far less than their opponents. They went out and gave it all they had.
Christians really don’t need a basketball team to teach us to not make excuses. We have the biblical story of a young boy who beat the feared Philistine giant with a simple slingshot when everyone else was afraid to try. Christians are masters at finding reasons to not serve God, but there is no real excuse.
3. Have a game plan and execute it. Those Saint Peter’s players did not just go out and beat two quality opponents, both with more talent, with sheer skill. The team worked hard and listened to their coaches who developed a game plan that, if executed properly, could give them an opportunity to win. Christians have a game plan on how to win others to Jesus. It’s clearly defined in Scripture. We just need to execute it.
4. Believe. The Saint Peter’s basketball team believed they could win. They didn’t panic in close games. They kept making play after play because they believed in themselves and each other. Christians often can lean on each other, but better yet, we have God. No problem is too big for Him. We have to continue to look to Him and allow Him to use us even when the going is tough. He never fails.
Ultimately, Saint Peter’s lost before they could reach the Final Four, but they never gave up despite overwhelming odds.
Sometimes Christians feel the weight of the world on our shoulders. We live in a culture and world that denies God at every turn. It seems hopeless, but we can’t give up.
As the Final Four of life seems to be drawing to a close, remember that we serve a God who can’t and won’t lose. We just need to keep battling until the end. He will bring us through. B&R