Utah shell-shocked once more. What a gut-punch!
I woke up so sad this morning to see the news – “historic come-back by the L.A. Clippers”… “epic collapse by the Jazz again.”
Wasn’t this year supposed to be different?
I don’t watch the games. Too painful for me. But I check the scores.
And a few nights ago, I checked right before bed the latest on Game 5 of the Jazz-Clippers game – sad again to see the Jazz falling behind. After clicking off ESPN on my phone and settling into my evening prayer, I could feel a residue of real sorrow in my heart. Before I could vocalize anything, this surprisingly clear and direct impression came into my mind:
“God doesn’t care one bit who wins this game.”
It felt strangely reassuring. “Wow. Okay. So, do I really need to be so caught up in this emotionally?”
I’ll never forget coming to my own Dad years ago in tears after Karl Malone and John Stockton had broken my little boy heart (once more) in the playoffs. I was a mess!
My incredible father knew just what his boy needed – opening up right there on the couch to 2 Nephi 4, and paraphrasing it to tell me of a time when another boy felt really sad. Until he concluded:
O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of [Karl Malone]. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.
The funny thing is how deeply reassuring and comforting that single scripture was to my aching teenage brain. Like immediately, I stopped crying and felt a little better.
Thank heavens I’m grown up now, right? Twenty five years later…and I’ve still been feeling sad this week to witness another slow-motion playoff train wreck. Not even Mark Eaton, Jerry Sloan, and Hot Rod Hundley cheering us on as angels could push us over the top!
“This was our year, baby!”
In fairness, how else are you supposed to feel when you lose a 2-0 lead in the playoffs many predicted all season we might finally take as champions – culminated by blowing a 25-point lead in the final quarters of a game where the other team’s superstar wasn’t even playing!? (the largest comeback in a series clinching win in flipping 25 seasons of the NBA).
You could hardly design something more heartbreaking (I mean, aside from losing to Michael Jordan two years in a row, on the last shot, and when he wasn’t feeling so hot…right?)
In the wake of this epic collapse, early this morning these other words from Nephi also hit me: “The great and spacious building was the pride of the world; and it fell, and the fall thereof was exceedingly great.”
Don’t get me wrong – watching a good game together can be a lot of fun with friends or family…especially when The Right Team wins, of course. Nothing wrong with that.
And the Jazz have been a fun distraction in Utah for so many of us…for so many years. Sometimes I wonder if the best thing about sports is that those who carry the weight of the world during the day have something that doesn’t matter (all that much) to talk about now and then…
It’s also a great way to bond and connect together (even more so, when you’re talking about participating in sports together).
That’s all great. But what about when it takes a significant part of our heart, our focus – and our attention, day in, and day out – night after night…?
Yes, it stings for a lot of Utah faithful this morning. But give it a day, you know those other storylines will start to tug at your heart: “Chris Paul facing off with his former team…WHAT WILL HAPPEN?! Will the Suns and Clippers win their first championship? Can anyone really beat the Nets?”
And, of course, “What should the Jazz do in the offseason?”
Bleh. No. What if we stopped giving this so much of our hearts?
We all know Donovan Mitchell is a stud. After last night’s game, he was quoted as saying, “I’m still in shock… I don’t know what I’m going to be doing next week. I’ll probably be sitting here, mad as hell, watching the games, and doing whatever… This is gonna eat at me for a long time.”
Is that where WE’RE going to be next week, too?
Still mad? Still watching? Still letting this eat us up?
What if this heartache – TODAY – was an opportunity?
To make a pivot. To change the game-plan.
And our heart’s focus.
People are wasting away spiritually every direction you look. Looking for a reason to not give up on a current or future marriage. Or on their faith.
Or even trying to just stay alive another day. Some are looking for any reason for hope in their lives at all. And endless people in our lonely world wonder if there’s anyone who loves them at all.
What if we could DO SOMETHING for some of those people?
But how? What if we’re just not “feeling it” much right now spiritually?
Great questions. What kind of advice would God give us about all that?
In at least twelve consecutive conferences now , President Russell Nelson has issued a variety of power-house messages around what I would call a strikingly similar theme:
Power from Christ. Power of the priesthood. Power in the Book of Mormon. Power from daily repentance, and growing revelation. Power from faith.
With only a few exceptions, the word “power” figures centrally and repeatedly in his counsel – often 25 and 30 references at a time.
Power WE can receive in our own lives. Power directly from God.
