by By Joe McKeeverEvery sports fan knows the term. A player sustains a concussion, or receives a bruise, or breaks a bone. His teammates carry him off the field, the trainers cart him into the locker room where he is examined and treated and taped, and a few minutes later a cheer erupts from the crowd; he is re-entering the game. His wife and parents are beside themselves with fear, the fans are ecstatic, and his team is inspired. This is no sissy here, fellas; this is a man of courage. He plays hurt. The downside to playing hurt is that, for the good of the game, so to speak, a player may permanently damage his body or shorten his career or even jeopardize his very life. Baseballers remember how the great Dizzy Dean developed arm trouble at the age of 26-in the very prime of his career-and kept on pitching. The next year he was out of the game. That said, I want to put in a good word about playing hurt. But in real life, not in sports. In sports, I say take care of yourself. The fans may cheer for the moment, but you will carry that limp a long time after they have forgotten your name. Someone at church said something that hurt him, so he quit coming. Hasn't been back in years. Now, I love the guy, and I wish he had "played hurt"-that is, gone on to church anyway and stayed in his slot and done his job. That's the only way the game of life is won. If we leave the field everytime someone takes a cheap shot at us, we won't last long. Pastors do it all the time. It's a rare preacher who puts in several decades of ministry who has not at one time or another had some group organizing against him, second-guessing his preaching, and undercutting his every move. What does he do? He "girds up his loins"-Bible talk for sucking it up-and walks into the pulpit the next Sunday and gives it his best effort. If he's a man of integrity, and he almost always is, you would never know by the sermon that he's under personal attack. He's playing hurt. He does it so well that the congregation is often surprised to learn what a heavy burden he was carrying. Look at our Lord in the Upper Room with the disciples. He's the only one there who knows what's coming. Judas has left to seek his collaborators in order to betray the Lord. The shadow of the cross looms. What is Jesus doing this night but cheering up His disciples and preparing them for what lies ahead. We call the account in John 13-16 "the Upper Room discourse." It's a picture of our Lord playing hurt. Fast forward a few hours and see Jesus nailed to the cross. Forsaken by most of His disciples, surrounded by a sea of spitting tormentors, Jesus is bleeding, hurting and lonely. Yet, He prays for forgiveness for His murderers, gives eternal life to a dying thief, sees to His mother's future security, and commits Himself to the heavenly Father, who seems so distant. Doing His job, staying on course, playing hurt. God's people would do well to pray that the Father would toughen our spirits. Jesus warns His followers that they-and we-might expect opposition as standard issue. And not all of it would come from the world; some would originate with our closest friends. It was, after all, a disciple who betrayed Jesus. "O Lord, give me a sensitive heart-for Thee and the hurting people around me. But give me also a tough hide-to take whatever pain and opposition come my way and to keep on course. May I stay my eyes on Thee. Deliver me from having to stand before Thee at judgment and blame my failures on the fact that someone was mean to me." "Father, help me to grow up. Amen."