The referee’s whistle brings an end to a tough, but rewarding season. As you and your teammates come together for one final huddle on the now sun-baked turf, you look ahead to the summer break. You really love your sport and get a real buzz out of playing, but it will be nice to relax for a couple of months before pre-season kicks in.
For many of us, playing sport is a seasonal affair. Football in the UK, for example, traditionally takes place from August to May, while cricket is played between April and September. At the end of a long season, it's only natural to want to rest our legs and enjoy a bit of a break - after all, our bodies need to recuperate.
Yet a danger comes when we do the same with our faith and our willingness to share Jesus with our sports friends. How do we best approach the off-season as Christians?
In 2 Timothy 4, the apostle Paul closes his letter reminding his young protégée Timothy of Jesus’ impending return:
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season.”
Notice how Paul reminds Timothy of the urgency and importance of his message which never has an ‘off-season’. The call is to keep speaking of Jesus even when we don’t feel like it or when we feel like we are on a ‘break’. We need to be ready and willing to speak of Him at all times because Christ is coming!
Paul then goes on to remind Timothy, and us, that people in the world of sport are surrounded by all sorts of philosophies and theories about how to live life and how to be happy and successful.
“Preach the word…for the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4 v 2-4)
This is true for each and every person you know in the world of sport and, if we’re not careful, for us. Paul reminds us here that we are in danger of using Biblical teaching in order to justify how we want to behave. We find verses which back up what we want to do, as opposed to seeing what God wants us to do. The call here is to allow the Bible to shape how we choose to live and the call in our off-seasons, with maybe a bit more time to read and to chat with Christian friends, that we are careful who we listen to and what we do.
How can you use the free evenings or spare weekends to grow in your love of God and understanding of Him? Maybe you could read through a book of the Bible with a Christian friend you know, or grab a book recommended by your church and discuss it together? There are loads of practical things you can do to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.
And don’t forget those you play or compete with who don’t know Jesus. They are surrounded by these philosophies about life and how to live it - how can you be pointing them towards Jesus who alone offers life in all its fullness?
Paul ends his charge to Timothy calling on him to not get distracted in the face of this wrong teaching. He calls him to focus. In sport we’re always told to focus on the basics, the most important things, that if we do again and again we will be successful.
Paul now does this with Timothy. Focus he says,
“keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4 v 5).
We are called to not get distracted from the mission of telling people the Good News about Jesus.
How could you keep doing this in your off-season? How can you spend time with your friends when training and matches are less regular?
Have a think about getting your friends round for a BBQ or a going out for a meal and discussing bigger questions about life and the gospel. Or maybe put on a sports tournament for your mates and have another Christian share their testimony.
There are loads of things you could do as you look to “preach the gospel, in season and out of season.”
How will you ensure you do?
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A weekly devotional for sports people