After years of teaching high school, it was still my favorite way to be addressed by students. It wasn’t Mr. Delvaux. It wasn’t Mr. D. It was one word: Coach.

The sport of running has a unique quality about it. You are asked to expend yourself maximally over a spread of time so that nothing is left at the end. To do so, you have to push beyond pain thresholds. But to face the pain is to face the fear. I would ask my teams to dig down beyond what they thought possible, beyond the fear. Here is where coaching became less science and more art. It also became more joy. As I walked with their fear, I got to be a part of moving these boys into manhood.

One young runner new to cross-country wanted to talk to me in my classroom after a workout. It was the day before his first race. With halting words and downcast face, he finally blurted it out. He was scared. I was surprised at his candor. I then got to reassure him that every runner is scared. It’s what you do with the fear that matters. It was a revelation to him that he wasn’t alone. He walked out my door with his head up. He also ran well in that first race.

A miler I coached with tremendous potential became increasingly upset over his season. The more he trained, the worse he got. During one difficult interval session on the track, he could not finish and had to stop, throwing himself down on the side of the track in frustration. He pulled his knees toward him with both arms and bowed his head in despair. As I sat down beside him, he expressed through tears his confusion and disappointment. I encouraged him as best as I could, but I didn’t understand his training woes myself. Soon afterward though, we realized that he was not getting enough caloric intake. A change in his diet began to change his season. His growing excitement mirrored mine as his times began to improve. He was reaching his potential.

There was the conversation with a young sprinter concerning his goals for the track season. We sat in two plastic chairs facing each other in the large meeting room at our annual spring camp. What was a normal discussion I had with every runner was difficult for him. He was a chronic stutterer. But the more he felt safe with me in the conversation, the more I saw his stuttering subside. Over the season, I grew to love him and his heart to compete. So did the rest of the team.

There was the jumper who would explode in anger over his technical mistakes. He had recently lost his father to a heart attack, and I was able to speak to him about anger and grief. What he needed at that moment was not high jump drills. He needed to be hugged.

I have countless other stories like these. The wonder I felt in all of them was the wonder of being a coach. I was able to mentor these young men, being present and speaking into their hearts. If you’ve ever been a coach, you know what I mean. Everywhere you turn is wet cement. Everywhere you step, you leave footprints. I am still awed by the privilege.

The wet cement is there because every young man longs to be coached. The fragile stalk of masculinity sprouting up needs the attention and affirmation of a coach. Sometimes it can be his father. At other times, it’s another man who comes for him. The coach fills that longing for a heroic mentor, a wise man he can follow. He longs for a guide through the mystery and turmoil of entering manhood. Without one, he gets lost—or gives up altogether …

Jesus Is Your Coach

The necessity of a coach is also echoed in the great heroic tales … When we turn to the greatest of all stories, we find the same pattern. The Son was coached by the Father. In answering His critics after healing a paralyzed man, Jesus simply referred them to His Father: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all he does” (John 5:19–20). Did you catch that? The Son of God couldn’t do a thing on His own. He had to be shown. He had to be taught. He had to be coached.

There is more here. Jesus is the great Hero of all time, but He is not bound to the patterns of our heroic myths. What He fulfills, He also supersedes. He is the Lord of story as well as history. This is nowhere more apparent than when we turn to the theme of coaching. The one Man whose life was supremely heroic is the one Man who wants to guide men into the same life. This is unprecedented in any heroic tale. The great Hero is also the great Coach.

Let’s go back for a moment to our attempts at becoming heroic. They were, by and large, disasters. Our hope for nobleness degenerated into narcissism. Yet the desire remains. Could it be possible that Jesus knows our longing and wants us to become heroic like Him? It’s not only possible, it’s the whole point of Christianity. Jesus became like us so that we could become like Him. Paul puts it even more forcefully: God “predestined [us] to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). God’s intention for us mirrors our longing. It seems He has written His hopes for us in our deepest desires.

There is even more. Jesus not only knows our longing to be heroic but also understands our desire for a coach. And He wants to personally coach us into that heroic life.

What If You Feel Unworthy?

I know this whole line of thinking raises all sorts of objections: “But He was Jesus. I’m just a sinner.” “I’ve never had a flesh-and-blood man to show me the way. That’s what I need. How can He coach me if He’s not physically present?” “I feel Jesus is so disappointed with me. I’ve made such a mess of things. How could He want that for me?” “I understand what you are saying, but I feel disconnected from Jesus, sometimes afraid of Him, sometimes ashamed of Him.” You may have other objections. But notice the tenor of them all. They are all voicing the same ache. It’s the ache of abandoned men, of uncoached men.

How Jesus Coaches Us

Rather than answer the objections, I want to hone in on the ache. Let’s do that by going to the New Testament Gospels. How did Jesus coach men? How did He come to them in the Gospels? He didn’t start with a lecture. He didn’t begin with handing out books. He didn’t draw up a list of expectations. He started with a call: “Come, follow me” (Matt. 4:19). It was the call of the Coach. It was the call for men to come and just be with Him. He did this primarily for twelve men, ones who had little to offer: blue-collar fishermen, a seedy tax collector, a political insurgent, and others—all untutored men scorned by religious leaders. They were the abandoned men, the uncoached men. He came for them, and He called them. And what He did with them breaks all boundaries of the possible. With His coaching, they became bearers of the Kingdom, ushering in a new existence on earth …

Think back to one of your heroes. It may have been a great athlete, a famous musician, an acclaimed author, a winsome teacher, or a beloved coach. Then imagine how you might have felt if he had invited you to come and be with him for a day, tagging along with him in his daily activities. You would have felt astonished at such an offer and then honored that you had been singled out. But there is more to this invitation than you first realize.

Imagine that your hero not only invites you into his company but also offers to train you in his craft, in the very thing that made him seem so heroic to you, be it football or songwriting. He wants you to experience what he has experienced. He wants to open a door for you so that you can share in his greatness and taste it for yourself.

However unrealistic such a scenario sounds, this is exactly what Jesus did for His disciples. He spent three years, training and teaching them in the ways of the Kingdom. He wanted them to share in His greatness and glory. He wanted them to know the joy of becoming like Him. He opened a door that they could have never found on their own.

But Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The Coach of the ages calls men to come and tag along beside Him so that He can rub off onto them. The great Hero wants to train men today in the ways of the heroic.

But He’s Not Here Anymore …

The fact that He is no longer present in body can seem like such a stumbling block to all of this. It wasn’t that way to Jesus. In fact, He told His twelve men right before His death that it was better if He left. How could that be? He explains it this way: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16–17). If the Holy Spirit is another advocate, Jesus is implying that He is the first one. Advocate is a translation of the Greek word paraclete, a term used by the Greeks for someone called to come alongside and help as a legal counsel for the defendant.

But the word paraclete carries other nuances difficult to translate into English. Those nuances come clearer when we think about Jesus as a paraclete for His twelve men. What did He do for them? He loved them, taught them, and guided them into the life of the Kingdom. Then He trained them by sending them out to practice what they had learned so that the Kingdom could spread to others. Finally, as He is about to depart, He informs them that a second paraclete is coming, to do for them what He did: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). And this: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). Jesus taught them and guided them. He coached them. His Holy Spirit will do that for us today.

Excerpted with permission from Heroic by Bill Delvaux. Copyright 2019, B&H Publishing Group.