1. On a scale of 1 to 10, how important are sports to you? Why?
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve watched lots of replays of past sporting events. Perhaps you can identify. We’re trying to fill the void left by the absence of live sports due to the coronavirus pandemic. Maybe we’re finding it hard to imagine what life will be like if this cessation of sports lasts many more months.
This raises a potentially uncomfortable question: when does sports cross the line from being an important and healthy part of our life to becoming an idol for us? In his excellent book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller writes that an idol “is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” Is it possible that sports fit this definition for us?
Part of the coronavirus trial is the way sports have been largely taken from us for a period of time. This trial gives us an opportunity to honestly examine our heart and ask, “To whom or what am I most devoted?”
Read Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Luke 9:57-62
In Deuteronomy 6, God declares that he and he alone is the one true God. He is therefore worthy of our complete, uncompromised love and devotion. Because we are surrounded by temptations to make things other than the one true God the center of our life, the Lord directs us to constantly remind ourselves and one another to give our undivided devotion to him.
This same theme saturates Jesus’ teaching in Luke 9:57-62. At first glance, what he says may seem a bit harsh (you can’t have a funeral for your father or say goodbye to your family?). A bit more understanding of the context helps us make sense of this. According to the idioms of Jesus’ day, what the man in v. 59 is saying is, “My father is older so I want to hang around home until he dies at an unknown time in the future. Then I’ll be ready to do what you want me to do, Jesus.” Similarly, the person in v. 61 isn’t talking about a quick goodbye. It’s more like, “I’ve got some other things to take care of before I can be ready to follow you, Jesus.”
In both cases, Jesus’ response is, “You must make devotion to me your first priority because this is at the core of what it means to follow me.” Here’s how Crawford Loritts puts it in his book A Passionate Commitment:
“To follow Christ means to make a single-minded commitment to His cause and call for our lives. Everything else in life is just the arena in which we carry out that commitment and do the will of God.”
To put devotion to family or sports or anything else before our devotion to Christ is to make an idol of these things. Instead, our first devotion is to Jesus Christ, who as God’s Son is God’s ultimate revelation of himself to us – God in the flesh. We then live out our commitment to Christ in the arena of our family, our sport, and every other area of our life.
2. How does Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Luke 9:57-62 help you better understand what it means to be truly devoted to the Lord? What does this look like for your life?
In fact, when our primary love and devotion is firmly set on Jesus, we’ll be able to thrive in our sport in ways we cannot if it is an idol in our life. Why? Because when we make something like sports an idol, it will never be able to give us what God alone can give us through Christ: a remedy for the sin condition that separates us from the God who loves us and who is the source of every good thing (James 1:17); fullness of life that is imparted to us from the author and giver of life (John 10:10); significance and value that comes from being God’s dearly loved child (Eph. 1:4-5); a relationship and eternal future with God that is wonderful beyond imagining (1 Jn. 5:11-12).
How can you make the most of the opportunity to learn through this coronavirus trial? One step is to consider whether your primary devotion is truly to Christ, or whether sports have become an idol. There is nothing wrong with valuing and enjoying sports – but we must not allow sports to become more important to us than the Lord. Love God with all that you are through following Jesus with uncompromising devotion. Then live this commitment out in sports and every other area of life.
As you do this, you’ll thrive in sports because you’re no longer relying on what you do as a coach or athlete to bring you the fulfillment and life only Jesus can give.
3. If you realize that sports or something else has become an idol for you, confess this to the Lord and receive his forgiveness. Then commit to giving your uncompromised devotion to Christ.
4 Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.