For only the third time since the current seeding process was instituted, there will be no #1 seeds in the Final Four of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament this weekend. Pitt was the first to fall, then Duke, then Ohio State, and finally, Kansas—all four giants felled in the madness of March. That, by itself, is surprising. To think, however, that 50% of the Final Four will be populated by “mid-major” schools is even more shocking. Since Butler will play VCU in the Final Four, we will, for the second consecutive year, have a mid-major team in the national championship game. Fantastic. For the nominal college hoops fan, like myself, it is a wonderfully fascinating way to conclude the season and the tournament. It is a celebration of the unexpected. The joy of surprise.
In the Christian life, however, surprises are not as welcome—and are often uncelebrated. We like things to be predictable and safe. We like the comfort of our comfort zones. That is why, occasionally, our God is wise enough to blast us out of those comfort zones into discomfort zones—for that is where our faith can be tested, strengthened, and purified. Those “discomfort” zones usually include some form of testing, and that is where we want to run and hide. James, in a very familiar biblical text, urges us to a more clear perspective:
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. (James 1:2-3)
One Bible teacher said we are more likely to count it joy when we climb out of trials, not when we fall in—but the fact remains that patience is the needed byproduct of our faith being tested. Predictability and comfort zones will never get us there, but surprises and test? That is the path to a maturing walk with Christ.
Bill Crowder, Sport Spectrum Chaplain