Heaven to the Yeah grace ambassador, Jordan Gray, had the opportunity to speak with the forty-year former head coach of Liberty University Track and Field, Brant Tolsma, as he discussed his faith walk and how impactful coaching for and being a part of Liberty University proved to be in his life. Tolsma began his real love of sports in the seventh grade. Having grown up in a non-athletic household, Tolsma always knew athletics were in his heart. After being taken to his first track meet in the seventh grade and fell in love with the sport. He fell in love so much so that he began teaching himself how to high jump in his backyard. As he grew older, he found himself participating in track and field in high school, but track was not really known in his program, so he decided to shine on the track in college. However, having gone to college for hydraulic engineering, when the time came to begin applying for jobs as graduation was right around the corner, Tolsma grew nervous as he, like many other graduating college students, wasn’t sure what he wanted to do; so, he became a teacher at his alma mater while he continued his schooling in biomechanics in sport. Later, he was hired at Campbell University to be a track coach and found that coaching had his heart. After a few years at Campbell, Tolsma was hired at Liberty University where he saw the Lord work wonders at the school and within the program over the next forty years.
Growing up in a very biblically based home, Tolsma never had a problem with doubting because “faith comes by hearing and hearing the word of God…and I got a lot of Word of God poured into me.” There were instances where Tolsma wandered a bit, but always found himself being pulled back by the Word. As he grew older and went into coaching, he never thought he would obtain any spiritual impact from it, for he always thought of coaching as a secular entity; however, he grew to find that the Holy Spirit impacted his spiritual growth during his coaching career, helping him develop deeper insight into his role as a coach. “In the beginning, I thought [being a coach] was to develop teams, [but] after a while, I began to view my role as more of an assistant coach with the Lord as head coach.” The Lord is the one with the plan and purpose for all of us as He views us all from above. Tolsma saw that the Lord held a special purpose for each of his athletes and let the Lord take control. “All sports are filled with disappointments and setbacks and life often does not go the way we plan until we look back and find the purpose… it’s not me doing the work, it’s Him.” On this Earth, we are all helpers to the Lord’s plan as He empowers us daily to do His work. “The most important part of your life is not in your twenties, but it is when you walk longer and longer with the Lord. [The Lord] is going to accomplish His purpose [with each of us]; we just have to be open and willing to allow it.” Through such a mindset developed during his time as a coach, Tolsma was able to grow and experience fulfillment in using his gifts and talents from God as he led his teams each year.
Gifts are given to everyone by the Lord above. We each have a unique set of gifts to use for our own individual purposes. Yet, Tolsma realized that to be the best coach he could be, he needed to tap into a multitude of gifts, especially his gift of being a prophet. “A prophet is someone who speaks the mind of God. To be a coach means you have to be a prophet, and it is a gift that is a thrill to use because when God gives you the gift to be something beyond yourself, it is so fulfilling.” And with his gifts, and his special gift of a prophet, Tolsma saw over the years his team members constantly being jointly used by God to do something miraculous. But even with all the successes in his coaching years, Tolsma never failed to balance his humility with his pride. “I have a different definition of humility—humility is seeing reality.” Tolsma continues to speak on each person’s talents and gifts, but each gift comes from God and with each gift comes responsibility for that gift. “When you’re given a gift by a loving father, He is giving you these gifts for a purpose—to do something with it.” However, just as easily as God gives gifts, he can take them away when people hit their prideful downfalls. “A great source of downfall is pride. God will take you down when you begin to get too high in yourself for God uses broken vessels. If you are prideful, you’re not seeing reality. Life will teach you humility over time.” While God gives endless gifts to his children, the greatest gift He gives is His Grace. When Tolsma thinks of Grace, he thinks of Mercy too. “[I see] Mercy as not getting what we deserve and Grace as getting what we don’t deserve.” We are fallen creatures created by an all-good God, but we ourselves are not capable of doing any one good thing; that is why the Holy Spirit was sent to us—to make us capable of good things. “Grace is being accepted, being used by God, being forgiven, and being willing to do the same for others. Not only do we need to receive Grace, but we also have to give it. As long as there is life and breath, there is hope and potential of receiving the Grace of God.” Even in knowing God’s Grace, there may still be times when you find it difficult to live out your faith.
While never truly experienced any difficulty in living out his faith since he has been in a Christian environment all his life, Tolsma has seen that there have been and will be times when you cannot speak as openly about the Word, but you still need to speak truth. “If you are coaching in a secular environment, you have to speak truth, but don’t state the reference for truth is truth. When you believe lies, they come back to haunt you; if you believe the lie, you die, for the wages of sin is death.” Through faith, Tolsma has found truth and ways to navigate the difficult moments in his life. “If you know it is God doing the work, you can stop and ask Him what He is doing [when times seem rough], but you cannot be wavering with God. We are here to do God’s Will and if we want to share in His glory, we must be willing to share in His suffering.” God has a plan for each of us, even if it involves difficulty, but we have to rise to the level of our potential as God’s plan brings results, for “you can’t impact a million before you’ve impacted one.” Living in and fulfilling God’s plan helps us live with our eye on Heaven. “We don’t need to live focused on just this life; that is the biggest lie society can tell you.” Before Gray ended her time speaking with Tolsma, she asked him to provide listeners, viewers, and readers with a few final words. “The Lord is the purpose, and He is joy. You are a marvelous creation. If you are a creation, then there is a creator, and you can sense and see His love all around you if your eyes are open to it…The spiritual part of life is real, even if it isn’t visible, and that is the greatest joy. So, get in the Word and start trying to figure it out. The Word of God is truth and God is a God for our lives.” The Heaven to the Yeah team thanks Tolsma for taking the time to speak with Gray and share his inspiring story and gifts of the word. We pray for health and happiness for him and his family.