Biblical Responses to Sports Culture

The Loss of Sport and The Pattern of God: What Athletes Can Learn From The Disciples

By March 23, 2020 One Comment

Let me know if this sounds familiar:

  • Individual gets recruited to be a part of a team.
  • The team is filled with members from very different backgrounds.
  • They experience growth personally, spiritually, and skillfully.
  • The team has some incredible highs and lows together.
  • They get along for the most part, but have some normal relational qualms…some arguments even center around who is the best on the team.
  • After three years, they have high expectations for the fourth year.
  • In fact, there is a tremendous amount of confidence that year four is going to be THE year.
  • Then, in a moment, all is lost. 
  • Everything they worked for is gone and they become isolated from their teammates.
  • Their dream is dead and they left asking “what’s next?”

Did any of that resonate with your story? If any of it did, let me encourage you with this: you have something in common with the twelve disciples of Jesus. 

The disciples

The disciples were individually recruited by Jesus to be his followers (Luke 5:1-11). They came from different backgrounds, including fishermen and tax collectors (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20, Matthew 10:3), but all teamed together for a common purpose. They witnessed Jesus feed thousands of people with nothing more than a few loaves of bread and some fish (Matthew 14:13-21). They saw him walk on water and raise someone from the dead (John 11:38-44). They fought about who was the greatest (Luke 22:24-30). 

After three years with Jesus, they expected him to fulfill what they thought the Messiah was supposed to do: re-establish the kingdom of Israel both politically and militarily (Acts 1:6). 

But when it was evident that wasn’t going to happen, the disciples scattered and isolated (Mark 14:50). Then Jesus died (Matthew 27:1-54). For the moment, hope was lost.  

But God had a greater plan in place than the disciples could ever dream up on their own. What looked like failure on the cross was the eternal victory secured for mankind. The greatest good the world has ever know was birthed out of the greatest tragedy it had ever experienced. 

So what?

That’s a great question to ask. I don’t think God is afraid of questions like that either. For starters, this means God has used a similar patterns before:

Hope, hard work/sacrifice, expectation, sudden death of something/someone, loss of hope, isolation. 

We saw this in the Garden with Adam and Eve. We saw this in the life of Abraham, and Joseph. We saw this in the Exodus story and throughout the book of Judges. We saw this through the numerous kings of Israel. As described above, we saw this in the lives of the disciples. And on a much smaller scale, you are experiencing this now. 

And yet, God continues to be in control and redeem. He continues to have a greater story at work that we can comprehend through our earthly lens. His pattern doesn’t end with death and isolation, but redemption, hope, and purpose. 

Is God enough?

Athlete, whether you wanted it or not, your faith is being tested. The sudden loss of sport confronts us with questions like:

  • Is God enough?
  • Is God in control?
  • Can I trust his goodness?
  • Am I running to him or from him?

Throughout the Bible, when God’s people are seemingly down and out, he reminds them of who he is. 

Consider Moses. God’s people were slaves at the hands of the Egyptians for 400 years. 

400 years (This seems like a good time to gently remind us that we have been without sports for less than a month).

God appointed Moses as his instrument to free the people and lead them to the Promised Land. What an incredible opportunity. Moses was going to be The Guy. 

But he was afraid. 

As God reveals himself to Moses in a burning bush, Moses has second thoughts. He begins to doubt himself. As someone who regularly disciples and mentors college athletes, I often have a response that’s different than God’s. I encourage men who struggle with self-confidence. I try to lift their spirits in seasons of doubt and frustration. 

God takes a different approach with Moses. 

Five times Moses says “but” and offers an excuse for not being able to accomplish the task. Not once does God address the insecurities of Moses, but rather God turns Moses’s attention to what God can do through him. God didn’t respond to Moses’s fears by saying, “You can do this!” His response was always, “Hey, dummy, just trust me” (my paraphrase).

I love that.

 God affirms that Moses was right. He couldn’t do it. He was not quick on his feet. He was not in need of a pump- up talk. His self-esteem didn’t need a boost. What he was feeling was true. He was inadequate and insignificant on his own and in need of help.

Our culture tries to feed us the medicine of self-esteem and affirmation when we feel disappointed or depressed. God’s strategy is a complete 180. It’s not “you got this.” It’s “I got this.” 

What would it look like for us to simply rest in God’s call on us from Psalm 46:10 to be still and know that he is God in this season of life? 

This situation is new to you. But it’s not to God. 

A gift to the disciples—and us

Death couldn’t hold Jesus. After he raised back to life, he visited the disciples (Mark 16:14). Hope was quickly restored. They assumed the plan to restore Israel politically and militarily was back on (Acts 1:6). 

But things went different than they expected. Jesus left them (again) but promised a gift on the way out: The Holy Spirit—and a mission. 

In Acts 1:8 Jesus told them: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

His last words in Matthew 28:18-20 clarify the mission: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”

That same gift applies to us today. In the midst of broken expectations, isolation, loss of hope and our new “normal” that none of us would have chosen or predicted, we would be wise to remember that God has not left us. His answer to the frustrations of life continue to be increasing our trust in him.

If we have placed our trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord, the Holy Spirit lives within us—and the mission he has given us to make his goodness and love known to the world around us is greater than any challenge sports could ever offer. 

Athlete, things are going to be different. 

But you have God living within you to help you. The Holy Spirit is a Helper (John. 14:26). And just like the disciples, you have a purpose ahead of you to trust him, follow him, and tell others about him. 

P.S. If you want me to send you some 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:)

    Brian Smith

    Author Brian Smith

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