I love John Piper.
His book Desiring God, stirred in me a passion to pursue pleasure in the person and work of Jesus Christ probably more than anyone. Admonishing us to not waste our lives on the frivolity and farces popular culture offers, his focus on the message of desiring God above all has been so refreshing — so focusing. Like a cool drink of water in the midday sun.
One of the farces and frivolities that Piper warns against is football. Seeing it rightly — as a quasi-false-religion for millions — he wants God’s people to be very wary of giving their passion to a game when their passion for God needs to be stoked.
This is a message that has always resonated pretty easily with me. I never played football. My family never watched football (or any team sports, really). So, giving up something I never really liked was hardly a sacrifice. And feeling morally superior to my peers whose passion for the game was manifest all around me appealed to my flesh and insecurity.
And, therein lies the problem.
I became a Big Game legalist — a bit of a football pharisee, if you like alliteration.
Look, watching millionaires in stretchy pants run around on a field probably won’t inspire me more than it has anytime soon. I’m unlike to become suddenly smitten with game stats and Sports Center. And yet, watching the Super Bowl with my family last night (mostly because I live in New England and felt it was my missionary duty to do so), I couldn’t help but realize that I was sharing an experience with the millions of people in my city. For many of them, the Pats winning a stunning upset victory last night really will be the highest of joys they taste. They’ll treasure this moment for decades to come, squeeze it for ever drop of pleasure that they can.
Shared Experience and Sharing Faith
Shared experiences allow God’s people to demonstrate that all-satisfying joy in Christ by enjoying lesser things appropriately. God didn’t design the world — sports included — for us his people to turn their noses up and disapprovingly walk away. We’re actually the ones that should be free in Christ to enjoy the world appropriately. Sharing this moment with my fellow New Englanders creates a bit more real estate on a shrinking piece of shared life that Christians may have with an increasingly hostile culture. Should I willingly cede that ground of gospel possibility for the sake of preference? Probably not.
Mini Battles Point to the Big One
While football isn’t really my thing, I am extremely competitive. I like to win … a lot. And, I think God likes to win, too. Especially since He’s working out the greatest upset victory of all time. Is football a farce? It is if it’s the only battle we’ve got in mind — the only one we’re living for. Should athletes be paid unfathomable amounts of money to distract us while the world suffers from real problems? Probably not. But that system won’t change if Christians aren’t engaged, modeling the appropriate proportion of praise these guys are due. We can enjoy wins and brush off losses because we’re supposedly the ones aware of a bigger game going on.
Enjoy the Game and Enjoy God
I could probably learn to enjoy the game more, that’s true. But, I can also learn to enjoy God more. And, done rightly, football (or anything else in the world) can build a scaffold for the expression of joy that Christ supersedes and actually satisfies. For the millions in my region, the victory will be sweet for the next few days. That is, until it wears off. Or until the Pats lose. Or until Brady retires.
Not so with God. His victories only increase. His glory only grows. His goodness never ceases. His mercies never stop. And, in him, we’re all heading toward a championship that will last longer and taste better than any football game. But, if we’re thinking rightly, it’s also the kind of victory that the best of games may point to.1