Are you a winner?
In your prime?
Injured all the time?
If you’ve played sport for long enough then perhaps you are, or have been, all of these. Participating and competing in sport gives us the opportunity to be successful, to call ourselves winners, fast, talented, skilful; we may even become heroes to some. For every winner, however, there’s an abundance of losers, for every unbelievable underdog story there’s countless tales of disappointment and hardship.
How about you? Do you let sporting circumstances define you? When you walk off the pitch at the end of the game do you call yourself a loser or a winner? Does your opinion of yourself depend on your performance on race day?
What about how others define you? We live in a world where sport is used to give people value – but it doesn’t have to be. If our identity is in sport then it’s incredibly fragile, insecure, up and down based on how we perform. Surely there’s a better story?
There’s a saying that goes: ‘Pain is temporary but quitting lasts forever.’ It pits the ability to endure, to work at your goal, against the temptation to quit. The trouble is, everyone must leave the field of play at some point. Even the most successful athletes must give up their crowns, to be replaced by those younger, fitter, faster, hungrier than they were.
So what? You might say: ‘Life on Earth is temporary, it’s what I achieve while I’m here that matters.’ Yet even up and coming players, with seemingly limitless talent, are judged to be only as good as their last game.
If who you are depends on something temporary, if your self-worth is dependent on something that doesn’t last, then your identity is not secure. We see this time and again in the world of sport, performance-based identity leads to athletes training through injuries, unable to trust others, cheating on or off the field of play, becoming bitter towards rivals, or struggling with poor mental health in retirement. Ultimately, there is no security for us if we place our identity in who we are in sport, not now, not ever.
In Christ, however, there is a crown, a victory, an identity that is totally secure, guaranteed – and lasts for eternity. When the world seeks to define you by how you perform on the pitch, Jesus says you are loved unconditionally, and that you matter regardless of who you are in sport. The Bible points to a victory won that will never fade and, better still, this victory can be yours.
1 Peter 2:9-10 says
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
What has this to do with missing out on selection for your school team’s weekend fixture? Or winning Olympic Gold? The Bible claims that the victory won on the cross is the most satisfying win you can share in, the cross contains greatest, most lasting meaning anyone could hope to find.
Jesus claims the crown he won for you is far greater than any you can win here on earth, but better still, by sharing in his victory, you can be transformed to use your sporting gifts in the best way possible. You can bring your sport as an act of worship to God as you discover it’s true meaning, and your true identity, as one who is loved and called by Jesus to declare his praises.
When you’re on top and everything goes your way – you can rejoice, praising God for the body he made for you, and the joy you can take from using it! When injury strikes, when you get dropped, or when you face difficult decisions as you navigate sports culture; your identity in Christ is still secure. Your worth doesn’t depend on your performance, or how others define you in sport. Identity rooted in Christ brings freedom, it means you no longer have to say, ‘I’m only as good as my last game,’ instead you can say ‘I’m safe, I can play sport to worship God, knowing he loves me whatever happens out there today.’
The Bible says that you can play sport knowing that in Christ there is ultimate meaning, ultimate satisfaction and ultimate victory. Will you hold this truth as central to your identity as you play sport today? Will you enjoy Christ, and bring your sport to him as worship, trusting him through the brilliant, and the tough times? Will you let your identity in Christ transform the way you play sport?
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A weekly devotional for sports people