A conversation with Mark Merrill
By Jim Phelps
Founder and president of Family First, Mark Merrill, is dedicated to helping people love their families well. His blog and podcast deliver marriage and parenting wisdom to over 100,000 people each month.
He hosts the “Family Minute with Mark Merrill,” a nationally syndicated daily radio program that reaches nearly 6 million listeners each day. He is also the author of “All Pro Dad — Seven Essentials to Be a Hero to Your Kids,” a book which highlights the fundamentals of being a father and provides a winning game plan to accomplish the task.
As a parent, wisdom is one of the greatest attributes of God for us to seek and pass on to our children. In Proverbs 4, Solomon tells us how David, his father, encouraged him to be determined to seek wisdom from a very early age. As we participate in sports or our children enter a new year that likely involves participation in sports, we are very thankful to be able to share Merrill’s advice below.
CSpot: What advice would you give a man who is a follower of Christ in the secular world of athletics?
Merrill: As an athlete it’s always good to focus on the fundamentals. Jesus calls us to love God and love others. He said, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
I think it’s essential to focus on doing these two fundamental things well. In loving God well, I think there are three activities that will help any of us. Those three things are prayer, filling oneself with scripture, and being connected to a body of believers.
Jesus was consistently getting alone to be with His Father. We need to do the same.
Prayer is not just about talking and presenting requests. It’s about being authentic and vulnerable before Him.
It has to do with listening. If we don’t routinely get quiet we won’t hear God.
Next, Jesus said,“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” When He said those words He was quoting scripture.
He equated His word to food, and we need to stay nourished. We need to not only read the scriptures, but absorb them so they become part of our DNA.
In addition to those, you need a faith community. As an athlete you get better when you play with and against the best players. “As iron sharpens iron…” Find encouragement and accountability with like-minded believers.
Finally, love and care for nonbelievers. Jesus calls us to be a light in a dark world.
Those who are not connected to the Giver of Life are like people who haven’t eaten. Going without food is not only painful, it’s lonely. Nonbelievers are in need of loving care.
Although these are behaviors, the thing we are looking for is intimacy with God. Loving Him and others well leads to heart transformation and fullness.
CSpot: How would you recommend a father help a child’s Christian journey while involved in athletics, and all that he or she will be exposed to as a result?
Merrill: One of the biggest traps kids can fall into is believing their identity is connected to their performance, particularly when involved in athletics.
They can feel the pressure to perform for the attention of their peers, but most often it is the pressure put on them by coaches and parents that makes athletics no longer enjoyable. It could also lead to moral failure in steroid use, cheating and poor sportsmanship.
The most important role a father can play is to ensure that their kids know that their identity and value come only from the One who made them. He loves them no matter how they perform. Fathers need to assure their kids of this truth by representing God’s unconditional love to them.
However, if they find their identity in their performance and actually perform well, that is also dangerous (maybe even more). It could lead to an inflated ego, lack of humility, and pride. All of these traits are opposite of the character to which Jesus calls us.
As dads we need to model and communicate to our kids in athletics the importance of being grounded in God’s love. Otherwise, their views of themselves become dangerously skewed, in either direction.