5 Lessons I Learned in the NFL, by Wilson Van Hooser

Two weeks after the 2014 NFL Draft, I signed with the New England Patriots as a Rookie Free Agent. In a matter of 24 hours, I had moved across the country and began a four month long test of trying to sprint a marathon. For four months in 2014, I was able to be in a locker room with popular names such as Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork, Matthew Slater, and Julian Edelman, to name just a few. Whether you’re a sports fan or not, I am sure some of the lessons that I learned are similar to some of the things God has taken you through or will take you through. So, in no particular order:

1.       God is supremely desirable. By the providence of God, I came across two books that could not have been any more influential for me during that time: Desiring God by John Piper and The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards by Steven Lawson. Through these men, the Holy Spirit awakened me to more of the inestimable riches of the glory of God. John Piper put into detailed words much of the desire of my heart. Steven Lawson showed through the life of Jonathan Edwards that God is infinitely desirable to live for. Even in the midst of playing in the NFL, God was heavy and constant on my heart and mind. After being at the top, I can tell you that “the man who has God has all things.” As Paul says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

2.       Stay in the company of godly people. Work can be a dark and dry place spiritually yet the sovereign work of our great God provided me with a band of godly brothers. Men such as Matthew Slater and Asa Watson became people who I came to greatly admire because of their relationship with God. Another godly man was the team chaplain Jack Easterby, who was a pivotal brother in Christ for me during those months. God tells us that in order to love people, we actually begin by loving and obeying Him first (1 John 5:2). These men follow hard after the Lord and they overflowed with His gracious love onto the other members of that organization.

3.       The local church is crucial. During my time in Foxborough, I attended CityLife Presbyterian even though it was in downtown Boston. God greatly used the local church to fuel me for the week ahead. There are times when we use the church for our own selfish therapeutic needs but other times when God reminds us that the goal of worship is for Him and not for us. God is revealed through the preached word and the gathering of the saints. When God is your treasure and joy, you long to gather with fellow believers and worship God. The local church is critical for our growth in Christ. A true Christian longs to “be still and know” that God is indeed God. This is the Bride that Christ purchased by His blood that we might together live as a royal priesthood.

4.       New cleats wear out, God’s covenant does not. Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman used to mess with me because of the single pair of cleats I wore for a long time while I was there. Cleats become well worn and at some point they cannot be used anymore. While in New England, I became fixed upon God’s unbreakable covenant that we have with Him through the blood of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit pressed upon me the unfailing promises of God (2 Corinthians 1:20). When practices went bad or off the field struggles grew, I realized that one thing was always constant and that was the eternal love and sovereignty of God. In a place where you walk into work every day wondering whether you’re going to get cut or not, it is an unrivaled joy to know the surety of our God.

5.       Learn names. Maybe this is not what you were expecting on of them to be. Without a doubt, one of the most impressive things that I saw was the personal interest Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, had in his players. I had heard that he prided himself by knowing every player’s first name. Sure enough, I passed him in the hall one day to hear him call out my first name. Mr. Kraft is the highest man in the organization yet knew the lowest. Jesus Christ is the Supreme Ruler of all things, yet names the stars (Psalm 147:4). Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, yet He called His disciples to follow Him by name (Isaiah 43:1, Matthew 4:19).