Coach Joe Gibbs talks about ‘GamePlan for Life Bible’

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.In Part 1 of our coverage of Coach Joe Gibbs’ GamePlan for Life Bible, this week, we shared one of Joe Gibbs’ many inspirational stories included in his new devotional Bible. In that story, Joe writes about how he turned his life around at a low moment with help from the New Testament book of James.
TODAY, Joe Gibbs visits ReadTheSpirit to talk about his goals in this new inspirational Bible published this autumn by Zondervan. He talks with ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm in …


DAVID: We all can’t win. At the Olympics, we heard from proud medalists who had prayed before competing, but I’m sure lots of the losers prayed, too. Our readers know you as the famous Coach Gibbs who won three national championships in two sports. Yet, you don’t win every time, either. So, how do you pray before a competition?

JOE: I pray to God to help me be my absolute best. When we pray before our races, I don’t ask God for a victory that day. I just ask God to help us be at our absolute best that day. Now, to be honest, that doesn’t mean if I was facing a big race or football game, at times I might have violated that rule. (laughing) But seriously, I pray for God to help me be at my best that day.

DAVID: You explain this point in your new Bible. You’re not promising that if people start praying and reading the Bible like you do it, they’ll suddenly win like you. In fact, you don’t always win. You’re brutally honest about some times you’ve gone backward. You argue that winning, in itself, can become an idol.

JOE: I’m speaking to myself when I write about that problem. It’s easy to make winning an idol. I came out of school wanting to play pro sports, and I wasn’t good enough. Then, I began coaching and throughout my whole life I’ve gotten excited by beating other folks in the events where we compete. I’ve been involved in two professional sports at the highest levels. I want to win.

When I talk with young people, they ask me: How can I become successful? They want to know: How can I win? How can I gain position? How can I make money? What I tell them is that they need to have the right priorities in life. This is where I’ve fallen down in my own life sometimes.

What I’ve discovered is that it’s most important to keep God first in my life and, second, to focus on the influence I’m having on others—my relationships with the people around me. Then, I put my occupation third in life and, if I do that, odds are that I will be successful in life. Sometimes, I have twisted those priorities around. The danger is that you can charge through life for 10 or 20 years, chasing success in the wrong ways and realize that you really haven’t achieved happiness. You might have missed out on your kids and grandkids. When I set down with my own boys to talk, I admit: I’ve made mistakes.

DAVID: The importance of family—that’s clearly a theme that comes through in your writing.

JOE: (laughing) Like they say, when I’m on my death bed, my last wish certainly won’t be that I wish I spent more time at work! As I look back, I do wish I had done some things differently in my life. I wish I had spent more time with family. That’s the kind of thing I’m writing about in these devotionals I am giving to people in the pages of this new Bible.

DAVID: Let’s be clear: The “Game Plan for Life” you’re talking about in the title of this new devotional Bible isn’t Joe Gibbs’ game plan. You admit that your own game plan often was flawed. The plan you’re trying to highlight for readers is the Bible itself.

JOE: I want to show people that there is an all-powerful God who left us a game plan here on earth and that’s the Bible. And it’s a relevant game plan for today. I tell people: Life is a game. You and I are players. God is our head coach. Would our all-powerful God leave us here without a game plan? I don’t think so. In preparing all of the material for this new Bible, we relied on a lot of research to find out the most important areas in life where Americans have questions. It’s not surprising that some of the topics that are very important to people are concerns about their health, about their family, about their finances, about where they’re going to spend eternity. We had Bible scholars write sections of this Bible, focused on God’s game plan.

DAVID: For example, there’s a full page in Deuteronomy that is headlined: “Moses—He Followed God’s Game Plan.” Then, there is a helpful index to reading Moses’ story, most of which is in Exodus and Numbers. Then, an “Official Player Stats” section gives a short run-down on Moses’ life like a mini-bio on a professional athlete in a program you might pick up at a stadium. There’s a short inspirational article from the Bible scholars talking about how Moses made some daring decisions in following God. And finally there is a prayer that includes: “Lord, give me the courage to pursue your big plans for me. Please stand by me just like you stood with Moses …”

JOE: We had Bible scholars to do that. Then, my story weaves through the book, too, in pages where I write honestly about how I’ve experienced God’s plan—and how I’ve sometimes veered away from it.


DAVID: You’re well aware of life’s tragedies as well as successes. For example, you knew Payne Stewart, a devout Christian and someone who prayed on a daily basis. Yet, in 1999, Stewart tragically died with others when a Learjet depressurized. So, we’re not talking about minor lapses in successful careers. Sometimes, despite prayer and a solid faith, life throws us tragedy.

