The Peculiar Observance of Athletics and Christianity

Ray Lewis says he is a Christian.  As does Colin Kaepernick.  And, Ben Zobrist.  And, R.A. Dickey.  And, Jeremy Lin.

tebowThe most famous Christian athlete of this contemporary time is Tim Tebow.  Who among us doesn’t like Tim?  And, even more, who among us doesn’t want to see him wildly successful because…well…he’s a Christian.  But, Tim hasn’t been so successful in the NFL, and because he’s now warming a spot on the bench, the media focus has dimmed and along with it, our fascination with a believer on one of life’s grandest stages.

I’m Guilty

But, I’ll admit that I’m guilty of wanting Christian athletes to do well, to succeed.  I suppose you might be guilty of that, too.  It’s good to see a fellow believer be successful.  It’s a vindication, of sorts, for all who profess faith in Jesus while, at the same time, living within the culture of this earthly life.  Maybe, just maybe, success comes because of their faith, not in spite of it.

But, I don’t think that’s the case.

God’s Sovereignty in Our Work

Professional athletes succeed because of a number of things…hard work, determination, perseverance, and, perhaps, ahard_work_sign1 certain giftedness.  They work as hard at their craft as does a virtuoso pianist, or the CEO of a multi-million dollar company, or a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.  And, when you combine single-minded perseverance with giftedness, success at some level comes.

Don’t misunderstand me, though.  I do believe an almighty, holy God is sovereign in the lives of these athletes, as well as in your life and mine.  I believe he has a plan – and you, me, Ray Lewis and Tim Tebow are part of it.  But, when Ray Lewis quoted scripture Sunday night after the Raven’s victory – “If God is for us, who can be against us” – I was a bit dumbfounded as Ray apparently revealed that God was for the Ravens, and against the 49ers.

Peter Enns, in “Will God Be Tailgating at the Super Bowl?” states,

…the theology that possesses one to conclude that God directs the outcome of sporting events rests somewhere on the spectrum of childishness—egocentrism—insanity.

I have to agree.  It smacks of immense pride when we think that God will direct the outcome of a game…more specifically, the performance of a single player or team.  God is not the fail-safe to keep you from striking out; he’s not the panacea for a football program that can’t win the SEC West; and, he’s certainly not an 8-ball we can shake when we need to make a free throw to tie the game.  If you want to be successful in those situations, then work harder, get better.

Use Your Success for His Fame

Creation-hands-LIf you are a Christian, and you are recognized for your success as an athlete, a CEO, a writer, or whatever, don’t say that your success has come because God is for you.  Instead, use your recognition and success to bring God glory.  Yes, he gave you the giftedness; he gave you the perseverance; he gave you the single-mindedness; he gave you the desire to work hard.  Now, wonder out loud how you can use that to bring fame and glory to God.  As Enns puts it so succinctly,

When the game is over, if you really want God hanging around, you can ask him what he thinks is important, what he wants you to do for him. One thing I know: it won’t involve the outcome of grown ups playing games.

Now, get to work.

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