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An Ordinary Man with Extraordinary Faith

Mark Cook is the program coordinator for the Institute for Global Engagement, a partnership between Denison Forum and Dallas Baptist University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Dallas Baptist University, and completed his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and Truett Seminary. His ministry background is college ministry, and he has served both on a church staff as well as within campus ministries.

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Los Angeles, California, Head coach Monty Williams of the New Orleans Hornets during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers during a NBA Western Conference First Round playoff basketball game in Los Angeles, on Sunday, April 17, 2011.

“An ordinary man with extraordinary faith.” That’s how TNT’s Ernie Johnson described Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams after showing Williams’ moving eulogy at his wife’s funeral. Williams, whose wife died in a tragic car accident earlier in February, spoke for only about 7 minutes, but within those 7 minutes he conveyed a heart of strength and compassion.

Usually the NBA is a place where faith is relegated to platitudes. It’s rare to have the opportunity to hear a player or coach discuss their personal lives, let alone what they believe. As an entertainment business, NBA officials naturally want to appeal to the highest number of people, so most of our attention gets diverted to on-court exploits rather than behind-the-scenes glimpses into the lives of the men and women who make up the sport.

Which is why it is incredible that Williams’ eulogy is featured prominently on NBA.com, and being shared by official NBA social media outlets. Even TNT, one of the NBA’s official television partners, showed an extended clip of the eulogy during its popular “Inside the NBA” show.

Here’s the link to watch the video if you haven’t had the chance to yet.

Williams began by thanking those who had offered support and condolences, but moved quickly to remind everyone that even though this situation is extremely difficult, God’s love is still real: “He loved me so much he sent his son to die for my sins…He loved me so much that he gave me a wife that loved every part of me.”

Quoting from Romans 8, he talked about the faith he had that because God is in control of all things, even this terrible tragedy will work out by God’s grace and redemption. His faith stems from a long trust in God, born out through other trials and difficulties that have come his way. “As hard as this is for me and my family and for you, this will work out. I know this because I have seen this in my life.”

In the last part of his message, Williams moved to encourage the congregation. “This will work out. That doesn’t mean it’s not hard. Doesn’t mean it’s not painful. Doesn’t mean we don’t have tough times, or that we won’t have tough times. But what we need is the Lord, and that’s what my wife tried to exhibit every single day.” Perhaps the most remarkable part came next, as he started to conclude.

“Let us not forget that there were two people in this situation, and that family needs prayer as well.  And we have no ill will toward that family. In my house we have a sign that says “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” We cannot serve the Lord unless we have a heart of forgiveness. That family didn’t wake up wanting to hurt my wife. Life is hard — it is very hard — and that was tough. But we hold no ill will toward the Donaldson family.”

Strength. Courage. Compassion. Forgiveness. Love. In one of the most difficult moments of Williams’ life, he used his pain to be a witness to the love and faithfulness he had experienced in Jesus. Out of his own sorrow he sought to encourage others with his words.

Gathered amongst the congregation were numerous NBA players and coaches. Who knows how that message of Jesus’ love and faithfulness will impact their lives? Several players, including Clippers star Chris Paul, said it was the most powerful speech they’d ever heard.

God often speaks to others most clearly through how we respond to times of great personal difficulty and tragedy. In our brokenness, God works in powerful ways that we cannot always see. The way Coach Williams has responded to this tragedy has already touched countless lives, and will continue to do so. Ernie Johnson was right. Coach Williams is an ordinary man, facing unspeakable tragedy, but he’s doing so with extraordinary faith.