It’s the biggest match of your lives. It’s the match you’ve been building up to for years. But it’s a match that does not define you.
The pressure you face externally is immense. The whole nation is expecting. Can you go one further than the men did last year? The game is huge, but it’s a match that does not, must not, define you.
It’s a match to enjoy, to cherish. It’s an achievement to be proud of and delight in. It’s one of the great joys of the game, to play using every ounce of your talent to try and win and compete and then to do that with your mates. This is why sport is glorious! It’s an opportunity to use the gifts and the talents that have been given to you - that’s right, given to you. Given to you by the creator of all things. Your sport, your football is a gift. Football is a joy, but it doesn't define you.
You are not just a footballer. You are not purely a Euro 2022 finalist. Come Sunday you are not only a winner or only a loser. Your performance, the result, must not define you.
So what can define you? Your football career which is over in a blink of an eye? Your performance on Sunday which depends on so many factors? Your friends? Your family?
England Rugby World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson reflected on their 2003 triumph and said:
“If you are grounded, it can be amazing. If your feet are not planted in something deeper, it can feel like, 'what the hell is going on?”
What does it mean to be grounded then? In what do you need to be grounded?
The heart of the good news of Jesus Christ is an offer of total security. Jesus offers total freedom and a path away from the fear of “what if?” Jesus Christ is the ‘something deeper’ in which to be grounded. If you trust in Jesus Christ He becomes what defines you.
“For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
That could say “there is neither footballer or or not, winner or loser, Euro Champion or not.”
If you are in Christ; your performance, your victory, your defeat, does not need to define you. Instead of playing with fear you can play with freedom and thankfulness. You are loved in-spite of who you are, not because of it. You are loved not because of what you do, but because of what Jesus has done.
Jonny Wilkinson is surely right - your feet need to be planted in something deeper. The Bible’s claim is that the only solid and secure ground is found in trusting in Jesus Christ who loves you no matter what happens, even in the most important match you will play. In Him, your identity is totally secure.
And if you don't yet follow Jesus...why don't you have a think about it? Following Jesus is the most freeing thing, the greatest thing in the world.
So go for it! Really go for it! If you lose, grieve as you must. If you win, celebrate with joy. But never forget in winning or losing, despair or exhilaration, if you belong to Christ, his love for you is forever unchanging, regardless of your performance or the result.
That’s why this match does not need to define you.
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A weekly devotional for sports people