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02 October 2015

Spiritual lessons and sporting glory

Spiritual lessons and sporting glory

There’s always been a sporting divide in my house. Growing up on the edge of London, my sporting diet was Leyton Orient and the terraces. My husband is from slightly better stock, went to boarding school and played rugby. The respective merits of the two games are still a frequent topic of conversation, and never more so than during a World Cup. From Japan’s heroic victory to England’s utterly mystifying last-minute capitulation, the tournament is already shaping up to offer us many a good life – and faith – lesson.

Jesus said: “This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends,” (John 15:13, The Message). My husband thinks Jesus might have been talking about rugby. As Christians, Jesus calls us to love, serve and lay down our lives, just as he laid down his for us. Not only when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard. When passing the ball and watching someone else take the try costs you. When putting in the tackle and taking the hit for someone else really hurts. And as Christians, of course, it’s not only our own team that Jesus asks us to love, but also those who hate us and persecute us.

For that, we often need discipline. My husband is always keen to point out how well-behaved rugby players usually are: addressing the referee as ‘sir’ and taking it on the chin when the decision goes against them. I am in no way advocating a ‘limp’ Christianity that becomes a communal doormat for the world to wipe its dirty feet on, but discipline in how we respond to the wrongs around us is a spiritual practice we neglect at our peril. The Bible puts it like this: “Always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:13). 

And being a world-class athlete obviously requires tremendous dedication. Long hours in the gym, eating well, sleeping well, looking after our bodies. In the same way, the Bible tells us that we need to ‘train’ spiritually. The word of God should be our daily bread, bringing us strength and nourishment. We need to pray regularly, work our spiritual muscles and train our minds to be more like Christ. And rest. God made the Sabbath for our recuperation. In our fast-paced and demanding world, when we neglect the discipline of rest, we risk becoming exhausted and unable to stay the distance.

Discipline, hard work, preparation and sacrifice. The hallmarks of a great team. Sometimes it gets bloody, often it hurts. And rarely do we ever manage to do it alone. The Church – the body of Christ - is God’s team here, working together to win the ultimate prize: God’s glorious kingdom established forever on earth. Now that’s something to cheer for. 

by Emma Fowle, freelance writer and blogger. 

Image: CC via Flickr Joz3.69