Audience of One: Overcoming Idolatry in Sports

 In Articles, Christian Life, Christian Living, Life Issues, Spiritual Growth

Sports are arguably one of the most influential forms of entertainment in the world.  The feeling of gathering with friends and family to root for your favorite team is unlike any other.  From athletes giving up their bodies for their respective sports teams to die hard sports fans yelling at the opposing team, the feeling is hard to beat. Looking at this from a Christian standpoint, is there a limit to which we should place our love for sports? Are there boundaries that we should observe?  

Growing up in a Christian home, weekly church attendance was an unavoidable requirement. My father and my mother continue to instill strong Christian values into my siblings and me. My parents always remind us where our hope lies and who we should place at the head of our lives, so we may lean on Jesus in times of desperation and despair. Jesus is the head of my life and the most important person to everyone in my family.  

Sports are another prominent part of my life. Since the age of five I have dreamed of playing professional baseball. Going to the baseball park on Saturday mornings in the lovely weather with my friends and family was an unmatched pleasure. Rushing to the concession stand after a win (or a loss), home run trots, and the roar of the ballpark are experiences not easily forgotten.  However, these good times never prevented us from waking up the next morning for Sunday school, no matter how late extra innings caused us to stay at the park. My parent’s refusal to allow anything to overtake our relationship with Christ led to the implementation of God into the sports I played. My dad and I always had conversations about what would be required to make it into the big show. His advice was unwavering in every conversation regarding sports; from little league to high school it was the same: God and hard work. While I am not technically on the path to be the next Jackie Robinson, I still find this advice relevant for my current situation. 

How We Mistakenly View Sports

We all have the tendency to elevate temporal things over eternal matters. Some of us instinctively place our time and trust into experiences that benefit us for a limited amount of time. This stems from how we prioritize the things in our life and how much value and emphasis is placed on the things that matter most to us at that time.  

Sports play a major role in today’s society, as it provides year-round entertainment, allowing us to be fascinated whenever we want. Sporting events are provided to us in many outlets, such as social media, television, newspapers, and as spectators of live events. Since these events are readily at our disposal, we tend to abuse our privilege to access these events. As sports increasingly grasp our time and attention, the areas in our life that deserve the most attention begin to take a secondary role. In essence, sports can become our idols.

Viewing sports as a necessity is the initial step in giving it a place of power. Sports become the experience we resort to whenever we need entertainment. There is nothing inherently wrong with this unless we begin to value sports over everything else in our lives; at that moment we should rethink our priorities. When we feel obligated to watch sports, we overlook and neglect family responsibility, spiritual disciplines, and communal obligations. Sadness and anxiety over a few missed games is a sign that we have categorized sports as one of life’s essentials, rather than a nonessential hobby. Then, we begin to place our hope in sports and lean on this form of leisure, when it can never truly satisfy us. Whenever we abuse this privilege, and overuse it, sports become an idol.

What is Idolatry?

Idolatry is the worship of anything (other than God) that occupies your time, thoughts, actions, and resources for a substantial period of time. The Bible describes people committing idolatry in Romans. The Scripture reads, 

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
Romans 1:21-23

This text describes a people who knew God, but turned from Him, refused his teachings, and began to worship their earthly desires. The Bible describes idolatry as turning away from God and replacing Him with something or someone else.

In the same way, we can find ourselves putting sports on a high pedestal. As an athlete, I know it is a major struggle to keep sports in its proper place, considering it is such an important part of our lives. Sports practically construct our schedules and order our routines through the obligation to our teams. For some, sports provide a means for living and a major source of income. Therefore, it is easy to slip into this posture of praise towards their respective sport. There are strides we can take to ensure we are responsible about keeping sports in their proper place.

When we worship the creation instead of the creator we position ourselves for disappointment. God blessed us with ideas to create things on this earth for our enjoyment. He did not bless us with these ideas for them to be abused and placed over Him. 

How Do We Know We are Putting Too Much Value in Sports?

The best indicator that reveals whether we are placing too much value in sports is our actions.  Our actions will reflect our heart and the things we value the most. Whenever we start subconsciously placing sports over our common responsibilities we are in error. We should never give sports such authority to consistently be placed over things that lead to holistic progress in life. Neither should we place sports over the fellowship of people in our own community. Please do not misconstrue what I am saying; yes, sports are a job for some and just a hobby for others, but athletes who are employed by sports should not place their identity in their particular sport because unfortunately, one day it will come to an end.

How Should We View Sports?

While it can be fairly easy to idolize sports, there are examples of people who balance sports and their spiritual lives effectively. Athletes such as Jeremy Towns and Demario Davis openly rejoice in the Lord on the big stage. Both athletes are members of the National Football League and publicly praise God through their storms and after their success.

For me, I struggle just as much as any athlete when it comes to putting too much emphasis on my sport. There are multiple strides I take to ensure my love for sports does not outgrow my love for Christ. One verse that I look to when measuring how I am viewing other objects in my life is Exodus 20:3. This verse reads, “You shall have no other Gods before me.” This verse is cut and dry when it comes to how we should view anything that does not pertain to Christ; simply put, we should not put anything above or before God. The big point this verse illustrates to us is that anything, if you give it enough attention, has the potential to be an idol. No matter how small you think something is, whether it is a sport, idea, occupation, or even a person, it can be an idol. One of my favorite verses I tend to remind myself of comes from Colossians:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
-Colossians 3:23-24

These verses help me stay focused on my ultimate “why” and my overall reason for anything I do in life. This verse tells me that every touchdown I score and every accolade I might receive is for Christ. He gets every ounce of glory for my accomplishments. I consciously realize that God is the reason I am in the position I am in, and I must work hard to glorify him through my sport. I feel the place God put me in should be primarily used for his glory. He should be the priority in all aspects of our lives. If we have the right intentions towards the things in which we participate, we will not have to worry about those things dethroning the King of Kings in our life.

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