How sports is an analogy for God

Spring has sprung, hallelujah! And Easter is approaching, another Hallelujah.

While this COVID cloud still lingers over us, the recent sunshine and warmer temperatures feel like a long awaited blessing. Hope you’ve been enjoying it.

And if you’re a sports fan you’re saying a BIG hallelujah for the recent return of an American institution – the NCAA college basketball tournaments.

Last year at this time everything went dark – remember the lockdown? Many businesses closed, many people were rather suddenly unemployed and many crowd events that we’re used to were shuttered.

That included the college basketball tournaments. Fess up – how many of you sneak peeks at games on TV played in the afternoon while at work? How many fill out those tournament brackets and slip someone some bucks to see if you can hit the jackpot?

A national event – suddenly gone just as it was about to start. Little did we know this was only the beginning of many such events not happening in the most bizarre year ever.

But now they’re back and the games are already exciting. Big upsets, great individual performances, thrilling comebacks. Amazingly only one game has been canceled because of the Virus That Shall Not Be Named. Let’s hope that continues.

Not just Americans but humans LOVE sports. Around the world it could be golf, tennis, soccer/football, baseball or basketball. Cricket and rugby are very popular in some areas as is ice hockey in colder climes.

Sports are an analogy of life, we all know that. And the interesting thing is – they always have been, going back to ancient times.

Native Americans played lacrosse centuries ago in the areas we now call home. A rough and tumble sport. The Aztecs and Mayans of what became Mexico and central America played a difficult ball game called pok-a-tok, where players used anything but their hands to try to knock up to a nine-pound rubber ball through a stone ring perched on a wall high above the players.

It must have been a grueling game – and in some instances the winning team members would then be allowed into the stands to have their way with the fans, often leading to bloodletting or human sacrifice.

OK, thank goodness today’s sports tournaments don’t go THAT far.

But the stories and depictions of sports have guided our very way of thinking. Perhaps you were an athlete at some point and your coach challenged your perseverance – for example, American football is a 60 minute game and those who play hard the full 60 minutes are usually the victors.

Think about famous sports sayings you may have heard…

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work very hard.”

“The harder the battle, the sweeter the victory.”

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

“There may be people that have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.”

“Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.”

That last one is from famed football coach Vince Lombardi. A similar version – “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” was never said by Lombardi but came from another football coach.

And the Bible has a number of sports analogies used to bring home a message.

The apostle Paul must have been a big sports fan. During his missionary time, running races were popular. Think about the ancient Olympic games that eventually led to our modern version.

Running, wrestling and fighting, all sports of his time, led to his teaching with the church in Corinth in ancient Greece…

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NIV

The message? We all need self-discipline as we proceed through life. Our Christian training prepares us for the true prize, eternal life though belief in Christ and His resurrection.

The popular term today is to be “laser focused” on the ultimate goal and how to get there. There were no lasers in Paul’s time but the focus is the same – always keep your eyes on Jesus and his teachings.

You may recall a famous story from Genesis…

That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 

Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered.

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” – Genesis 32:22-28 NIV

Jacob went the distance with God and wouldn’t let go, even when God cheated? Sure seems that way doesn’t it, but the Almighty instead was setting the table for the beginning of the future Jewish people. Through his tenacity Jacob became Israel, and his 12 sons later birthed the 12 tribes of that nation. All from a wrestling match for the ages.

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. – 2 Timothy 2:1-5 NIV

Life has rules. Some have always tried to break them. God’s grace goes to those who follow His rules, not to those who follow them only some of the time. Sports have rules too, and the Lord probably has no time in giving you plenty of 15 yard penalties. You don’t want to foul out in His game.

Think about those sports quotes shared earlier…

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work very hard.” – anyone has the chance to receive God’s grace, not just the chosen few. But belief is needed at all times.

“The harder the battle, the sweeter the victory.” – God never promised us an easy life. Work and sometimes suffering are on our path, but overcoming those obstacles leads to the sweetest reward ever.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” – it’s never been the battle between faith and works. It’s the combination of faith AND works. If we’re not trying to help others, to share the Word, to be a force for good, to take our best SHOTS, you may never win the ultimate prize.

“There may be people that have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.” – we all have been bestowed with gifts and talents from On High. Now let’s go and use them, every day, every way. Don’t give up.

“Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.” – always strive for that ultimate prize of eternal life through Him. At times you may think you’re coming up short, that you’ll never make it. All God asks of us is faith in Him. Keep swinging and you’ll make it.

If you’re watching the basketball tournaments right now, or other sports, watch the athletes and coaches closely. See how many of the analogies above ring true as you follow the action.

Then consider – you are an athlete for God….

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. – 2 Timothy 4:7 NIV

On your mark, get set……

From George Churchgoer