Tennis Star in the Making
David Wheaton, from Minnesota, was fifteen when he was offered a full scholarship to the famous Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida under coach and mentor Nick Bollettieri, a legend in the tennis world. In addition to coaching the likes of Andre Agassi and Jim Courier, he was the guide and mentor to Grand Slam champions such as Monica Seles, Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic and Mary Pierce.
In David Wheaton, Bollettieri believed he had a winner who would make the world sit up and notice. “David was a tall kid (6’4”) with a massive serve … who loved to serve and volley and seemed built to win Wimbledon. And that year he was the one who got us all really excited because he won the boys’ title without dropping a single set. The sky seemed the limit.” (1)
The World Looks Oh So Bright
Things were going well. In Wheaton’s own words he said: “I trained every day after school with future tennis greats like Andre Agassi and Jim Courier. Before long I rocketed to the top of the junior tennis world – elite universities were recruiting, sports agents were visiting, and the professional tennis tour was beckoning. Life was as good as it gets for a seventeen year old.” (2)
The summer Wheaton graduated from High School, he played on the U.S. National Team in the Junior French Open and Wimbledon. He won a prestigious national junior tournament. As a tennis junior, Wheaton reached World No. 1. (3)
In a tournament in Washington, DC that summer, he came ever so close to defeating Ivan Lendl, the world’s #1 professional player at that time. That fall he was off to Stanford University on a tennis scholarship and helped the college win the national championship.
The Love of His Life
Wheaton’s life increasingly became all about himself and his goals and aspirations. Reflecting on walking out on the stage at Stanford to be honoured as ‘Most Outstanding Freshman Athlete’ he said: “I pleased myself – not God.” (4) He knew better. His parents were Christians who loved the Lord. He knew the major teachings of the Bible and yes, he knew about Christ who laid down His life on the Cross for our sins. He knew that God was to be number one in a person’s life. In fact, he even claimed to be a Christian.
A lawyer asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was and Jesus responded with this:
“You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
This is the great and first commandment.
Flooded with Successes
Satan has his dark sinister strategies to lure people away from God. The packaging can be so attractive and appealing. Should Wheaton leave university to play professional tennis? Significant endorsement contracts were being offered from clothing and racket manufacturers. Fame, fortune and success were falling out of the sky into his lap.
“At age twenty-two, just three years after turning professional, I was known across the world, was a millionaire and was ranked number twelve in the world after reaching the semi-finals of Wimbledon. Summing it all up was the license plate on my jeep: “LOVE2B1”. I still wasn’t happy or content.” (5)
On the way to the semi-finals in Wimbledon he had beaten Andre Agassi and Ivan Lendl. And then, later the same year Wheaton was off to the Grand Slam Cup in Munich, Germany.
Biggest Win Over in a Flash
“I won the largest prize money tournament in the history of tennis [$2million] … As I stood there holding aloft the trophyin front of fourteen thousand fans, my life was about to take a small but significant turn. Within ten minutes of winning the greatest title of my career, I watched as the fans streamed out of the stadium and the grounds staff folded chairs and removed banners – it was over in a flash. I remember the distinct thought that my greatest moment of triumph was extremely short-lived. For the first time in my life I realized the temporary “high” of fame, fortune and success couldn’t deliver lasting fulfillment.” (6)
“What shall it profit a man
if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul
or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Wrong Road in Life
At age 24, David Wheaton was bothered inside – an intensifying inner conflict. He craved more money and wanted to be in more television commercials. His romantic life was in shambles. His relationship with his parents was badly strained. He said: “I knew, just knew, I was on the wrong road, but I couldn’t seem to get off it.” (7)
Jesus said there are two roads in life: a downward, broad road leading to destruction and crowded with travelers and the other road He called the narrow road that leads to life. (Matthew 7:13-14)
Returning home, his parents convinced him to attend a Christian seminar despite his reluctance and maybe cynicism.
