Sport is dangerous. It gets under our skin and it gets into our hearts. We love it. The problem is; we can love it too much. It can become our obsession. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with sport, it’s a good gift from God – given for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 4). But there’s plenty wrong with us. And we’re so messed up that we’re capable of taking a good thing and turning it into a god thing. We can worship sport. It becomes what we live for. It’s what gets us excited above everything else. It becomes our saviour providing us with sporting heaven or sporting hell. When the sporting gods smile on us we’re lifted to states of ecstatic praise so that we’re indescribably happy. And when they don’t, we descend into a pit of morose whingeing despair so that we’re unbearably miserable.
When we do this we fail to love God wholeheartedly. Taking the first of Jesus’ two summary commands, we turn it on its head. We worship a created thing (sport) instead of the creator (God). That’s idolatry. And it’s an ever-present danger when we’re really passionate about something, not just sport.
And so, the first way in which we struggle to play Jesus’ way, is that we’re tempted to idolatry. Whether we’re losing the fight against idolatry can be known if we’re prepared to engage in a painful bit of self-examination.
We usually think about the things that we most value. So it’s worth asking where our mind goes when we have nothing else to think about? I used to daydream about games I’d played in, rehearsing the tries I’d scored or moments that inspired me. I used to fall asleep replaying the last game and chastising myself for the mistakes. I used to glory in those flashes of genius that were a rare accompaniment to my ‘career’. Where our mind goes when it rests or when it has some downtime reveals what we live for.
We usually talk about the things that we most value. So what’s the subject of our most passionate conversations? What do you get excited about? What are you talking about when you;re most animated? When do you find yourself raising your voice? I can sometimes be found shouting at the telly. Usually it’s when one of my team’s players has been a complete ‘numpty’. Only last Saturday, Nick Easter was on the receiving end of a tongue lashing from me for his handling mistakes against Worcester. What was going on there? Why the raised temperature? Why the heated and animated conversation? I desperately wanted Quins to win. And Worcester were playing the better rugby. Nick Easter and (admittedly) his temporary incompetence was denying me what I most wanted. A win. And that showed in how I spoke him through the telly! As it was, Quins won. (I like to think my harsh but fair words may have played their part?!)
We usually find time for the things that we most value. So is the diary wall to wall sport? Where do church, family and friends fit in? I still feel the shame of a decision I made as a young man which should’ve sent warning signals to all who knew me that sport had become more than a pastime. I was due to play in a sevens tournament on a Saturday. I got a call from my Father about the unexpected and very serious illness of my Mother. She nearly died. But she didn’t. And she was recovering in a hospital in a fairly critical condition. So I dropped everything and rushed to her bedside, right? Wrong. I played in the tournament and went up the day after. Idiot. It didn’t help that I was living a largely unaccountable Christian life. Being away with the Royal Navy, I didn’t have a regular church that I was plugged into. But still. It was shameful. And it showed that rugby had indeed, become an idol.
We may not enjoy the process fo self-examination. But those searching questions may help us come to terms with the reality of our situation. The answers to those questions will help us realise whether we’re fighting the desire for idolatry or whether we’ve simply surrendered to it.
So what are we to do? We’ll get to that after we’ve thought about the second way in which we fail to play Jesus’ way in the next blog post.