She was out for a birthday meal with her lacrosse team when one of her teammates turned and said “So Sophie, I’ve been wanting to ask this for a while, if I don't believe in God, does that mean I’m going to hell?” This was the last question Sophie wanted to be asked and especially on her birthday!
These types of questions, along with many other sincere or insincere questions, can be asked of us and can make us feel uncomfortable or are hard to answer at times. With God’s help these questions need not, and should not, be avoided.
In 1 Peter 3 v 15 Peter encourages us:
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
As we live as Christian exiles in the world of sport, we must seek to both live for Jesus and speak for Jesus which involves engaging in conversations with those we train and compete with and answering their questions on faith.
One of the mistakes we can often make when it comes to answering friends’ questions is believing that they need more answers. We think that the more facts and figures we can give about the validity of the Bible or the more logical we can be when explaining why sport is so broken will persuade them that Christianity is credible. Although these types of answers are helpful to think through and have their place in a conversation, we must not fall prey to thinking that our friends unbelief is simply an intellectual issue.
Romans 1 v 21-23 tells us that people are consciously rejecting God, whatever version of God they have in their minds:
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.”
These verses expose our sports friends thinking. They do know of God, they just suppress the truth because they do not want to submit to Him. Our friends’ issue is also their heart, therefore we need to aim our answers not just to their heads but to their hearts and their desires, and get on our knees and pray that God would change our friends’ hearts. It is an issue both of the heart (inclination) as well as the head (information). It is therefore important to realise that we can’t assume that sportspeople will just become Christians if we gave them all the answers.
Often there is something behind their question, motivating it, hiding a deeper heart issue. We want to go beyond their initial question to show how God fulfils it and more. We want to both push back against their assumptions, and pull them in towards Christ.
A helpful acronym to remember is ‘share’:
STOP - take a breath, don’t just react!
HEAR - make sure you listen first to their question.
ASK - ask questions to understand them and their question. What might be behind it?
RESPOND - push against their idea or misunderstanding of who God is or who they are in relation to Him. Pull them towards Christ - who He is and what He has done for them.
ENCOURAGE - them to not live off secondhand information about Jesus but to read the Bible for themselves. Why not suggest meeting up to look at a gospel together?
Paul in 1 Corinthians 1 v 22-25 talks about how the Jews look for signs and the Greeks for wisdom. Our friends are similar. Paul shows them that with the resurrection, their sign is granted. By showing them that the cross is “wiser than human wisdom” (v 25), they have a source text to work from. By pushing back against what they are looking for, he also pulls them into Christ. Not just smashing down their current conception but reorienting them to Christ.
This might mean helping a teammate see that the buzz of a club social is never going to ultimately fulfill them and that rather than being restrictive, God’s ways are actually liberating and satisfying. Or showing your training partner that human relationships are not the way to ultimate happiness and that rather than being boring, Christianity helps you find true happiness in a relationship with Jesus.
Let's continually pray that God will open up doors for gospel conversations and, as we engage in these conversations, let's also trust God with the conversation itself. It’s ok to not know all the answers, to admit you don’t and promise to find out and get back to them, and it’s ok to ask people to help you. Remember it's also not just what you say but it's how you say it that matters.
Pray that under His mighty hand, God will use you to answer questions your friends have with faithfulness and love. In His great mercy, God promises to use our efforts to achieve His plans and purposes in our friends’ lives. It is within this promise we can boldly present the truth of the gospel to the world of sport.
Get the perfect start every
A weekly devotional for sports people