Growing Spiritually or Just Winning?
by Keith Wahl
hhh, fall. Isn’t it the best? Baseball’s postseason is in full swing, college and professional football are both kicking into high gear, and the NBA tipped off this week as well. This might be the best time of year. Add in perfect 70-degree days with 50-degree nights here in Colorado, and I’m getting a picture of what heaven might look like for a sports fan.
During any sport’s postseason or championship season, I’m always drawn to a single question - did these teams and athletes grow spiritually or are they just winning?
When Tony Dungy would speak to his football teams in Tampa Bay and Indianapolis, he would talk about winning the Super Bowl, but he would also say, “If that’s all we’ve done, we haven’t done enough.” The words are so powerful that John Lynch, the new General Manager of the San Francisco 49ers and former Buccaneer under Dungy, echoed the same sentiment in an interview upon accepting the position. So as we watch champions crowned and successful seasons at all levels of competition, we should be asking ourselves what is going on in the spiritual life of all of the athletes.
I can’t tell you why (maybe it’s an indication of what God had for my life from an early age) but sports were always more than sports for me. There was always an observation of the best things about human nature - joy, adulation, unity, and even crushing defeat shows what is great about being human. There’s always something more going on that just the game. I don’t buy into the idea that sports are for recreation, for a release from the rest of the day. I would also argue that in a Christian school or environment, it’s paramount to teach, draw out, and create opportunities for intentional spiritual growth through athletics.
As Christian people, we should seek to point out the incredible spiritual things occurring during these moments of worldly triumph. As one of my friends always says, the physical is always pointing us to something spiritual. Probably my favorite story that illustrates this principle appears in John 9. Jesus is walking and sees a man who had been blind since birth. His disciples ask why the man was born blind, thinking that his blindness was punishment for either his sins or the sins of his parents. Jesus says this in John 9:3:
“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.”
Championship sports are no different. They exist so the power of God can be seen in those playing the game. It's up to us to choose to see the light of the world in those moments, even if our teams don't win (or if the Yankees do win...).
Being grateful in those moments is important, but there's always something deeper going on other than simple gratitude. Dig deep and look for the lessons the Lord might bring to us through the events of the baseball postseason.