Recently in the revolving door of meaningless sports events, a basketball team from Canada won the NBA finals. It was the first time they’d ever won a championship. An important player for the team whose play helped push them over the edge to victory was a guy by the name of Fred VanVleet (okay non sports fans, try to stay with me, I promise this isn’t some botched, dry analysis of the NBA season that was). Anyways, back to Fred VanVleet. Undersized and overlooked, Fred actually went undrafted. This means that nobody thought he was very good. As the cliche so often has it, hard work and dedication paid off for Fred. He finally got his due. In his big moment on the world’s biggest basketball stage, he excelled and everyone saw what he was capable of. His glory shone through and he finally proved all the critics and doubters and haters wrong. Or something like that.
Following the game, sportscaster Scott Van Pelt was hosting Sportscenter and lauded him for what has become Fred’s catchphrase as of late: bet on yourself. When I heard Scott praise this, something inside me turned upside down. Bet on yourself? Ha! Preposterous, absurd, empty, and hopeless. And then it occurred to me that the whole world of sports revolves around and rests on this notion. Maybe the whole world for that matter. Promote yourself, dominate, achieve, crush your opponents. And when victorious, who else should the glory go to but you? You did it, after all.
I can hardly think of three words in more stunted opposition to the gospel than bet on yourself. Jesus hears this and comes quietly in the room, looks us in the eye, and says ‘bet on me.’ In a world as lost, marred, pained, mangled, broken, and hurting as ours, this philosophy comes as no surprise and even makes a bit of sense. Tired and wary of others who have hurt us, beat us, robbed us, lied to us, failed us, cheated on us, stolen from us, gossiped about us, betrayed us, sneered at us, rejected us, and hated us, betting on one’s self appears to be far safer than betting on anyone else.
And yet if we do, we will be hopelessly empty and deeply dissatisfied in the end. We will be missing out on the real thing. The uncreated and coeternal Trinity invites us into something so much bigger than merely betting on ourselves. Something lasting and poetic. Something lavish and true.
I have been thinking a lot lately about John The Baptist’s words in John 3: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” These seven words, I believe, one could spend a lifetime meditating on and yearning to live more closely by. For me, it is a helpful question of continual re-centering. “Kevin, are you seeking to increase? Or are you seeking for Him to increase? Both cannot be.” Either I grow me, my flesh, my identity, my ego, and my name. Or I let Him grow. These must be mutually exclusive. I confess that almost all of my life is spent with my own increase in mind. But hearing something as hollow and absurd as ‘bet on yourself’ invites me again to seek my own decrease and to bet on, not Kevin, but rather He who is much greater than I.