I’m probably the last person who should be writing a devotion that has anything to do with sports, but because my household is so immersed in sports and sports talk this time of year, I thought that I would take a stab at it.
Talk about the Cleveland Cavaliers fills my ears for a good chunk of the year, especially in the spring. I enjoy about the last four minutes of a basketball game. Of course, four minutes of basketball time is about half an hour normal time. I usually wonder why the other three quarters are even played, nothing good happens until the end. Anyhow, the buzz that fills my ear these days is about what a good team the Cavs are, not just because they win the game, but because of how they play the game as a team.
The conversation Sunday night around the dinner table at my grandma’s house eventually led to the Cavs. My uncle and husband quoted opposing teams’ players (don’t ask me who they were) who said that playing against the Cavs is so difficult on the morale of their own team because of how well the Cavs play together. One player said it’s like showing up to a big challenge for your own team, and the opposing team is just acting like they are there to play playground basketball. The Cavs just love being together and playing together. It seems to me that the other teams watch the Cav wistfully, wishing that they too could have that camaraderie.
I think that most people who have tried physical training, starting a workout schedule, or just attempted to get into shape, know that these tasks are easier and much more fun when shared with a friend. Be it peer pressure, our competitive streak, or whatever, most of us are more motivated when another person joins us. I think that if we are setting out to run a race, to win a prize, we too are going to need a support network.
This makes me think about the sports analogies that are familiar to us from the New Testament.
Hebrews 12: 1”Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
The use of the word “Us” here indicates that this is not a single player event, this involves “us,” a team of people. There are people watching all of us, and so together, we must throw off the things that hinder us as a group, our preconceived ideas, our hypocritical judgments, and our feelings of superiority, anything that keeps us from presenting ourselves as a united front to all the witnesses.
I think about how Atlanta might have felt when they faced the Cavs. The Cavs came out with so much spirit, determination, confidence, and love for one another that the Atlanta Hawks probably couldn’t help but feel fear and trepidation when faced with them. Now imagine if Satan and his minions were faced with a united front of Christians coming at them with spirit, determination, confidence in our assured win, and genuine love for one another. Satan would be forced to bring his “A” game or turn and run.
As a spectator, watching the Cavs can make you feel fired up. People like going to the games because cheering on a winning team can make you feel like you are part of something great. When the confetti falls in “The Q” at the end of the game, you feel the celebration too. So what about the witnesses watching us? Do they see something great, something worth getting excited about, something that they long to be a part of? Sometimes Christianity becomes so organized, so procedural, so wrapped up in rules and regulations, that I wonder if people can look at us and see our joy. Do they just see the issues and the arguing that takes place, and think, “Wow, I’ve got enough of that going on in my own life”? Or do they see our genuine love and respect for one another, and our reaching together for a higher purpose and wish that they could be a part of something so big?
Corinthians 9:24-27 gives us a much bigger purpose than just winning a championship trophy when it says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Paul knew that it was certainly important for him to be on the right track, but he also wanted to take other people with him. He knew that there was a purpose, something great to be earned, something to strive for. Paul reminds us that we are to pick up others along the way, while never letting our own eyes leave the finish line ahead. There isn’t just one trophy at the end, or one open position in heaven that for which we all contend. We don’t need to push, foul, scratch, or knock down other players, because in this sort of race, they are not our competition, they are our fellow victors. The more people the confetti falls on at the end of the game, the better the celebration. Let’s run our race so that others want to drop what they are doing, lace up their shoes, and join us on the trail.