Are we hearing him? And has any of this had any measurable impact in our lives?
I’ve been asking this in my own life. Looking back over the last six years, I’ve been reflecting lately about whether I could see any real evidence of God’s power growing in my own life, in any substantial way.
This question hit me hard late last year, because I couldn’t wiggle away from the obvious answer. NO.
As much as this beautiful man has PLEAD with us to do all we can to receive God’s power in our lives, until recently, I admit still being one of those people who agreed with everyone after the conference was over, “you’re right – that really was a great conference talk!”
Then I (mostly) moved on. Living my life. Doing what I do. Watching what I enjoy.
But this year, something changed. Monique and I received into our home a precious baby daughter who experienced seizures – and that has forced us to confront a lot of things easier to overlook.
Especially my own life. And heart. And lack of power. I tried giving Emma a priesthood blessing weeks ago. But after taking my hands off her head, something felt wrong – as I realized, “I just don’t have the power I need to bless my family!”
It hit me like a ton of bricks. That same night, I felt drawn back to President Nelson’s earlier talk on power to the men. This part jumped off the page at me (emphasis my own):
In a coming day, only those men who have taken their priesthood seriously, by diligently seeking to be taught by the Lord Himself, will be able to bless, guide, protect, strengthen, and heal others. Only a man who has paid the price for priesthood power will be able to bring miracles to those he loves and keep his marriage and family safe, now and throughout eternity.
Was I one of those power-endowed, miracle-ready men? Certainly not yet.
Here I was in one of those “coming days” – and I DIDN’T have the power I needed to bless my family.
I simply haven’t sought it, and wanted this enough. That’s the honest truth.
Was it too late for me?
Not at all. Over recent weeks, my wife and I have been searching, seeking, praying, fasting, seeking like we never have before. These three riveting sentences have become our new family game-plan (emphasis our own):
When you reach up for the Lord’s power in your life with the same intensity that a drowning person has when grasping and gasping for air, power from Jesus Christ will be yours. When the Savior knows you truly want to reach up to Him—when He can feel that the greatest desire of your heart is to draw His power into your life—you will be led by the Holy Ghost to know exactly what you should do. When you spiritually stretch beyond anything you have ever done before, then His power will flow into you.
In addition to reassuring my dearly beloved, grieving Jazz Nation this morning, I also want to simply testify that the whole “ask and you shall receive” / “draw near to me, and I will draw near unto you” thing is FOR REAL! We’re having experiences we’ve never had before with the Spirit in our many years of membership – learning things we’ve never understood, feeling things we’ve never felt.
Not only do we feel like we’re coming to know the Lord better ourselves – our hearts have trembled as we’ve felt HIS DESIRE for us to know Him too…and receive more of His power.
How cool is that!
Is THIS what President Nelson has been saying all along? Where have I been?
Let’s be real – It would be crazy fun to win an NBA championship. My brother Lige was vocalizing at our reunion the other day how happy he would feel to throw his hands up in the air, and join celebratory parade in Salt Lake City.
That really would be awesome.
But THIS IS BETTER. It really is.
Better than anything.
Better than Crumble cookies. Better than the best movie, and the sweetest romance. Better even than Donovan Mitchell up on that float.
It’s a joy, a peace, a power like nothing we’ve felt before.
And best of all, NO ONE having a freakishly hot shooting night can take it from us!
As President Nelson has been saying in as many ways as he possibly can, this is all right there ready for the taking. And at least when it comes to this spectacle playing out, we’ve all got premiere tickets:
We have front-row seats to witness live what the prophet Nephi saw only in vision, that “the power of the Lamb of God” would descend “upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.”
Referring to this same historic event-we-are-now-living, President Nelson asked in another talk, “What could possibly be more exciting?”
And what could possibly be more important to pour our lives into sharing with others? As this same blessed leader reiterated to the youth awhile back (emphasis my own):
Nothing else compares in magnitude, nothing else compares in importance, nothing else compares in majesty….There is nothing happening on this earth right now that is more important than that. There is nothing of greater consequence. Absolutely nothing. This gathering should mean everything to you. This is the mission for which you were sent to earth.
That’s a whole lot of “nothings”…maybe he’s serious about this?!
Yes, fellow Jazz faithful, these playoff games are heart-wrenching.
But not to almighty God. There’s plenty that wrenches His heart. But far more than who wins on the court, Father cares what’s winning over our hearts. What’s prevailing deep inside ourselves.
