It’s Game Day in the World Cup. I’m sure you can’t wait to get out there and show the world what you’ve got - your amazing talent and skill and all the hard work and dedication that has gone into becoming an international footballer.
In the build up today and during tonight's 90 minutes, you’ll experience some of the strongest emotions and potential challenges to how you think about your faith.
What does it look like to integrate your faith and your sport amid such pressure?
The first reason God gave the gift of sport is for it to bring joy.
“In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.”
God compares our sport to a honeymoon - both physically and emotionally satisfying - what high praise for the joy of sport!
Every match is an opportunity to experience this God-given joy.
This joy will help you in the ups and especially in the downs over the next few weeks. The Bible makes this clear again and again, that it is joy that helps us endure the difficulties in life.
These next few weeks, make a conscious effort to count every blessing, thanking God for the joy of sport and the amazing experience he has given you.
The second reason God give gifts to his people is to use them within the ‘school of discipleship.’
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."
God has given you this vocation of football as a ‘school of discipleship’ to learn what it looks like to love God and love others.
As you compete and lean on the promises of God, you have endless opportunities to grow in living out your faith.
As you compete you can show many the wonderful joy of sport:
By competing within the rules you can show an alternative to the winner-takes-all attitude so prevalent in all sport.
By not treating your opponent as the enemy but valuing them as a ‘co-worker’ you can push each other on to excellence.
By showing humility and thankfulness in victory, recognising that other Christian players have worked just as hard and prayed just as much, but that God has set aside gifts other than footballing success for them.
By not torturing yourself in defeat with self-loathing and shame, instead rejoicing with those who win and weeping with those who don’t.
In all this you can show the wonderful, transforming news of the gospel at work in your life as you experience joy in the pressures of a World Cup.
But what if things don’t work out as you hoped?
God will be there for you and with you in the midst of the pain. As you grieve, look for Jesus. He will give you the comfort you long for. He will remind you that his love for you is stronger and will last much longer than your present pain. He will assure you that he still has good things for you.
Ask his help to hold on to this truth. Because when you are hurting, it is so easy to listen to lies. You see, it’s a real danger to view God as your ultimate manager.
The lie says that if you make good spiritual choices then you will be on God’s winning team and blessed with success. But when success doesn’t happen, the lie says it’s because you have made bad choices and don’t deserve to be on the team, at least not until you can prove yourself spiritually good enough again.
In all of your footballing career you’ve probably been taught to only feel good about yourself when you’re winning, that if you lose, you’re nothing. Your coaches may have told you to use the shame of losing to motivate you to success.
Friend, you need to separate your sense of worth, your identity, from your performance. Equating significance and achievement will always leave your self-esteem at the mercy of the natural ups and downs of being a top-level sportsperson. But only love has the power to make humans feel significant, performance never will.
The good news of the gospel is that in God, you have unconditional love, not based on any of your performance. You are valued and loved not because of the talents you have or the way you compete. Your worth and value is seen in the love God proved he had for you when he died for you on the cross.
Romans 5:8 tells us:
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Now, as people reconciled to God there is no condemnation, nothing can separate us from God’s love and we are adopted as God’s children - this is who you are. This is where you identity alone can be found. This is where you can find peace, even in the midst of a major loss.
Friends, enjoy these next few weeks and the amazing opportunity it is. If you feel the pain of loss, know that with Jesus pain never has the last word. If you win, know that it is a wonderful gift of God to be thankful for.
Solo Deo Gloria!
Inspired by “Pastoral Care in the Olympic Village” by Ashley Null in Sports Chaplaincy: Trends, Issues and Debates.
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