I love soccer. I started playing when I was 4, and I continued playing through high school. I also love watching soccer. Like most soccer nuts, I have my favorite teams from around the world. Living in Mexico has only increased my passion for the beautiful game. It’s played everywhere in Puerto and people love their local teams. My passion has been rightly passed onto my boys. Ollie and Eli play soccer most days in the yard with the neighborhood kids. Almost daily Eli asks me when I get home, “Dad, come take shots on me!!” He’s usually waiting at the door, with goalie gloves on, ready to play.
As most of you reading this probably know, the World Cup is playing right now. If you were unaware (shame…shame…), the World Cup is a month-long tournament that occurs every 4 years and is often believed to be the apex or pinnacle of the world’s game. 32 teams battle it out in “the finals” after spending the previous 2 years trying to qualify. Even though the US didn’t qualify (which was heartbreaking…and a whole different blog post) I’ve loved watching the games. It’s truly compelling. World soccer powers, like Spain, England, Brazil and others competing against small nations with something to prove, like Iceland, Tunisia, Costa Rica, etc. The games have been so competitive and close. The line between soccer glory and total despair is razor thin. The fans in the stands, who have traveled from all over the world, and the players on the field, who have trained their whole lives, know it better than anyone else. The pressure, energy, and emotion from the pitch (that’s soccer talk for “the field”) are what makes it so compelling to watch. Its top-notch competition between some of the best athletes in the world, giving it their all for their team and their country. At the end of each game, the cameras search the stands for 2 types of fans. One fan is ecstatic…huge smile, complete joy. The other fan is heartbroken…tears, total anguish. As I’ve watched this over the last few weeks, I can’t help but feel for the heartbroken fan. To be totally honest, I’ve been that fan (more than once…) Its a little embarrassing to write, but I’m so grateful there weren’t cameras around in the past when I’ve watched my teams go down, defeated….beaten.
More than once, as I’ve sat watching the World Cup, I’ve been reminded how important it is in the life of a Christian to keep everything in proper perspective. As I said, I love soccer…I love sports, and I love my teams. Its important to me that they do well. But God gently reminds me that their success or failure is not a matter of life and death…even though at the moment it seems like it. I believe as Christians we have total freedom to watch and cheer and enjoy our teams, but its so important to keep a right perspective. Christ won that freedom for us. I believe there is a space in the life of the Christian for enjoying sports and other things that seem to have limited spiritual value. But perspective is key…and its hard to do.
So many things about sports pull our gaze from the cross to this earth. I find it hard to keep a Heavenly or Kingdom focus when getting wrapped up in sports. If you think about it, so much about sports is contrary to the gospel.
- In sports, success or failure largely depends upon your effort. Train well, prepare, work hard, and you will increase your chances of winning. In the kingdom of God it’s different. We don’t depend or rely upon our efforts. Our success, victory, and life have been purchased by Jesus and HIS work. Our best efforts and hard work would never be good enough to measure up to a perfectly holy God. But Jesus…He did it all, He did it perfectly, and He did it for us!! (Eph 2:8-9)
- In sports, the teams are filled with the strongest, fastest, and most capable. I’m always blown away by soccer players and their ability to run and compete with such intensity for 90 full minutes. They’re amazing athletes…the best of the best. In sports, victory rides upon the strong shoulders of the gifted and able. It’s so different with God. God’s Kingdom is filled with those who aren’t much in the eyes of the world – it’s filled with those who demonstrate through the victory in their lives that its only God who gets the glory. The Bible is filled with heroes who were not impressive by worldly standards…they certainly didn’t seem like the best of the best. Joseph, Gideon, David…Jesus to name a few. (1 Cor 1:26-29)
- In sports, a common adage is “it ain’t over till its over!”. This world cup has reminded us all of this. There have been TONS of “stoppage time” goals. In soccer lingo, these goals “have come at the death.” There are no sure things in sports as long as there’s time on the clock! In God’s kingdom, it’s so different. Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God. His work is done. Those of us who have put our faith and trust in Jesus are guaranteed victory. We are still living, still struggling, still doing life…but the outcome is guaranteed. For those born again and united with Jesus, there is only victory at the end. No surprises, no doubts…just victory. Jesus has risen and He has taken his seat (throne). We don’t need to be like nervous soccer fans wondering if it’s going to all go bad right at the end!! Our King is way better than that. (Heb 10:11-14)
- Finally, in sports, even the best team will sooner or later let you down and break your heart. All avid sports watchers know this. Even in the midst of a dynasty, serious fans know that sometime in the future their team will falter, struggle, and then fail. I’ve never met a serious sports fan who has never been “let down” by their team. It happens. It’s sports. In this World Cup, Germany looked ready to repeat as champions. Their team was stacked, loaded…some even said their “b” team might be able to win their tournament. And what happened? First game, they lose to Mexico!!! By the end of “group play,” they were in last and didn’t advance! Even the best teams let us down! But praise God…this is NOT how it works with HIM. A life given and lived for God will never be disappointed or heartbroken because of Him. That’s not to say the life of the Christian is pain-free and never filled with disappointment. Of course, it happens…but its never because of God. He is only good and for those that are his children, He’s only gives us good things (Psalm 84:11). He never disappoints, He never breaks our hearts. He is sure and steady and He has no rivals. Never will be knocked from His high place. He knows no defeat…not now or ever!! (Isaiah 40).