While we wait and watch others duking it out, He’s waiting for us. And watching.
Let’s give him the victory He’s rooting for! And that our prophet is pleading for!
Maybe this really IS our year, after all.
 A whirlwind summary of the prophetic references to power in his signature talks: Women “speaking with the power and authority of God” (Oct 2015), men “pay[ing] whatever price is required to increase [their] power in the priesthood” (April 2016) Cultivating joy as a way to “bring God’s power into our lives” (October 2016) “draw[ing] into our lives the power of…Jesus Christ” (April 2017). The Book of Mormons’ “power to heal, comfort, restore, succor, strengthen, console, and cheer our souls” (October 2017). The greater power available to us as we “stretch beyond [our] current spiritual ability to receive personal revelation” (April 2018), doing our best to restore the correct name of the Lord’s Church, anticipating that “He whose Church this is will pour down His power and blessings upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints, the likes of which we have never seen.” (October 2018) “experienc[ing] the strengthening power of daily repentance—of doing and being a little better each day.” (April 2019) the “direct access to God’s power” available to all who keep covenants and women understanding “the priesthood power with which [they] have been endowed.” (October 2019) the power available in “hearing Him” more in our lives (April 2020) and “letting God prevail more in our lives” (October 2020). And finally, “Faith in Jesus Christ” as unlocking “the greatest power available to us in this life” (April 2021) [Emphasis my own]
Can the Lord’s prophet be any more clear?
**We’ve been especially touched and taught by President Nelson’s most recent talk, which one might be forgiven to think is “just another general talk on faith.” The more we review what he actually taught, the more the boldness of his pronouncements stand out. For instance:
Faith in Jesus Christ is the greatest power available to us in this life. All things are possible to them that believe.
Faith in Jesus Christ is the foundation of all belief and the conduit of divine power.
“Deny not the power of God,” the prophet Moroni declared, “for he worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men.” It is our faith that unlocks the power of God in our lives.
Know the doctrine of Christ so that you understand its power for your life. Internalize the truth that the Atonement of Jesus Christ applies to you. He took upon Himself your misery, your mistakes, your weakness, and your sins. He paid the compensatory price and provided the power for you to move every mountain you will ever face. You obtain that power with your faith, trust, and willingness to follow Him.
Faith always increases our access to godly power.
Faith in Jesus Christ is the greatest power available to us in this life. All things are possible to them that believe.
What if we really believed that? How would our lives look and feel different? We want to find out!
Jacob Z. Hess, Ph.D., writes about the implications of competing socio-political and health narratives – and what it takes to preserve public conversation where open exploration of truth in these matters is still possible. To read more, visit: http://unthinkable.cc
Jacob, my teenage boys are big fans of the NBA, so we have been watching a lot this year. We even watched part of the Jazz vs. Clippers game last night, and I have to admit (sorry Utah fans!) I was rooting for the Clippers because they have been so bad for so long. I tend to root for underdogs.
Anyway, I cannot sit through an entire game. A half-hour is about all I can stand before I need to go do something else. Last night I spent some time reading Avraham Gileadi’s translation of Isaiah, which I find fascinating. I feel more in touch with the Spirit while trying to understand Isaiah. And of course I feel more powerful as a priesthood holder when I feel in touch with the Spirit. You have done some great and, dare I say it, powerful work highlighting how often President Nelson points out how people on this Earth can become powerful. I did not realize how often President Nelson discusses power until reading this post. There is a deep lesson for us there, that is for sure.
This was just what I needed to read today. Thank you for mourning the Jazz loss along with me (mourning with those who mourn etc…) BUT truly thank you thank you!!! for this reminder and for highlighting President Nelson’s messages on power. Wow!! I am excited to study this in more depth.
Jacob, You’re right, the Lord doesn’t care who wins. He already said it in D&C 121…”Many are called bur few are chosen, and why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much on the things of this world and aspire to the honors of men…”
What are championships and medals in sports if they are not the honors of men?
Now I’ve been following the Jazz all year and Game 6 was ridiculous….!! Never seen a game like that. It was sort of sad, but only because I reminded myself that wins and titles are “the honors of men.” The quest for championships should not prevail in our hearts. As you eloquently state, seeking the Lord and his power should be prevalent and foremost in our lives. Thank you for the reminder that THAT, among other things, is what Pres. Nelson has been trying to teach us all along.