Athletics can teach us a lot about living out our faith
By Paul H. Boge
We can learn a lot from watching sports.
Consider the FIFA World Cup. One of the world’s most watched sporting events, FIFA’s 32 team soccer (football) tournament features the greatest players of the game. From the wealthy to the poor, all around the world, fans find the tournament gripping, entertaining, heartbreaking, and exhilarating. Sports is a language that communicates to people on all continents at many levels. Something draws all of us to the beautiful game, and so many other sports.
So is there something we as singles can learn about our faith as we study what these athletes do on the field?
There is much to be admired about the players who are functioning at an unthinkable level of competition: How to handle pressure. How to train. How to compete. How a few minutes of stellar performance is the result of countless hours of behind-the-scenes preparation. How to plan a comeback. Mental toughness. Trust in teammates. Forgiving yourself. Forgetting the past. Pressing on to the goal. The drive to win. Knowing your role on the team and fulfilling it.
A lot of what we see on the field can be compared to our spiritual walk with Christ. The Bible has many sports analogies:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood. (Ephesians 6:12)
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24)
Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. (2 Timothy 2:5)
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)
Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. (1 Corinthians 9:25)
The way in which an athlete comes prepared to win at the world stage is similar to how we as single followers of Christ can prepare in our walk with Him.
World Cup teams come focused on their goal of winning the tournament. Because of their status as international players, they can block out (as best they can) all other distractions and focus on their mission.
Our single status allows us to be focused on our goal of serving Christ. We don’t have the same God-given responsibilities as those who are married. And regardless of what God has called us to do, we can serve Him no matter what role He has called us to.
All athletes train to win, and are just as committed in their goal, yet they can come out with drastically different results.
I think of Germany’s Mario Goetze who scored the winning goal for Die Mannschaft to raise the World Cup trophy. He will be remembered his entire life.
I also think of those runners in the Olympics who get lapped in long distance track races, but they keep on doing their best even though they will get no fame and no one will ever mention their name. They do it because they are committed.
And for us, it is critical that we run the race that is set before us—letting our eyes look straight ahead to Him. Whether we are in the limelight or out of it, the Lord has called us as singles to draw our worth from Him, and this pursuit of being in His light will enable us carry out whatever tasks He designed for us.
World Cup athletes train to be effective on the field. Are we training, abiding in His love moment by moment, so that we can be effective in the field of life? Athletes do their part whether they score the overtime winner or are on the bench ready to move in if their coach calls them. Are we content and passionate about the role God has engineered for us?
The next time you catch a game, think about the ways sports compares to the life of a single person striving to serve God. May we be inspired to run in such a way as to win the prize.
PAUL H. BOGE is the author of Father to the Fatherless: The Charles Mulli Story. He’s an engineer who works in project management. He’s single and lives in Winnipeg.
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