Find the spiritual lessons in sports
The Christian life is one of examination. For spiritual growth to happen, we must be diligent in seeking what God says about the things that we connect to in life. Almost everyone in America at some level is connected to sports. Some families are more serious than others. Some families have all of their kids participate and some families only attend games (even just occasionally) or watch them on the TV, but “almost” everyone at some level is involved. In 2017, 111.9 people tuned in to watch the Super Bowl. In 2015 the Patriots were in the Super Bowl and the biggest audience in TV history of 114 million viewers watched.1 The World Series also continues to capture the attention of fans across America with game 7 of the 2017 World Series bringing in 28.22 million viewers.2 There are plenty of more stats that could be shared, but you get the point. Sports are huge with us. In the rearing of children, sports can play a very important role in your child’s formation. Huge life lessons about hard-work, determination, team work, how to win with humility, how to lose with your “chin up” are all great life lessons. In fact, I would encourage you as a Christian parent to always turn those conversations with your children to spiritual conversations. What does it look like for Christians to lose well? What about winning well? All of these situations that sports puts your child in “can” be used to inform their spiritual life and prod them toward the gospel. The question is “will” you use their sports career that way, or will you merely be an attender that cheers for your kid and never addresses the spiritual?
Patience and Humility
Because being on sports teams requires a lot of time, energy and money I would really encourage you if you are involved to be thoughtful about how it can be a part of your child’s discipleship process. If your kid spends the majority of their time “sitting the bench,” then use that as a life-lesson on the fruit of the Spirit called “patience.” Sitting the bench and watching your friends play can be one of the most difficult things for a young person to endure. Especially if they have been to the practices and worked just as hard as everyone else. Nevertheless, the reality is, someone has to sit the bench. If that is your child, don’t coddle them. These are tough lessons but can make their resolve strong if pointed out and praised. The Christian life isn’t an easy one. Jesus tells His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Mk. 8:24). The Christian life is one of endurance and sometimes difficulty. To sit the bench with a good attitude and cheer on your friends can build good character. Maybe your child is a star athlete, speak to them about the importance of humility. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (Jms. 4:6). There is definitely a need for humility today among athletes who excel. This can be a powerful role model for those younger than your child to look up to. The illustrations of the Christian life will come easily if you are looking for them, the key is for you to look for them.
Commit to an eternal perspective
The very last verse of the book of I John says, “Little Children, guard yourselves from idols.” The verse almost doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the letter. Some have even wondered if it was added by a scribe at a later time after John originally wrote the letter. When I read it, I think that it is well-placed. We all have the tendency in our lives to elevate things above our relationship with God. John’s last warning therefore is to “guard” against this tendency. Sports is an area that can easily take the form of a deity in our every-day lives. If you are participating in it, the commitment level can be pretty-huge today for kids. Several hours of practice per week followed by a schedule of games can literally take up most if not all of your free time. It used to be that sports were seasonal, but with select teams and indoor arenas for every sport it is now possible to practice and compete year around. Nearly everyone has the dream of their kid “making it” to the next level. The question Christian parents need to really think through is if they are as committed to their child becoming a man or woman of God as they are a sports hero. Paul puts sports in to perspective for the Corinthians by his words to them in chapter nine of his first letter. “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (I Corinthians 9:25-27). At the end of the day, when everything is said and done on this earth, will your child have the “imperishable wreath” from God that Paul eludes to? You and I can’t control whether or not our children embrace the gospel, I am not saying that, what I am saying is that our home life must clearly communicates that Christ is Lord, not sports. Everything takes a backseat to His preeminence. Your child’s participation in sports must be kept in perspective. One way to do this if your child is specializing in one particular sport is to allow them to have an off-season. With indoor arenas in cities it is likely if your kids is playing a game like soccer, that they can continue to play when a natural off-season would have occurred. If you choose to have an off-season, it may be difficult if your child is a gifted athlete or if his or her friends are participating on another select team. However, it may be a breath of fresh air for them to come home from school and you not have to quickly grab a bite for them and hustle to the next practice. It could be a welcomed time for you to take that time that would normally have been designated for practice to read a devotional with them, begin a New Testament reading plan or pray with them each day for their future. If you never take time off from sports to work on the spiritual growth of your children, are you guarding yourself from the idol that sports can easily become? It is great if your children are involved in church, but it is the parents responsibility to raise them in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4). Sports has the potential to bring great wealth and success by human standards to a young person. What we must remember are the words of Jesus, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mk. 8:36-37) Be diligent to use sports as a spiritual tutor for your children and don’t forget “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”
- Frank Pallotta: CNN Media. https://money.cnn.com/2017/02/06/media/super-bowl-ratings-patriots-falcons/
- Dominic Patten: https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/world-series-ratings-game-7-132406108.html
–All Scriptures taken from the NASB Bible