What is a Gospel-centered athlete? It’s an athlete who understands that when God purchased them through the death and resurrection of Jesus, He purchased everything. This includes their sport. Against this backdrop, a Gospel-centered athlete does not leave God behind when it’s time to engage with their sport. They do not go long stretches of practice or play without consciously thinking about how God wants to be included in what they are doing. They understand that Jesus saved them FROM a life of sin and separation from God. But Jesus also saved them TO a life of holy, righteous, and missional living.
Athlete, God wants us to give Him what is rightfully His. This does not mean He wants to take it from us so we can never use (or play) it again, but that He wants us to leverage it in a way that magnifies His name. In practicing the discipline of including God in all aspects of sport, a Gospel-centered athlete increases their own joy—and glorifies God in the process. What does this look like practically in competition?
I’m glad you asked. What follows is what I believe to be a Gospel perspective on competition. It’s formatted as an open letter from a Christian athlete to their rival.
Before the whistle blows and this all goes down there’s something you should know about me.
I’m a Christian.
This should put you on alert—for reasons I’ll get to—but it probably doesn’t. And that’s ok.
A lot of people, Christians included, have been fed a lie that the Christian athlete is soft. That could not be further from the truth.
Whatever you assume about me is, at this point, your business.
Here’s what I know about you—because it was once true of me.
I know that before this whistle blows, you have been wondering what your coaches will think of you. Maybe it’s not your coaches. Maybe it’s a significant other, teammate, parent, sibling, agent, message boards, or the internet headlines.
Did one of those strike a nerve?
If you win today and nobody notices will you still be content? I didn’t think so.
You are weighed down by the approval of others. Will the people that cheer you on now turn your back on you when you lose?
Probably. Fans have a pretty good history of loving the winners and chastising the losers.
I know that your intensity during competition will rise and fall with how the crowd reacts to you. Once the noise settles down, more than likely so will your effort.
I know how much your joy in competing depends on winning, and that a loss today will disrupt your identity in ways you don’t like to think about. A win will validate all of the hard work you have put in. A loss will send you back to the drawing board wondering what you need to do to break through.
Rival, you are weighed down by so many things. Athletes who play free tend to compete better—and you are not free.
I don’t say any of that to shame you or look down upon you. I say that because all these inner struggles were once—and at times still are—true about me.
But something’s changed.
My confidence is no longer based on the enormous pressure you feel to succeed, because I serve a God who has already given me everything that sports and the world promise but fail to deliver.
Identity. Hope. Joy. Purpose. Perspective. Love. Affirmation.
I don’t have to win today to get any of those things.
And that is exactly what makes me a beast.
Rival, today I am going to do something in the midst of competition that will change the way you view Christian athletes forever.
Today I will play more free than anyone you have ever competed against because I have no reason to fear failure.
Today I will compete harder than anyone you have ever competed against because I’m committed to glorifying God through my intensity, attitude, and pursuit of excellence.
Today I will win because no matter what the scoreboard reads I will be bringing everything I have the entire game—every play, every break, every head-to-head moment—from the second I enter the arena until we shake hands at the end.
Today, my hope is not to humiliate or destroy you.
Yes, I want to win today. Badly. But I am hoping how I play will do something far deeper:
I hope it honors you, and the God who created us both.
You deserve my best.
And you’re about to get it.
P.S. If you want me to send the Ebook version of this letter and other free resources (including the first chapter of my book The Assist: A Gospel-Centered Guide to Glorifying God Through Sports, subscribe below and I will send you some great stuff! I promise not to spam you either:)