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Jeremy Lin, hard work, and the grace of God

UPDATE: A more nuanced and balanced blog post by a fellow Cal bear and Campus Crusader who allows for the choices Jeremy Lin makes. My intent was to dispel the American myth that hard work always leads to success (and here). In doing so, it may seem like I'm denigrating Jeremy's work ethic. I'm not. Every basketball player makes it the NBA by the grace of God but it's only something we see in retrospect. Or hard work and choices do play a role but my emphasis is on God's power in all of it.

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Jeremy Lin is the latest NBA and media sensation – having led the moribund New York Knicks to three consecutive victories. There’s an article about Jeremy Lin that closes by saying this is what hard work accomplishes. The implication is that hard work is what enabled Jeremy Lin to be successful on the highest scale; it is what allowed him to score 76 points in the past three games and ignite a struggling franchise.

That is such intolerable baloney.

My brother commented that this is the vestiges of the Puritan (and immigrant) work ethic that will not die. In our culture, we not only idolize the underdog but we have this semi-conscious belief that hard work and perseverance result in success. So if a person is mega-successful, it must be because he worked mega-hard.

Let’s look at Jeremy Lin’s story a little more closely and see what hard work accomplished. I’ve known about Jeremy since he was fourteen when I began playing against him and his older brother in church tournaments. A year later, I got to know him a little better when I was the youth speaker at his church’s retreat. He was 5’9” at the time and frustrated that he could barely touch the rim. His passion for basketball was evident and it was apparent he worked hard because he lives and breathes the game. By all accounts from coaches, teammates, and friends, Jeremy has worked relentlessly on improving for at least the past ten years (likely even longer since he started playing competitive basketball earlier than that). So I’m in no way hating on Jeremy. He works hard.

But to say hard work is what allowed him unprecedented success at the highest level of the game is to discount the grace of God at work in his life. Plenty of people work hard but 99.9% of them don’t achieve the kind of success Jeremy has enjoyed.

You might argue hard work is what garnered him California Player of the Year honors and various other accolades.

But I see the hand of God in providing a wonderful high school coach in Peter Diepenbrock and an incredible cast of close-knit teammates who had played together for years. And I see how God raised up a great older brother role model in Josh, who helped Jeremy hone his game in countless backyard games. And finally, I see God’s providence in giving Jeremy incredible parents who supported and encouraged both his love for basketball and love for God. Regardless of how hard he worked, without the involvement of these people, there is no Jeremy Lin story.

You might argue hard work is what allowed him to play Harvard basketball. Yet his capabilities should have merited him a division I scholarship at local powerhouses such as Stanford, Berkeley, and UCLA. You might even argue that the perception of his work ethic hurt him because at the division I level, scouts are looking for freakish athleticism and size. And his work ethic, intelligence, and perhaps even ethnicity distracted scouts from what they thought they wanted.

But it was the grace of God that brought Jeremy to a school in a large metro area (Boston) with lots of Asian-Americans and media exposure and then brought a high-profile coach in Tommy Amaker. Together, Jeremy, his coach, and teammates began a Harvard basketball explosion that is gaining momentum with each passing day.

And then you might argue hard work is what allowed Jeremy to be signed by the Golden State Warriors in 2010. He played minimal minutes and was waived a couple months ago. Perhaps he wasn’t working hard enough? He was picked up by Houston and then dropped a little while later. He finally ended up with the New York Knicks and the rest is history.

God’s fingerprints are all over this. The Warriors have two superstar guards in Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry. Jeremy could get back-up minutes at best but he barely played. He worked hard and performed well in the D-league but many doubted his game could translate. When they drafted Charles Jenkins, the writing was on the wall. Jeremy had to go. After getting picked up by the Knicks, many doubted he could contribute to the franchise. But God orchestrated a perfect storm - the collective incompetence of the other Knick guards, the team floundering under the shoot-first mentality of its superstars, and finally an opportunity emerging out of Coach Mike D’Antoni’s desperation. And it is the grace of God that placed Jeremy in a system that is perfectly suited for an aggressive, playmaking point guard who creates opportunities for his teammates and who can run the pick-and-roll to perfection.

