Make Every Possession Count

Michigan State 2014

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12, RSV

Every possession counts. Slam dunks are a sure thing and lay ups are usually automatic. Mid range jump-shots that are “good looks” are acceptable and three-pointers from way back beyond the arc are good when they go. The point is, every possession should be prized and every trip down the floor should be treasured. Just ask Harvard.

Harvard is a brainy school with some brawny scholars that can really play some ball. Their coach Tommy Amaker has got them to the point where they play hard and they play smart. I mean they can really play the game. They came back from 16 points down in the second half only to lose to Michigan State.  It was a heart breaker. 

Harvard felt like they belonged in the Sweet 16 and they feel like they belong in the same conversation with other elite college basketball programs like Michigan State.  They’re right on both counts, but the Sweet 16 just wasn’t meant to be. Not this year.  Unfortunately, down the stretch, they didn’t make every possession count.

Harvard did make every possession count, but only for half of the second half. Up by two with about 8 minutes to play, Harvard took their first lead of the game, 62-60, and it felt as if the little guy would score one for all of the other little guys and pull off an upset for the ages. But it wasn’t meant to be.   Somehow, once the Spartans lost the lead, they started playing better. Go figure.

Unfortunately for Harvard, their leery lead lasted a lean 18 seconds; just 18 seconds. The rally that raised their hopes and dashed their fears ran of gas.  And the thing that got them the lead slipped right out of their hands – they outscored and out hustled and outplayed Michigan State because they made every possession count.

Michigan State, down by two, was on the ropes and in so doing had raised the hopes of the Harvard faithful. But Michigan State mustered all of the mental metal they had and put together a rally of their own. From that point onward the Spartans made every possession count. A three pointer here, an inside pass and a lay-up there, and then another three pointer from way beyond the arc, and low and behold, the favorite put together an 8-0 run and was back up and back out of trouble. 

Harvard and Michigan State gave us a game to remember. So remember that every possession counts. Every word we whisper and every whim we wonder, our sayings and our doings, our actions and our articulations, they all count. It all matters. Every idle word we speak and every errant sound we sputter is heard in Heaven and etched in eternity. And that’s how God deals with us.

God doesn’t waste words or toy with time. God doesn’t waste possessions.  God redeems the time and he wants us to do the same. We may not be perfect, but as the old saints say, we should be perfectly striving. So let’s make every possession count, all during the game and especially down the stretch. In life that means all day every day and especially at “crunch times.”  Let’s not throw away our days or fritter away our ways; let’s make every word and every act and every deed and every discussion meaningful. Because in the end, it all adds up.


Play Hard or Play Smart?


Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. Proverbs 4:7, KJV

Do we play hard or do we play smart? Is it either/or OR both/and?  I submit that we must play hard and play smart.  But first let’s talk about playing hard.

Playing hard means that we give it all we’ve got and we play is if there is no tomorrow. We reach for every rimed-out rebound and dive for every lively loose ball.  We leave our hearts on the court and fight to the finish. There is no substitute for playing hard. Nothing takes the place of hustle, but heady play comes close. Every one of our coaches taught us to play hard, but they also trained us to play smart.

Playing smart means that we make good decisions.  Waiting for the best opportunity is better than forcing the slightest possibility. But we’ve all done it. So, instead of putting your head down and driving toward the basket, keep your head up and let the game come to you.  Be cool. Be careful. Be calculated.  

So play hard AND play smart. It’s a both/and proposition, not an either/or scenario. The opposite extremes are also equally eradicating; living off of the jump-shot usually leads to dying at the foul line. You can’t just do one thing and win – it takes the combination of discipline and determination, effort and education, muscle and meditation.

Winning the day can be a whisper away from missing the moment.  Most days most of us are a mistake and a misstep from victory. Harvard is known for being a “smart” school. And yet their hustle and their heads got them a win over Cincinnati.  At the same time, a smart play and a timely move could make all the difference in the world. Just ask Solomon.

Solomon played hard and he played smart. He asked God for “an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad.” Solomon could have asked for fame and fortune, or for lavishness and luxury, or for silver and gold; instead, he played smart. He asked for wisdom, and in return, God rewarded him with wealth. 

So be careful what you ask for; be careful for what you wish for, and be careful what you fancy for. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Play hard, and play smart; be hardy and be heady, be forceful and influential, be “on the ball” and around the ball. If we are brawny and brainy, dogged and discerning, solid and savvy and sagacious to boot, victory cannot be but a smart play and a tough rebound away.