I love college football. My loyalties lie with the Oklahoma Sooners and the San Francisco 49ers. When I say I love college football, there is no other sport I enjoy watching more. This time of year, as football begins, I spend a number of extra hours watching my teams and many others. It is a real hobby and is a form of worship, but it didn’t used to be.
Not too long ago – about 10 years or so – sports was a real idol in my heart. The outcomes of games would have an impact on me emotionally, spiritually and sometimes physically. My demeanor was not the same if my team(s) lost a game and, to my shame, the idolatry of sports really was an issue in my heart.
I thought at one time that I should kill it all together. In other words, I thought the solution was to dump my cable subscription, never watch ESPN ever again and don’t read the sports section in the local paper. Perhaps if I didn’t fuel my heart with sports information than I would get some victory over this idol in my life.
Then, I realized something very simple: could it be that sports and cheering on your teams is a preview of things to come? Could it be that standing up in your chair and screaming when a guy makes a thunderous dunk or leaping TD catch that it is just a small depiction of something I was created to do: marvel at things more wonderful than me (i.e., worship).
Listen to John Piper’s words written last November – “Will there be touchdowns in the new creation? Grand-slam home runs? Three-pointers at the buzzer? When heaven comes down to earth (Revelation 21:1–2), we shouldn’t expect anything less.
Or, to really bring it down out of the clouds, here’s one way a pastor might go about recruiting for the church’s men’s retreat: Make a brief but winsome case for sports and recreation in the age to come.
In October of 1991, John Piper wrote this to rally the men of Bethlehem Baptist to a retreat that would include its fair share of athletic competition:
One reason I think there will be sports in the age to come is that there are crippled and paralyzed men in this age who never knew the joy of agility and physical freedom. It would be like God to make this up to them. Not because he owes anybody anything, but because he is so good. When God restores the fortunes of his people what will we do with all our time?
Zechariah 8:5 says, “The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.” I cannot imagine that those of us who love to run and kick and throw and dodge and jump and bat and hit and whack will be told that we cannot join the children. In fact, we are commanded to be like children in order to get into the kingdom. Shall we get there and be told to grow up?
We do well to expect that the new heavens and new earth will not disappoint in holding out to us the kind of multifaceted joys we experience now through sport and athletics and play. And in the age to come, our appropriation of sports will finally be gloriously dialed in to its perfectly Jesus-exalting place, free from our sinful tendencies to either make sports an idol or downplay their goodness as God’s gifts.
Enjoy the games — as a foretaste of heaven.”
I didn’t use to think that way, but I do now. When I sit down tomorrow night to watch the NCAA National Championship between the Oregon Ducks and Ohio St. Buckeyes, I will not just be watching a football game. I will be worshiping God and getting a glimpse of the life to come