Picture yourself in this coaching scenario: One of your players makes a really bad off-the-field choice in spite of all your efforts to warn against such behaviors. They do something they know is wrong, they get caught, and they’re facing a suspension. Their foolish actions negatively impact your team because they’re a big part of your rotation and now they’re not available for several games. They’ve put you and your team in a really difficult spot.
How would you respond as a coach to this player? One possibility is to hammer them. You can lay into them verbally and give them a daunting list of things they need to do if they’re going to earn their way back on the team. Another possibility is to be done with them: kick them off the team so that you no longer have to deal with them. There’s yet another option: you can show mercy. But why even consider this option?
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), Jesus describes what life under his reign as our King is like. In these devotions we’ve been looking at the first part of this sermon, often called the “Beatitudes” (Matt. 5:3-12). Jesus highlights qualities that open the way to a further experience of the blessings of his gracious rule in our life. We’re up to Matt. 5:7 – “God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
Jesus says we experience the fullest blessings of life under his reign when we’re merciful. What is being merciful about? It means that rather than giving someone what they deserve for the wrongs they’ve committed, we treat them with compassion, kindness, and forgiveness. Why is being merciful a high value for those who follow Jesus? Because we know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the Lord’s incredible mercy: “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!” (Eph. 2:4-5)
The reason Jesus in Matt. 5:7 says that those who are merciful “will be shown mercy” is not because we earn mercy by being merciful. Rather, Jesus is pointing out that we only experience the full extent of God’s mercy as we realize how completely undeserving we are of his mercy. And this motivates us to demonstrate mercy to other undeserving people – which in turn heightens our awareness even more of the incredible mercy shown to us by the Lord.
So how does this all play out in the context of coaching? Back to our opening scenario: As you are merciful in response to this undeserving player, you have a chance to be part of the deeper, transformational work Jesus desires to do in their life. Being merciful doesn’t mean the player shouldn’t face any consequences for their actions. But even as these consequences are carried out, you can treat the player with compassion, kindness, and forgiveness rather than inflicting additional pain on them. You can work with them toward restoration rather than hammering them or giving up on them.
Because of the authority and power your position as a coach gives you over your players, you don’t have to show mercy. You could give each player the full extent of what they deserve for each wrong they commit. So when you choose instead to be merciful, you point them to the One who is so rich in mercy toward us.
Through how you coach, give your players a taste of what it’s like to live under the merciful, gracious reign of King Jesus. As you’re merciful as he is merciful, you get the blessing of experiencing in even greater ways how amazing it is to be part of God’s Kingdom.
For reflection: Take a few moments to consider how merciful the Lord is to you and to thank him for his mercy. Ask Jesus to help you love your players as he loves them so that you’re motivated to be merciful even to the most undeserving.