JOE: People ask, “How can a loving God be part of some of the things we see on this earth?” But, we need to realize that God didn’t create the world the way it is today. God created a perfect world, then we chose to sin and sin entered the world. As a consequence, a lot of problems entered our world. God created the Garden of Eden, the perfect place to live. But God also loves us enough so that God didn’t force us to follow his principles. God gave us freedom of choice. That’s the basic question for us to this day. What do we choose?

God created us. God wants to have a relationship with us. God left us a way to play the game of life—a game plan that is right there waiting for us in God’s Word. It’s relevant to this day, even though it was written thousands of years ago.

People always ask me: “What changes I coaching?” I tell them: Everything changes in coaching all the time—except human nature. Human nature hasn’t changed in thousands of years.

Even if we follow God’s game plan, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to make mistakes—and it doesn’t mean that bad things aren’t going to happen to us. But, in the end, we are far better in life if we’re on God’s team.


DAVID: For all of your fame in football and in racing, I’ll bet most Americans aren’t aware of your major efforts to help those in need. One of our authors, Dr. Benjamin Pratt, lives in the D.C. area and told me that he respects your work especially with children in need. So, let’s talk about these efforts for a moment. Your game plan includes helping others. First, tell us about your work in prison ministry.

JOE: I got involved in going to prisons with Chuck Colson and that has had a big impact on my life. Prison visits continue to mean a lot to me. I have never been in a prison yet where anyone has been disrespectful to me or has laughed at what I was talking about. I find myself standing there, often, in front of hundreds of very focused people, listening to everything I’m saying. When I leave, I hear: “Hey, coach, thanks for coming.” We have the perfect message for anyone who is incarcerated: We share a God of second chances.

I mean that. When I go into a prison, now, in my 70s, I see so many people out there who are young and have 50 years, or more, left to live on this earth. I say to them honestly, “I wish I could change places with you.” They look at me like: What are you talking about!?! But I mean what I’m saying. I’m older and I have a lot less life ahead of me. I look at these people in prison and many of them have a long life where they could take God’s second chance, or in some cases it’s God’s third chance, or God’s fourth chance—and make a big difference.

Chuck Colson is a good example. He led one whole life where he climbed to the highest reaches of power, but he totally messed up that part of his life. He went to prison. He could have been done with life at that point. But he chose to live another kind of life and he made a big difference in the world. We serve a God of second chances.

DAVID: You’re not just visiting the prisoners—something we are told to do in the New Testament. You’re also concerned about the orphan or the at-risk young person, as well—another biblical mandate. You personally established a major center to help at-risk youth. You raised a lot of money and put substantial brick-and-mortar resources behind helping these kids. Tell us a little about that.

JOE: I first got involved with kids who were transitioning through the court system—kids who were reaching age 14 or 15 and had fallen way behind in education. Now, where is a young person in that situation going to find a second chance? That’s a very tough one. That’s the kind of program I’m involved in: It’s an educational program to take teenagers like this and help them get back on track in their education and we also teach them a godly approach to life. Youth for Tomorrow has been a big part of our lives. It’s been 27 years now; it was built strictly with private funds in Washington; and our program is ongoing.


DAVID: You call yourself “the average Joe.”

JOE: That’s right. I’m the PE major, the average guy, the guy just trying to journey through life. When it comes to the real technical side of Bible study, I leave that to the scholars. They’re intellectuals who have spent their entire lives studying what God has to say in the details of scripture. I’m just the average person trying to follow God’s principles. I’ve learned a lot about those principles—and I’ve learned how I can get smacked around by life when I try to veer away from those principles.

DAVID: In Part 1 of our coverage, we will share your story about encountering the Book of James in an airport at a low point in your life. I think that story will connect with a lot of readers.

JOE: That was a critical time in my life. I was really struggling vocationally. I thought I was going to be a head coach and, instead, I was facing some severe disappointments in life. Anyone struggling with questions of vocation should look into James.

I reached a point where I was totally depressed, questioning God, sitting in an airport. I’m sure a lot of people have experienced something like that in their lives. Then, I realized that there was this Bible sitting near me in the airport. I turned to James, because I already had been looking into that book. A huge part of our life depends on how we make decisions. And James writes about that.

DAVID: You weren’t alone that day.

JOE: That’s right. I realized there was this guy sitting next to me. Either God orchestrated that whole setting or (laughing) maybe the other guy I met that day was an angel.

DAVID: Seriously. You’re not sure, right?

JOE: That’s right. I don’t know who that other man was in the airport, but I can tell you this: I know that God put that person there on that day. And, I know this, too: What happened that day in the airport was a huge milestone in my life. The Bible came alive in that experience.

That’s what I’m trying to tell people in these stories I have written. God always has an encouraging word for us—if we’re really diligent about studying God’s Word. After thousands of years, God still speaks to us all the way through scripture. God still has a plan for us.

Enjoy Part 1 of our coverage, which includes Joe Gibbs’ inspirational story from the new Bible about his experience with the New Testament book of James.

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