The Baylor Bears men’s basketball team entered last night’s NCAA Tournament as underdogs and left as champions.
A number of storylines surrounded the squad’s rise throughout the course of the year. They started the season as a favorite to win the championship. Then they endured three weeks of COVID-related shutdowns. But one storyline persisted: how the Baylor Bears rose from the start of coach Scott Drew’s tenure to where they are today.
Drew comes from a basketball family and was seen as an ascending young coach when he signed on at Baylor back in 2003. But the circumstances surrounding the opportunity left many wondering why he’d even entertained the offer.
Beginning the Scott Drew era
As ESPN‘s Myron Medcalf notes, Drew arrived shortly after “Baylor player Carlton Dotson had just been charged with murdering teammate Patrick Dennehy. Then former Baylor head coach Dave Bliss was caught on tape telling players to paint Dennehy as a drug dealer to hide illicit payments and other NCAA violations within the program.”
As such, Drew was tasked not only with rebuilding Baylor basketball on the court but also with creating a new atmosphere off the court.
It was a monumental task, and one few thought he could accomplish.
However, thinking of last night’s victory as the culmination of 18 years of work is a misleading perspective.
To be sure, aspects of Baylor’s rise are related to what happened nearly two decades ago, but most of the players who were on the court last night were barely walking when all of that took place.
Rather, the 2020–'21 Baylor men’s basketball team became champions because of how the program has adjusted and evolved in the years since putting the scandal behind them — a feat many would argue occurred once they reached the Elite Eight in 2010 — more so than because of the changes that were made before any of them could shoot a basketball. The team was more focused on simply trying to improve from the previous game than on trying to exorcise the ghosts of the previous regime.
In so doing, they offer us a valuable lesson to consider today.
Getting past your past
There are times in life where change is needed because what has occurred to that point simply cannot continue. Events or decisions have reached the breaking point, and moving forward without a shift in direction would lead only to calamity and loss.
Far more often, however, the need for change is subtler. Rather than some stark event that demands a new course to avoid disaster, our present path appears sustainable for at least a bit longer, so we continue to walk it while disregarding the early signs that something might be amiss.
This course of action is where many people tend to get stuck. Be it in sports, business, or even just our personal lives, when we focus our energy on either maintaining or recreating the success of the past instead of on seeking what God has in store for the present and future, then we place an artificial ceiling on what the Lord can accomplish through us.
Few passages illustrate this truth better than when John the Baptist told his disciples “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
To that point, John had a thriving ministry that was doing genuinely great work for the Kingdom. He was calling the lost to repentance, baptizing people in droves, and developing a reputation that was so strong that the religious leaders continued to fear him even after his death (Mark 11:27–33).
Yet, despite his accomplishments and status at that time, John was not content to simply continue along his current path and trust that success would continue.
Instead, he understood that the manner in which God calls us to fulfill his will for our lives evolves with our circumstances and that the need for change is not necessarily an indictment of what we have done before.
As a result, he lived in such a way that Jesus later said of him, “Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).
So the next time you are tempted to look back with confidence because of how far you’ve come, remember that how far you’ll go will be determined far more by the degree to which you remain dependent on the Lord to guide your steps.
If he is free to direct your path, regardless of whether or not it seems like the one that makes the most sense in the present moment, then he will accomplish far more through you than you could ever accomplish by yourself.
Who will direct your next steps today?
Originally published at the Denison Forum