The ability to play sport is an aspect of God's creation that can be enjoyed for his glory.
It is so important to emphasise this because many Christian sportspeople withdraw from sport due to misunderstood theology as well as the daily pressures of study, work, family and social commitments. If we are to serve the world of sport best it’s worth asking if Christians should stay in their sports clubs and be equipped to follow Christ in an environment where God has given them talents and where so many people who don’t know about Jesus Christ spend their time.
Being a disciple of Jesus means worshipping him in every single aspect of our lives, every minute of the day. For those who spend a significant amount of time training and playing, this raises the question how we work out our discipleship in sport.
We work particularly hard on this principle that we are "born to play" with young sportspeople from their teens to early twenties in order to establish a life-long habit.
We will consider this by reflecting on how God made us in his own image (Genesis 1 and 2), then (Genesis 3) seeing how the human race spoilt God’s gifts of talent and community, before finally (Romans 12:1) considering how God started the process of fixing the mess we’d made in these areas of our lives.
The Bible is clear that God made us “in his image” (Genesis 1:26-28) and this is explained further in Genesis 2:15 and 2:18. In the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15) Adam and Eve are instructed “to work (the garden) and take care of it”. God has put us in the world with the mandate to use the creative skills, the talents he has given us to make the world a great place to live.
Further (Genesis 2:18) Adam and Eve are told that relationships are a crucial part of life “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him”. Adam and Eve are to combine their talents to build community, as they look after God’s world.
If God gave you the talent to run, jump or kick and you use that to play sport, he made you to do this in community, alongside others who share those skills to make his world a wonderful place. We could say that you were born to play.
Humanity has committed a ‘foul’ against the Creator. Genesis 3 tells the story of how we rejected his rule in favour of our own. The result of this rebellion has major consequences for sport. Think of the times when you are really angry with a team mate or opponent when something goes wrong in a game, particularly when you are not playing well or have lost. All the joy disappears doesn’t it! Why is this?
Firstly, Genesis 3:17-19 shows how our talents are less effective in making the world a fine place to live.
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
Life is tougher because of our rebellion.
The breakdown in our relationship with God also impacted our relationships with each other. In Genesis 3:16 we observe that even the most intimate human relationship of marriage will be painful:
“To the woman he said,“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
We see this brokenness in the world of sport today. Our talents and our relationships fail to create an environment that is always good. We fail to stop ourselves and others being selfish, angry and proud on and off the field. We have fouled up. Sport is broken.
The first eleven chapters of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome explain how God paid the price for our rebellion against his rule through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. In chapter twelve we read how, thanks to “God’s mercy”, there are terrific consequences for those who come into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
We can now “offer (our) bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God”. A restored relationship with God means that we shall have new power to offer our “bodies”, meaning the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of our lives, to our Creator.
We have a new relationship with the one who gave us our sporting talents to express in the sports community. Indeed, Paul calls this “true and proper worship”, we have been given the capacity to use our sport, once again, to enjoy making his world a better place.
Worship is a matter for the whole of our lives not just Christian meetings. We understand this specifically from Romans 12:1-2 and the focus of the New Testament that there is no longer any sacred/secular distinction. Since sport can be an act of worship, we encourage sportspeople to worship God in their sport, to play for an audience of one. Worship is an attitude to every action - whether we're scoring a brilliant three pointer or missing an open goal, we're called to worship him with every gift and ability that he has given us in sport and every aspect of life. As sportspeople committed to honouring Christ in sport we encourage them to share the gospel message with those they play alongside.
The implications is that every moment of our lives, including being at the pool, on the court or in the stadium can be used to worship God. We are back in the race.
We were made to reflect him by using our talents to build great communities that made the world a better place to live.
Think about the frequency with which our pride has made us self-centred, using our skills for our own sake and so created tensions amongst our team mates and colleagues in our sport.
That when Jesus Christ enters our lives we are in a position where he will rebuild us so that our sporting ability becomes a source of joy instead of unhappiness such that the those who compete with us or against us experience real joy in sport.
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A weekly devotional for sports people