Apparently 28 million people, nearly half the entire British population, take part in sport or recreation at least once a month. There will be many reasons why they choose to do so. Some of those we’ll share. Here are three reasons I could think of.
1. We play sport for the sheer enjoyment of it
It’s just hugely enjoyable. We derive real pleasure from using the bodies that God has given us in sport. And there are moments of indescribable satisfaction where every once in a while we pull off something unexpectedly brilliant. We sink the twenty foot putt on the final green. We bowl a perfect leg break that whizzes past the outside edge. We execute an outrageous sidestep that leaves the sixteen stone flanker floundering in our wake. One of my sporting heroes, Eric Liddell, famously said ‘God made me for a purpose but he also made me fast and when I run I feel his pleasure’. There are times when sportspeople know that too. We know that God has given us sport, that He’s given us bodies and that He’s given us opportunities to delight in His goodness to us through sport.
2. We play sport to be part of a team
Sport is fundamentally relational as well as recreational. God, who is Himself relational, intends that we function in teams. After all, what else is the Trinity if not a divine team? Going to the gym is exercise. Going on a ride is sport, I suppose. But it’s so much more when we go out early Sunday morning with a bunch of mates and we go all the way down to Box Hill and are back in time for church! When the time comes for me to stop playing rugby, it’s being part of a team that I’ll miss most. I so appreciate the playful interaction that’s commonplace within the changing room. For lots of sportsmen, banter is their love language. No one is allowed to take themselves too seriously. That’s good for my ungodly preoccupation with my own self importance. The camaraderie of sharing the joy of victory and the disappointment of defeat is a precious thing. You don’t get that on your own. And let’s not forget the interdependence that you get within a team. Teams may ahev star players but they need a team to function. Just ask Lewis Hamilton. Lewis may be the best driver in the world but if me and my mates were in charge of getting his McLaren ready for a Grand Prix, I think it’s fair to say he’d struggle!
3. We play sport to test ourselves
Whether we’re going for a run and trying to beat our personal best or whether we’re part of a five-a-side league and trying to avoid relegation, sport lives by comparison. We’ll only discover how good we are when we compete against others. We need an opponent. We had a rugby fixture last year and the opposition failed to turn up. They weren’t stuck in traffic. It wasn’t that they’d been unable to raise a team. It’s just that they hadn’t remembered the fixture. It was so disappointing because our team needed another team to play against. We tried playing touch but our heart wasn’t in it. Christians can be uncomfortable with the concept of competition. We needn’t be. We just need to remember that there’s bad competition and good competition. Bad competition is what you get when people compete for the wrong reasons, like a husband and wife vying for the trousers. Or when people compete in the wrong way like political rivals slandering their opponent. There’s no doubt that competition can be ugly and negative. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The purpose of competition is to compete by the rules of the game and aim at victory. There’ll usually be a winner and a loser. But everyone who competed is better off for the experience. In going up against an opponent we not only find out how good we are but we also have an opportunity to improve. The best sporting experiences are normally to be had when we go up against someone at the same level as us.
Sport is beneficial. It’s good for our appreciation of who God is, it’s good for our social interaction and it’s good for our own humility.