It has been a great World Cup so far. The new format, where all the teams play each other in a round-robin schedule, has ensured plenty of top quality games with the best players pitted against each other from the very first match of the tournament.
For England, in particular, it has been a memorable World Cup already. Surprise defeats to Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as a chastening loss against top-of-the table Australia, left them on the brink of elimination. As hosts and favourites, crashing out before the semi-finals would have been unthinkable. Yet, they turned it around with impressive victories over India and New Zealand - two of the world’s best sides.
From the first game of this tournament, the pressure on England has been immense. For the past eighteen months many have seen them as World Champions in waiting. Boasting the most destructive batting lineup in the world, they have led the way in ODI cricket, regularly posting scores above 350. After falling narrowly short at the World T20 in 2016 and the Champions Trophy in 2017, this England side are long overdue tournament success.
So as the business end of the competition approaches, the pressure on England will only intensify. Can they hold their collective nerve, especially when chasing? Who will stand up and be the matchwinner when it matters most? These questions will be answered in the semi-final tody.
Of course, such questions are not only asked in cricket. Pressure is part and parcel of all sport. It is those who perform their skills under pressure who come out on top. Indeed, a sports person’s reputation is often determined by how they perform under pressure. Some are viewed as “bottle jobs” or “chokers”, others are “clutch” or “big game players”. A career can be defined by one match, one race, even one moment. Add in the opportunity to secure a new sponsorship deal or a new contract, one thing becomes evident, the pressure to perform can be immense.
But how is a Christian to respond to such pressure? In his first letter, the apostle Peter says this:
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5 v 6, NIV)
Peter calls on us to remember our standing before God. We are to humble ourselves before Him, the creator of the Universe, who holds our lives, our sport and all of creation in His hands.
Most pressure comes from caring about what others think of us; “the press will slaughter me if I blow the lead from here”, “if I cost us the game, my teammates will never forgive me”, “if I miss this then I will let the entire country down”. Such thoughts are symptomatic of someone striving to win the approval of others. Our reputation is on the line and so the nerves kick in.
However, if we keep hold of how awesome and mighty God is, we will see our sport in right perspective. Our sport, whilst of course significant, isn’t of ultimate importance. He is in charge and His view of us is what matters most. He is the one who gave us the ability to play sport in the first place, and His view of us is not determined by whether we perform well or not, or whether we win or not. A right view of God helps us maintain a right view of sport.
Yet, after instructing us to humble ourselves before God, Peter continues by providing the reason for doing so. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.”
Peter reminds us that it is God who determines our worth and it is God who ultimately lifts us up, both now when we enjoy success on earth, and ultimately when He brings us to be with Him in the new creation.
Such a perspective is a challenging one to take hold of, especially for the sportsperson. We thrive off the rush of winning, the glory of victory and being crowned champion. Take the Cricket World Cup as an example. For every team the aim will be the same: to become World Champions. Yet Peter tells us that it is God who lifts us up and so instead of playing for praise and acclaim from others, or for the prestige of being the champion, we are to seek our worth only from God.
Of course that doesn’t mean we stop playing to win. Rather it means that competing does not come with the added pressure of having to win to justify ourselves. We can strive for success in sport assured that God is the one who ultimately lifts us up to be with Him, whether we perform in the pressure moments or not.
When we view our sport with this eternal perspective and when we play under God, instead of seeking the approval of others, pressure dissipates. We no longer have to win, we just want to.
Whilst verse 6 is dense with theological truths about our standing before God, Peter follows it with the wonderfully simple truth of verse 7.
“Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5 v 7, NIV)
Peter’s point is clear; God loves and cares for us and so we can tell Him how we are feeling. When we are feeling the pressure in our sport, we can turn to our Almighty God and He will draw near to comfort us. Why? Because He cares about us and our concerns and worries.
On the eve of a big final, or as you prepare to bowl the final over of a match, remember this: you can talk to God about it, you can explain to Him how you are feeling. And you can do so with confidence because He cares for you, because He loves you, and because He wired you to play sport and wants you to share your highs and lows with Him. What a joy and what a privilege for the Christian.
So, as the pressure intensifies at this year’s Cricket World Cup, or as you feel the pressure in your own sporting context, let’s take hold of the truths in 1 Peter 5. Let us humble ourselves before God, remembering that He is the one who we play for, He is the one who will one day lift us up, and He is the one who we can turn to when the pressure gets too much because He cares for us and loves us.
Rob is an intern with Christians in Sport, working with Inspire St James Clerkenwell. He plays cricket for Maori Oxshott CC.
Get the perfect start every
A weekly devotional for sports people