I love playing sport. The thrill of competing against others, the rush of pushing one’s body to the limit, the camaraderie that comes from being part of a team.
I love watching sport. The buzz around the packed stadium minutes before kick off, the moment of disbelief as an athlete smashes the previous world record, the drama of the last minute victory. Sport is a great thing.
However, one doesn’t have to look too far to realise that sport is broken. From corruption and doping, to abusing officials and deliberate foul play. From the elite to grass roots. The world of sport, for all its brilliance, is tarnished. It’s not what it should be.
But, of course, sport is not alone in this regard. We live in a world full of suffering, grief, disappointment, hatred and violence. The majority of this caused directly by the self-centred words and actions of people. It is no wonder then that sport is not as it should be when the world is not as it should be and people are not as they should be.
In Matthew’s gospel, we read of Jesus’ response to this brokenness. Matthew writes:
“when he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9 v 36 (NIV)
This metaphor of shepherdless sheep was a common Old Testament idea. God’s people had wandered away from Him, their shepherd, and were subsequently lost. Scattered on the hillside, “harassed and helpless”. That is how Jesus saw those He came across, and the same applies to the world of sport today. Indeed, the majority in your own sporting context are, as Jesus sees them, “harassed and helpless” without their shepherd.
Yet, Jesus not only diagnosed the problem but also provided the solution. The “compassion” He felt ultimately drove Him to the cross. He was to be God’s rescue plan. He had come as the much needed shepherd to bring His people back into His care.
Tragically, however, the vast majority in the sporting world do not know this for themselves. They remain “harassed and helpless”, separated from the God who made them. There is a great need for the gospel to go out to those in sport.
In the very next verse, Jesus himself picks up on this when He says to His disciples:
“the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9 v 37-38 (NIV)
The implication of this harvest being “plentiful” is significant. It shows that out of the millions of people who play sport, many have the potential to put their faith in Jesus upon hearing.
Yet the reality is that many sportspeople don’t even know any Christians, let alone the Christian message; and those Christians who are involved in sport may not even be looking to share the gospel with those in their clubs and teams. Jesus’ words ring as true today as then - “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”.
Jesus concludes with an important reminder - the harvest field is the Lord’s. He is the one in control, the world of sport is His, and so we can trust Him. This means that we can leave the ‘results’ of people coming to faith in His hands, that is His business.
But that does not exclude our responsibility. Our role is twofold. Firstly, it is to pray that the Lord will “send workers into his harvest field”. We are to commit the sporting world into His hands and ask that He provides people to take the gospel to the millions who do not know it for themselves.
Secondly, those of us in sport are to be workers in that very harvest field. If you have a real passion for sport and also know and love Jesus, then you are uniquely placed to be a worker in the harvest field of sport. You get the culture, know the language and understand the people, you are made to be someone who shares the gospel with sports people.
So the challenge is simple, will you do it? Will you get to work and seek to make Jesus known in your sporting context?
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A weekly devotional for sports people