For many of us sports fans who identify as Christians, there are few things we enjoy more than seeing our brothers and sisters in Christ give God His due after a big win. After the Eagles won the Super Bowl, many Christ followers were excited to see God mentioned by the Eagle’s players:
Their season-long crusade in the 2017-2018 NFL season was consistent and well documented.
They regularly used their platform to point others towards Christ.
This should be obvious but is worth reminding: God is not shocked by what took place in the Super Bowl. He cannot be surprised. I’m pretty sure the Super Bowl trophy is not going in His heavenly trophy case any time soon, though I am confident He is glorified through the acknowledgment of His name.
But I have to wonder, could He still get glory if the Eagles would have lost? Perhaps even more preposterous, could He have gotten more glory if they lost?
I am not making an argument for why the Eagles should not have won the game. I am simply posing a question and attempting to answer it as biblically as I can. Can God get glory when we lose or when fail to succeed in ways we would have wanted as athletes?
Here’s why I think he can—and does:
God positions His people for His glory
After God used Moses to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt and on a path to the Promised Land, he gave Moses a set of laws for the people to follow. In addition to aligning themselves with the character and purposes of God, these laws also set the Israelites apart from other nations. Deuteronomy 4:5–6 explains it this way:
“See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’”
God gave them laws and told them how to act so they would stand out and be different from the surrounding nations. The idea was that other nations would take notice and say, “Wow! Look how different they are from everyone else.” And then they would ask, “What is it about them that causes them to act the way they do?” They were meant to be a peculiar people, a light to the nations. (Of course, they ultimately failed in their calling, and Christ accomplished what they couldn’t.)
I’m not making a direct comparison between today’s athlete and the Israelites. But there is a principle here to understand. When God’s people look different from the rest of culture, culture tends to notice. This theme is seen in the New Testament and throughout the history of the church. God’s people are called to practice obedience in the midst of trying circumstances.
When a Christian athlete wins, people expect him or her to give some of the credit to God. What culture doesn’t expect is for you to acknowledge God even when you lose. If there is a sentence worth turning on the caps lock for in this piece, this would be it: Your struggles on the playing field do not minimize your platform for Christ. In fact, it may be even greater following a loss as it provides an opportunity to shatter the cultural expectation.
Our culture’s idea of happiness is attached to the blessings we experience in life. That’s why losing affords us an opportunity to show that our joy in Christ transcends outward circumstances. Athletic success may build the platform that gets you noticed, but how you respond to a loss might be what allows you to capitalize on it for the glory of God.
Can we be honest here? Most, if not all of us, will respond to a loss in a sinful way, whether through outward actions or inward thoughts. Sometimes the simplest way to glorify God is through confessing your sin to him. Here’s a prayer that I have prayed many times: “God forgive me for my actions following the loss today. I placed more value on the outcome of a game than I did in my allegiance to you. Forgive my inappropriate fixation on both my failure and success in the midst of competition that I reject the grace you freely offer me to move forward. Help me to find contentment in you, not in the outcome of a game. Give me the grace to do better next time.”
It is worth noting that I believe athletes can be upset and frustrated by the loss. That’s a normal human response when things do not go our way. The question to ask is “Does this frustration lead me to sin?”
If it does, recognize it, confess it, and thank God that He forgives your sin quicker than you get over a loss.
Maintaining perspective is key. Here’s some mic-dropping truth from Stephen Altrogge from his book Game Day For The Glory of God:
“No matter how significant they may seem, all our wins and losses are insignificant in the grand scheme of things. There are no lives hanging in the balance, nor is the peace of the free world dependent on whether we win or lose. God’s kingdom will continue to advance even if our softball team doesn’t.”
At the end of the day, it’s a game. Your internal and external response should reflect that reality. As we’ve said, being upset is understandable in the moments after a loss. However, a Christian athlete’s mourning period following a loss should be pretty short.
Real tragedy comes not only when we lose the game but when we lose focus on what God prioritizes: our heart’s response to adversity. And a loss gives us a window of opportunity to see what’s under the hood.
Opportunity for a heart check
If we want to have a proper perspective on losing and respond in a way that pleases God and brings us contentment, we need to pay attention to what’s going on in our hearts following a loss. Here are some good questions to ask yourself after a losing effort:
- Do I have sinful anger in my heart over the loss, or am I simply a little frustrated that I put in so much hard work and fell short this time?
- Are what-if questions consuming my thought life?
- Am I thinking poorly of my teammates or coaches because of what happened?
- Am I acting like Jesus would toward my teammates, opponents, coaches, and refs following the game?
I believe God is glorified when we do the hard work of introspection to see where the good things and blessings in our lives may be turning into idols.
Look for the wins
Often, losing feels like a step back, a missed opportunity. It’s hard to see how anything good could come from a loss.
We do well to remember that God often works in ways that are different from what we would expect. Isaiah 55:8 reminds us that our thoughts fail to align with his thoughts, and our ways of doing things are different than his. In light of that truth, we need to ask this question: What opportunities does losing provide? That requires that we pay attention to what is going on around us because of a losing effort. Even if the door to winning slammed shut, what other doors could God be opening?
Your sport is ultimately a vehicle to help you love God and serve others. It’s not just for you. We can’t make a deal with God that rewards our obedience with wins. God has shown us that his blueprint for expanding his kingdom often involves seemingly backward methods.
God asked Abraham to sacrifice his own son, a son through whom God said he would bless all nations. He asked Gideon to substantially reduce the number of people in his army before going on the offensive. He told Joshua to walk around Jericho for a week blowing trumpets instead of attacking the walls using conventional methods of war. He took everything from Job instead of rewarding him for his obedience. He sent his one and only Son to die in our place. Get the point? Just because things didn’t work out the way you wanted or expected doesn’t mean God isn’t up to something good. Ask him what he is doing, and express an openness to join him in it.
For the rest of us losers
Here are a few ways the rest of us can look different outwardly following our losses:
- Thank God for the opportunity to compete.
- Lead both teams in prayer after the competition.
- Shake your opponent’s hand.
- Lift your teammates with encouraging words.
- Thank the referees or officials.
- Leverage social media in a genuine way that shows you have perspective on the loss.
Athlete, God is glorified when we look different than everyone else. Don’t waste your losses. Nate Solder, the left tackle for the Super Bowl losers sure didn’t. In response to a twitter follower on social media who rightly cheered:
Solder rightly replied: