Last night I watched a panel of pundits on ESPN ponder and debate what’s going through the heart and mind of Nick Foles in the days leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl. Over the course of the last week, I’ve heard numerous others talk about the thoughts and feelings of all the other players. . . what they will lbe thinking and feeling pre-game and post-game. I suppose you don’t have any idea about what one is thinking or feeling, unless of course, you are in their skin.
The only skin I’m in is my own. And as a life-long fan who gets to watch his team go to the Super Bowl for only the third time, I can only examine and deal with my own self. As a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, I’ve lived (a little!) and died (alot!) with my team. So, as you can guess, I’m quite hopeful and excited – but cautiously so – about this weekend’s big game.
As I’ve processed my own thoughts and feelings since the start of this year’s NFL season, I’ve realized that those thoughts don’t occur in a vacuum. And that’s where it all gets a bit hairy for me.
Because I’m a follower of Christ who is called to submit every nook and cranny of my life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, I am constantly reminding myself that my spectating and all the thoughts and emotions that come with it need to be brought under His authority. Like everything else in life, I can’t just think, feel, and do however it is that I want to think, feel, and do in the moment. Rather, I must think, feel, and do as a follower of Jesus.
As such, I’ve been jotting some thoughts that are helping me to frame the kind of person I’m called to be before, during, and after the game. . . including this week. To be honest, I need these reminders. Though incomplete and not-even-close to exhaustive, here’s where I’m at. . .
First, sports is a good gift from God. He has given us play to be enjoyed and used to His glory. And as His image-bearers, we have created organized sport. . . including professional teams, stadiums, cheers, rules, and everything else that goes with the package.
Second, while sports is a good gift from God, it matters deeply what we do with it. Our play and spectating can and should be done in ways that advance God’s Kingdom priorities. This is sport and spectating done to God’s glory. But because we live in a fallen and broken world, we very easily fall into the trap of playing and spectating in ways that bring honor and glory to what the Scriptures call the kingdoms of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We can play and spectate in ways that advance human flourishing, or we can do so in ways that diminish and thwart our flourishing. Our bent is to do the latter.
Third, we can’t allow sport to become an idol. Tim Keller defines an idol as something that’s a good thing that we turn into an ultimate thing. And idol is something that we either consciously or unconsciously turn into a ruler of our hearts, thoughts, money, and time. Idols supplant the One and only One who deserves our full allegiance and who should rule our lives.
Fourth, we need to keep sports, our team, and the big game in perspective. Sports are meant to be played. Play is meant to be fun. And yes, even the Super Bowl “is only a game.” Whether your team wins or loses. . . it has no bearing at all on eternity.
Fifth, we take our teams and the outcomes of the games way too seriously. It’s true. And I find myself asking myself, “Do you put too much time, thought, and energy into following your team, as opposed to putting the proper amount of time, thought, and energy into things that really matter?” Ouch.
Sixth, examine what you think and do before, during, and after the game. As a fan from Philly, I’ve seen first-hand how when we allow sports to have dominion over our lives, we become something we are not meant to be. We say and do things that lack kindness and grace. Winning leads to gloating. Losing leads to sour grapes. . . and even beyond. Good-natured jesting with friends that’s done in fun is fine. But we need to win with grace and lose with grace. And since all of us are horribly broken, it doesn’t matter where we’re from or what team holds our allegiance. We are all bent in the direction of doing in ways that grieve the heart of God.
Finally, when it’s over. . . it’s over. Nothing in this world can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts except for a relationship with our Creator. A win by your team might bring temporary joy. . . and it should! But the joy is not lasting. All of us who have ever watched our team win big games knows this to be all too true. If we put our hope in our teams (or anything else for that matter) it’s only a matter of time before we’re right back where we started from. Augustine said it well, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”
So. . . what now? As I speak these things to myself in the hope that I can maintain perspective and stay grounded, I am also excited. I would love to see my team win this game. What I don’t want to do, win or lose, is lose perspective.
Now. . . enjoy the game!