God-willing, if I’m still able to move with some agility at 70, I expect I will still have competitive juices flowing in my veins, and at least my mind will have difficulty letting someone run past me with a soccer ball uncontested. While I am still some way from 70, until recently I still played some competitive soccer in an old-man’s league. Most players once competed at a high level, so I enjoyed battling for the ball with some very skillful players. I actually get a kick out of a tough shoulder to shoulder challenge for a ball. But when it comes to playing outside the rules of soccer, a sort of righteous indignation builds up in me (it probably doesn’t help that I was also once a referee). In one game I went up for a header and received a massive push from behind while in the air (the elderly ref must have been napping as there was no call). But my personal all-time least favorite is beating a defender cleanly only to find I have that same defender hanging on to my jersey like a water-skiing hippo attempting to rise from the lake. In these times, I must say the “fruit of the holy spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23), which should be evident in me, are severely tested, and too frequently I fall very short of what I know would honor God.
I often share that sport is one of the toughest forums to exhibit the characteristics of Christ. Whether we’re being unfairly treated, or watching loved ones being cheated or hurt by other athletes, it can be a mammoth task to act in a godly fashion. Today’s scripture from the Sermon on the Mount says: 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5: 14-16). I take this scripture seriously and I desperately want to be a shining light who causes others to glorify God rather than curse him – but how do I make that happen? Even the Apostle Paul lamented: 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do (Romans 7: 15).
I have found that we as Christians often prepare in prayer if we are going to lead a Bible study, lead in worship music or if we are going to head off for an evangelism event, but how often do we spend serious time in prayer before we compete in sport? I have learned that it is critical for me to spend time talking to my father in heaven before I get into a competitive environment. It’s often just time in prayer in the car on the way to a game, asking God to help me honor Him in all that I do so that I can be a light that would draw others to Him. I often will pray specifically for teammates (and sometimes for my competitors) and I ask God to use me to touch them. When Jesus walked on this earth one of the keys to his walk was his constant communication with his Father. He frequently stole away from the crowds to pray. If this was so critical to Jesus; if consistent communication with God was crucial for Jesus, why is it that we think we can go through life without a constant communication with God? There is a good reason that Paul instructed the church in Thessalonica to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17); he recognized that when we operate in isolation, our natural man comes out rather than Christ in us. We need to recognize this same truth.