Many of us have witnessed attempts by teams and coaches to gain the favor of God with certain practices or prayers, post and pre-game, or during practices. In high school we always finished our practice with the Lord's Prayer and quoted Philippians 4:13 or Romans 8:28. We were a public high school. Now to be fair I never asked our head coach's intention behind these specific prayers and Bible verses, but in many ways it felt like we were praying and reciting those specific Scriptures because they would empower us to victory and gave us the favor of God. In our minds it seemed realistic that because we were the spiritual team, God would give us victory. I was always curious as to why we thought this concept would work since we lost three games that year and got slaughtered in the first round of the playoffs. I was also curious if God really cared about my high school football game, or if he had bigger things on his plate. Turns out he did care, just not as much about my victory as he did for my sanctification.
I think this is a common concern in sports and athletics, especially for Christians today. We can have this false assumption that if we claim Jesus Christ in our practices and put Bible verses underneath our eyes that God has to get us a victory. Like he owes it to us or something. I mean how could God not give Christians a whole bunch of marks in the win column? Isn't it in his best interest for us to win?
Unfortunately the Bible does not leave us with this impression. Unfortunately the Bible does detail that sometimes disappointment, defeat, and loss draws us closer to him than victory ever could (James 1, Romans 5). Remember God's ultimate goal is not our happiness, prosperity, or health, but ultimately His glory. As John Piper regularly states, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” More often than not victory draws us to find our satisfaction in the win column, the accolades that come with victory, and ultimately drives us to put our hope in our ability to achieve what we desire. On the flip side, defeat and loss put into perspective how limited we are as humans, causes us to look beyond ourselves and place our satisfaction in Christ alone.
If you're reading this right now and thinking that I'm an advocate for “losing for the glory of God,” then we likely have not met. I'm not suggesting that we lose on purpose, or that we swing to the other end of the pendulum away from the prosperity gospel into poverty gospel. God does not ultimately desire that we gain victory every time, but he also does not ultimately desire that we lose every time either.
One of my best friends and coworkers, Jordan Price, gave a great example in chapel this week at King's Ridge High School. He noted that David, before he faced Goliath, spent years developing his craft with a sling. Remember that a sling in Old Testament times was not the small little plastic thing that we picture at the dollar store. He was swinging a 6 foot long sling that could move a rock with the same velocity as a 45 caliber pistol. David spent years developing his craft with a deadly weapon. He spent years practicing on bears and lions protecting his sheep. When the time came, the work he put in gave him victory and God was glorified in his victory. I think this is the appropriate outlook towards competition. Develop the skills and crafts that God has granted to you and put yourself in the best position to be victorious. However, recognize that the expectation for victory is not based on the level of your faith or the good work you did that week, but instead on God's ultimate desire for your sanctification. Sometimes victory is the best thing for God's glory and for our relationship with Him. But sometime so is defeat.
The idea that we can exalt Christ in our prayers in our works and that the day's action somehow mandates that God must give us victory is not only heresy, but in many ways leads us away from Christ. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 reminds us that God's ultimate desire for our life is not health, wealth, and prosperity or poverty and defeat, but our sanctification instead. God is most glorified in us when we find our satisfaction in Him, and as we find our satisfaction in Him, we grow to be more like Him. When we put Christ in His proper place in our lives, victory or defeat does not derail our faith, but instead is an opportunity to make much of Christ regardless of the outcome.