It seems like in the more recent years, the evangelical Christian world has made it a point to take aim at professional and collegiate athletics. I hear stories and examples weekly of pastors using professional athletes and their fans as examples for idolatry and misplaced worship. While these pastors and churches may not be far off from the truth, I think very recently sports have been given a bad rap and an even worse reputation because of these examples. It's almost as if it's holier in their mind to not like sports and be more devoted to something else. Please don't hear that I am defending the misplacement of sports on your priority list or that I would ever place my personal fandom of sports team above family or my occupation or above the Lord. However, I do believe that professional and even non-professional sports play a critical role in our worship of the Lord and if viewed and utilized properly can be sanctifying for our soul. Below are three specific things I like to keep in mind when watching sports or participating in them.
1. The Origin of Talent. Recognize the gift of sports for what it is. A gift from God. The same goes for the talent of those playing at the professional level. Gifted by God for his glory. When I watch Rory McIlroy swing a golf club it's easy to see the talent and gift that God has given him for the game of golf. When I watch someone like Ilya Ilyin compete in the sport of weightlifting the same emotions to go through my head. God has clearly gifted some of the people in this world with a level of athleticism that stands above the rest. Just like he has gifted each of us with some talent or attribute that makes us stand out, it is important that we recognize that gifting and give credit where credit is due. To the Creator. However, that does not necessitate an immediate bashing of that athlete who is so gifted. Now I'm not saying that LeBron or Kobe are the most holy athletes I have ever watched but as a spectator it should be my desire and responsibility to look upon their talent and remember the Creator gave it to them. It is no different than looking at something beautiful in nature or listening to a specific musician or looking at a piece of art in an art gallery. God is ultimately responsible for the creation of those things and for that reason, among so many more, He should be worshiped.
2. Creative Design. Before you go bashing sports or the misplacement of sports in our culture remember that ultimately God created them. Sports are not something that man created or that are exempt from God's creative design. Our Lord is a creative God who has created all that we know and see including the presence of sports in our culture. However just like with everything we have the ability to take what God has created for our good and His glory and turn it into something that presses us to sin and draws us away from Him. Sports are an expression of a talent and a gift He's given to us. The Bible is full of sports metaphors that intend to point us to the Gospel. If we remember who the creator of that sport is and who created the ability for those athletes to be so exceptional, it's hard to disregard the sport or disregard the athlete. Remember that in its original sense, sports were intended to point us and push us toward the Lord. Our sinful heart has made it something different.
3. Proper Prioritization. Keep them in their proper place. This is a repetitive reminder that I write about and talk about on a regular basis. Sports are beneficial for our relationship with the Lord in our sanctification. However, they have a proper place to fit within the context of our life. The Bible says things like, “love the Lord your God with all your heart mind and soul” or “anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Those are priority driven statements. What that means is that sports should never rank above our worship of the Lord but instead should be a part of our worship of the Lord. Furthermore, our fandom should never rank above the care for our loved ones and for others. Sports have a proper place. Keeping them in their proper place allows us to be a part of sport without sports consuming us. Sports when in their correct position on our priority list point us to the Lord instead of distract us away from the things that the Lord has called us to do.
Professional athletes, professional teams, and fans of both have the potential to be massive idols. However, do not let the recent bashing of them by the evangelical community prevent you from seeing that their original design is for God's glory and ultimately for our worship of the Lord. Sports are a gigantic part of our culture today. To simply state that they are not beneficial for our relationship with the Lord or that they are only distracting us from the things that are more important in our lives, is to bash on a piece of Gods creation. It's important that we recognize sports for what they are and allow sports to be a sanctifying, worship filled piece of our lives today.
For further reading on this idea check out Barnabas Pipers blog here.