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Dear Christians in Sport,
What does it mean to play my sport for God’s glory? I see people on social media talk about ‘playing for God’s glory’ and ‘all for his glory’ – what does this actually mean?
If you spend any time on social media or listening to post-match interviews, it is not hard to find sportspeople speaking about doing something for God’s glory and giving him thanks after a match - #AllGloryToGod.
But what do they actually mean? What is God’s glory and how do we do something for the glory of God?
Firstly, we need to ask: what is the world all about?
Well, everything is about God. The universe, the heavens, the sea and the skies are all about God and made for him and they all declare his glory (Psalm 19:1).
Author and Theologian John Piper has summed up this by saying:
“God’s ultimate goal is to preserve and display his infinite and awesome greatness and worth, that is, his glory.”
The whole world, including us, were made to show off the magnificence of God.
“Everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”
All of us were made in the image of God to reflect and represent the God who made us.
So, we can say it is a good and right thing to think about how we can glorify God in our sport for that is how we were made to be.
Brian Smith in his book, The Christian Athlete, outlines three main ways sportspeople can get this concept wrong.
He references the often-heard post-match interview or social media post where someone is asked about the goal they scored or the play they made and the athlete replies: “Well first of all I want to give all glory to God and thank him for this moment.”
What is the danger in doing this? Surely this is a good thing to say?
Smith references Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14 where, having healed a girl, the crowds began to chant and shout:
“The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men. Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.”
It sounds very similar to what can happen in sport. Paul and Barnabas did something amazing, the crowd went wild and they began to compare them to the greats of history.
Paul and Barnabas, Smith notes, did not reply “all glory be to God” but instead began to plead with the crowd to stop worshipping them. As Smith notes:
“Paul and Barnabas show us the right way to respond to glory that belongs only to God. They aggressively attacked the praise lavished on them and sought to get the spotlight off themselves.”
The danger Smith notes here is that we sometimes say, “all glory be to God” or “I play for an audience of one” but often what we are saying doesn’t match up with the reality of what we’ve just done.
“The “all glory to God” declarations after a game become merely a robotic response—maybe with good intentions but delivered without serious reflection on whether or not what we just did actually was glorifying to him.”
At its heart this can be hypocrisy.
We often don’t see sportspeople giving glory to God when they lose or are injured. We assume God only gets the glory from us when we win. As Smith says: “We have made a dangerous link between earthly success and the primary way God is glorified.”
We cannot add to God’s glory by performing to a certain standard or doing something incredible. God is complete and perfect and needs nothing from us. But we can point to his glory, that is his worth.
We glorify God in our sport by delighting in him and displaying his infinite worth and beauty to those we play with in what we do and say.
So, as we land this question, here are two things we can think about when it comes to glorifying God in our sport:
The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins by saying:
“The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
We glorify God primarily by enjoying him, or as Psalm 37:4 says “delighting yourself in the Lord” which itself brings us joy, which is what we were made for. It’s a wonderful loop! We were made to be happy and we find this in enjoying God which is glorifying him.
Just as a doctor and a patient both find joy when the sick patient is cured or the baby and mother both are delighted when the hungry baby is fed, so God is happy when we enjoy Him and His good gifts. Sport as a good gift of God, is one of those things we can then enjoy wholeheartedly and so give him glory as we do so.
“God is most glorified, when we are most satisfied in him.”
This means we will be satisfied in what he is sovereignly doing in our lives, both what we think is good and what we struggle to understand. God is not just glorified when we win or when we get everything right. Sport is a wonderful gift from God that he uses to make us more like himself (Romans 8), in both the highs and the lows, the victory and the pain. As we recognise that this is what God is doing in our sport, we can glorify him as we are thankful for what he is doing in us through our sport. A heart of thanksgiving is key as we seek to glorify him.
Jesus says in Matthew 5:16: “Let your light so shine among men that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
As we enjoy God and his good gifts, this will lead to good deeds, that is loving service of our competitors and those we compete against. We will serve them in how we compete as well as how we speak of God’s magnificence. For if we don’t point people towards the one who gives everlasting joy, how can we say we love them?
Whilst sport does not just have value because of the opportunities it brings to build friendships and share our faith, evangelism is one way in which we can bring God glory as we live out our new identity as saved people, enjoying all he has given us.
So – how can I glorify God in my sport? Well, our whole lives are to be lived for his glory – by living with total joy and freedom as we shout through all that we do and all that we say that the God we worship is glorious! May we go and enjoy him in our sport today.
Do you have any questions about sport and faith?
Send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or feel free to contact us via social media
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