School. Sport. Teammates. Relationships. Recovery. Sleep. Nutrition.
The list goes on. There are so many things athletes need to prioritize in their life, especially at the collegiate level. But for athletes who identify as Christ-followers and have a desire to glorify him through their athletic experience, there are three non-negotiable priorities.
Now, it’s worth noting, prioritizing these three things does not earn you God’s love and acceptance. He’s already purchased that for you through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Ephesians 2:8,9 puts it this way: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Grace should not make us lazy or indifferent. It should compel us to respond. It should compel us to prioritize. So, what are the top priorities of a Christian athlete?
The Great Commandment
The first two priorities come from what Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:36-40:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
The first two priorities of a Christian athlete are simple: love God and love others. This is referred to as “The Great Commandment.”
1. Love God
“What’s your number one priority this year?”
Scott Mottice, one of my mentors, friend, and former Athletes in Action director at the University of Wisconsin asked this question every semester to our leadership team. And he usually picked on the new person in the room. The rest of us would smirk, knowing the newbie would give a good, spiritual answer. But also knowing it would be the wrong answer.
“To reach my teammates for Christ!”
“To start a bible study!”
“To disciple a teammate!
“To pray for my coach!”
We smiled because, at one time, we answered the same question in similar ways.
“Nope,” Scott said. His tone never reflected anger, shame, disappointment or frustration. “Everyone can you tell Joe what his number ONE priority is this year.”
“Your relationship with God,” we said in unison.
Athlete, your first priority is your personal walk with the Lord. Everything else flows out of this.
A growing relationship with God helps protect us from finding our acceptance in what we do for God.
A growing relationship with God allows us to continually be grounded in the gospel truth that we are loved, forgiven, cherished and accepted in God’s eyes because of what he has done for us through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus.
A growing relationship with God helps give us a proper perspective on our sport, our teammates, and our coaches.
A growing relationship with God helps turn to the proper sources to learn more about him, like the Bible, the Holy Spirit, the church, and other trusted men and women in our lives.
A growing relationship with God helps us fight the sin in our lives.
A growing relationship with God helps us find contentment in him above all else. John Piper says it this way: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”
How do we do that?
So, what are some ways to ensure your relationship with God stays number one? It starts with understanding that God is not a box to be checked and moved on from. Put another way, prioritizing God does not mean reading the bible in the morning and forgetting about him the rest of the day. Prioritizing God means finding ways to engage with him during every part of your day.
If you’re anything like me, there are long stretches of the day where God is not on your mind at all. Here are a couple of practical ways to prioritize God daily:
- Start your day by reading God’s word. There are plenty of apps, websites, devotionals, and books to help you get the most out of your time spent in his word. I’ve found The Bible Project to be especially helpful. They have short animated videos that help explain books, passages, and themes of the bible.
- Set an alarm on your phone/watch to go off every hour. When it goes off, center your mind on God for a minute or two. Remember what you read in the morning. Thank him for what you see around you. Ask him for help with whatever is in front of you. Praise him for sending his Son to die for you.
- Confess at the moment. Again, if you are anything like me, you probably fall short of God’s perfection many times throughout the day. Prioritizing God means at the moment you fall short, confess it to him and rest in his forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
- Find community. It’s really hard to prioritize God on our own. We were created to do this together. It’s one of the reasons God gave us the church. Who are the people in your life that help you think about and engage with God the most?
2. Love others
The second part of the great commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. In your context, this means loving your teammates, coaches, trainers, support staff, and yes, even your competitors, more than you love yourself.
By loving others more than ourselves, we mirror the actions of Jesus. Paul says it this way in Philippians 2:4-8:
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
So, how do we do this practically? Let’s not overcomplicate this. Loving means serving.
How can you serve your teammates today? Seriously, ask yourself that question, come up with a few ways to serve them—and do it.
If you have trouble thinking of ways to serve the people in your life as an athlete, reach out to me via email or social media (Twitter: @BrianSmithAIA). I love helping athletes think creatively about how to love those around them. It’s my way to serve you!
3. Make Disciples
The first two priorities come straight from the great commandment. The third comes from the great commission. After his death and resurrection—and right before he ascended to heaven, Jesus exhorted his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20:
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'”
Chris was a transfer from Western Michigan. He was a walk-on and just changed positions, from wide receiver to safety. And Chris loved Jesus. Chris eventually played for the 49ers, Seahawks, and Eagles—winning two super bowls along the way. He had a tremendous amount of success as a football player. But his lasting legacy will be the people he invested in along the way. Chris passed the spiritual leadership role on the team to Luke, who passed it to Josh, who passed it to Jared, who passed it to Warren, who passed it to D’Cota, who passed it to Madison.
That’s a legacy. That’s what happens when you prioritize people over performance. Don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying performance in your sport doesn’t matter. Chris had an extremely successful football career. He worked hard to be the best he could be.
Athlete, leave a legacy through a discipling and empowering a teammate. There should be a desire to place a high value on excellence and effort within your sport. That’s glorifying to God. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:31 “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
But, I want to encourage you to place a higher value on making disciples. Paul also says in 2 Timothy 2:2 “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.”
If you feel inadequate to lead a teammate down a path of spiritual growth, congratulations, you are in the perfect spot. You don’t need to have all the answers or have it all together yourself to be used by God. Do you have a desire to invest in a teammate? Are you wondering what to do next?
You can also shoot me an email ([email protected]) and let’s talk about some ideas on how to get started and what to do!