Again, its not that Jeremy didn’t work hard for all this. He certainly did. Perhaps another way to understand his success is that one way the grace of God is revealed in Jeremy’s life is through hard work. From this perspective, my point is not attribute the credit to anything about him but the work of Jesus in his life. So in the case of his recent performance of with Knicks, when the grace of God rains, it pours. And hard work, as a credit to Jeremy Lin, had nothing to do with it.

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Comments

  1. Man, Fred. It was all good until your last sentence. Ruined it for me. The tension and interaction between grace and hard work do not need to be mutually exclusion. Hard work is a value and to be practiced while grace is why we have anything that is anything. But nothing to do with it (even in your context)?

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    1. I'm not trying to say hard work didn't play a role. I'm saying hard work isn't the primary reason for his success. In particular, hard work had nothing to do with the Knicks' situation. You might argue it got him to that point and that's fine but ultimately success is in God's hands. I agree with your last statement that hard work is a value - but it's not a causal factor. Its a by-product of the grace of God working in our lives.

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  2. Hi Fred,
    I am only responding because you invited response. Mr. Lin has been in the news recently and I have to admit not only am interested in knowing more about him but I am a fan as well. Reading your article also gave some insight. I also went to Wikipedia and read more about him. He has already been described as the Tim Tebow of basketball. I agree with what you wrote about a person’s natural abilities and its correlation between hard work and grace. I would like to point out two things with the goal of sharpening a fine point. 1-Since this is a Christian blog I would have liked to see a few scripture references. Specifically, I am thinking about Romans Romans 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. And also the words of David, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him”. We cannot expect the unregenerate to know or understand these concepts and therefore it is “natural” for them to misappropriate their abilities with hard work DEVOID of God’s grace. 2- You wrote, “My brother commented that this is the vestiges of the Puritan (and immigrant) work ethic that will not die.” I agree that it is a by product of the immigrant work ethic, but I find no basis to support that it is a vestige of the Puritan work ethic. . If anything it might be an ABUSE of the puritan work ethic. The Puritan work ethic is derived from the Protestant work ethic. I would implore you and anyone else to read WITH CALVIN IN THE THEATER OF GOD especially the chapter entitled: The Secular Script in the Theater of God. Thanks for the opportunity to respond.

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    1. Kairo! Love it - way to answer the call. Thanks for the encouragement and pointing back to scripture. Its not quite the context but I think of the mysterious ways God works - 1 Cor. 2:9. Peace bro. Word to Mom dukes. I think that's how it goes.

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  3. fred, nice to read this. i agree with eugene that grace and hard work are not mutally exclusive. if anything, it's more like a positive feedback loop.

    but the bigger point that i disagree with is maybe to attribute any worldly success of the devout to god/jesus. i think this is a dangerous idea simply because its corollary is that any worldly failure of the devout should also be attributed to the same source. i actually really like jeremy's philosophy about the whole thing, which is that he feels that he is loved by god, no matter what his on-court performance. that his faith allowed him to persevere long enough to find success, but that ultimately, the success will be fleeting, and doesn't need to be micromanaged too much one way or another. that is a fantastic lesson. but i'm a buddhist/secular/agnostic/philosopher of convenience, so it's tough for me to judge someone's relationship with god one way or the other. i'm just happy he's ballin' right now.

    ener

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  4. Ener, thanks for commenting. I don't believe in the corollary or at least not the way you put it. Worldly success (or failure) is not the exclusive domain of the devout. Retrospectively, I would argue any NBA player (devout or otherwise) makes it at that level by divine intervention. I agree with Jeremy's philosophy - God's love for him is the same two weeks ago as it is today. Worldly success is a great thing but hardly the only thing. And the grace of God can reveal itself in mysterious ways - even failure. Failure and/or lack of fame can sometimes be the greatest blessing. Here's a sense of the particulars of how Jeremy feels about his recent fame:

    http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/basketball/knicks/jeremy-lin-storybook-run-ny-knicks-a-miracle-god-article-1.1022356

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