The seven Bible principles presented at the seminar jolted Wheaton to the core: Clear Conscience; Meditation on Scripture; Submission to Authority; Moral Purity; Forgiveness; Yielding Rights; and Self Acceptance.
Wheaton was in complete shock. If he thought he was some kind of a Christian or a good Christian boy, he now faced the reality that he was not.
Facing His Own Guilt
“I had broken every single one of those principles! I had a guilty conscience before God and others. I didn’t read the Bible, let alone meditate on it. I rebelled against my authorities. I was morally impure. I held bitterness towards others without forgiving them. I angrily confused privileges for my rights. I misunderstood God’s design for my life.”
“I came to the rightful conclusion: I am not a true Christian.” Right conclusion: wrong road.
“This was revolutionary for me. Me, a sinner? Me, offending God? Me, as bad as anyone else? Me, deserving of Hell? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. For the first time in my life, I saw myself as God saw me. I saw my need for forgiveness, my need to be right with God, my need to get on “the narrow way that leads to life.” (8)
Burdened and troubled but not completely broken yet, David said: “A decade of sinful momentum held me in its grip for several more months until I decided to stay home from my annual trip to the Australian Open. I just couldn’t take another step with the immense burden [of sin] on my back. The inner voice was screaming now, not whispering.” (9)
Turning to Life’s Only Reliable Road Map
For days and weeks Wheaton read his Bible. And then there came that pivotal time when, as he said: “I repented of my sin and put my faith in Jesus Christ as my Saviour and my Lord. I humbled myself before God … I believed Jesus Christ had died on the cross for my sin, and I committed to being His follower. I was spiritually born. I became a ‘born again’ Christian.”(10)
“Truly, truly, I say to you,
unless one is born again
he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Do not marvel that I said to you –
‘you must be born again.’”
Nothing Fake or Superficial – Changed from Inside Out
“This definitely wasn’t about becoming more ‘religious’ – going to church, praying more often, being baptized, receiving communion, getting confirmed, … turning over a new leaf or doing any good works to justify myself before God. This was about me getting down on my knees and saying: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”This was a supernatural transformation of my heart … from professor to possessor.” (11)
Wheaton lists many blessings associated with trusting Christ as his Saviour and becoming a genuine Christian – not just a nominal one or one who ‘professes’ to be a Christian. And then he adds: “Perhaps the greatest part of it all was being able to put my head on my pillow at night knowing I was in a right relationship with the God of this universe. I was never able to do that previously. That simple pleasure is worth far more than … temporary pleasures and all the fame, fortune and success the world can ever offer. Yes, I finally had peace and joy and hope and could truly say, “Life without Christ is a hopeless end; life with Christ is an endless hope!” (Anonymous)” (12)
Today when David Wheaton autographs a tennis card from former years, more important than his name, is the Bibleverse he includes.
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.”
In an interview Wheaton said: “Being in a right relationship with your Creator, being reconciled to God … this is the highest purpose in life. You can have everything. You can have nothing. Whatever situation you are in – if you’re not in a right relationship with the God of this universe, you are never going to have a satisfying and fulfilling life on earth. And of course, there’s the eternal benefit of having eternal life with Christ in heaven. What’s more important than that?” (13)
And, what is more important than that? How many stories like this do you have to read, how many more experiences do you need in this life, how much more time is going to pass before you realize what David Wheaton realized?
- Would you like to be right with God?
- Would you like to have peace?
- Would you like to have a new life?
- Would you like to be forgiven?
- Would you like to find fulfilment?
- Would you like to be sure of Heaven?
- Would you like to be a possessor – not a professor?
If you would like to discuss these issues further click here to email.
If you would like to visit David Wheaton’s website go to www.davidwheaton.com
2. University of Destruction, David Wheaton, BethanyHouse, 2005, p. 12
4. University of Destruction, David Wheaton, BethanyHouse, 2005, p. 163
5. ibid. p.164
6. ibid. p. 165
7. ibid. p.165
8. ibid. p.166
9. ibid. p.166
10. ibid. p. 166
11. ibid. p. 166
12. ibid. p. 167