(We are celebrating David Faust’s 25th anniversary of writing weekly columns by sharing a few of his favorites. Read a different classic column every day through Aug. 3.)
DAVE INTRODUCES THIS COLUMN FROM AUG. 3, 1997: “I am a lifelong sports fan, but in my second year as editor of The Lookout I wrote an article warning that we shouldn’t turn sports into an idol. Some readers thought I came down a little too hard on athletes and their fans. After the column appeared in print, a DJ from a radio station in Green Bay, Wis., called to interview me, so I had the chance to defend my position to some fired-up Packers fans.”
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By David Faust
SOME COUNTRIES HAVE sacred cows. In America, we have sports—a religion which draws throngs of faithful worshipers to stadiums and gyms every week and daily fills the airwaves and newsstands with its gospel of wins and losses, batting averages and power plays.
I confess my own mixed emotions about all this, because I’ve enjoyed sports for years. But any thoughtful Christian must admit there’s something potentially unhealthy and spiritually dangerous about our culture’s infatuation with sports.
Talk about the NFL, and you’re a fan; talk about Jesus, and you’re a fanatic. Play without ceasing, and you might become a star; pray without ceasing, and you’re considered weird. Pay top dollar for a seat on the 50-yard line so you can sit for three hours in freezing cold, and you’re a sports enthusiast; go to church every week and tithe, and you’re a religious extremist.
Something’s wrong when folks who claim they can’t carve out a couple of hours for church manage to fit in 18 holes of golf, or when those unwilling to discuss matters of faith can talk about a big game for hours on end. Does it bother you that the retail price of one pair of Nike’s new Penny Air model shoes (named for basketball star athlete Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway) is the same as the per capita gross national product of the nation of Bhutan ($180)? Isn’t something out of balance when cities with inadequate school buildings spend millions on new sports stadiums? Or when parents and coaches push children to win at any cost?
Don’t misunderstand. I like playing and watching sports, and I believe sports can teach us valuable lessons. So did the apostle Paul. He used athletics to illustrate the way a Christian learns discipline, perseverance, and obedience (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 2 Timothy 2:5). Sports can teach us teamwork and cooperation, improve our physical health, and build community morale. In athletic competition we experience the God-given thrill of achievement and develop toughness in times of defeat. Churches can use sports for effective outreach. And for many of us, sports are nothing more than a pleasant diversion—a God-given way to enjoy good clean fun and fellowship.
Christians certainly don’t need to condemn sports; but we do need to keep sports in their proper place.
As a Christian who enjoys sports, I find that I need to call an occasional time-out and ask myself some hard questions. How much time, money, and conversation do I devote to sports in an average week? Which fills more of my memory—Scriptural truth or sports trivia? Am I spending too much money on game tickets or sports equipment? Am I spending too much time with the sports page and not enough time with my Bible? Do my friends know me best for my allegiance to my favorite sports team or for my loyalty to Christ?
If questions like these make us uncomfortable, that’s all the more reason to consider them. Call time-out. Pray for the many athletes who seek to honor the Lord as they compete. Pray for wisdom and balance in your own view of sports. Pray for those who, through sports or other means, are trying unsuccessfully to fill a void only Christ can fill.
In the end, Jesus’ victory is the one that counts most.