Life is Like Football
I am not an avid football fan, but many years ago I learned the rules of the game mostly because I was tired of being bored. That may sound like a strange reason, but the fact was that my wife and I were visiting friends over the holidays and we were all not feeling well. Since we couldn't do much more than lay around the house and since our friends were football fanatics and had it on the TV, I found myself very confused by the terminology and the numbers of 'downs' and all the running around and excitement over a ball bouncing around here and there. So I insisted that my friend explain what in the world was going on so that at least it would make sense if I had to watch it anyway.
So, that is how it came to be that I learned the basics about football – American football that is, since all the rest of the world finds it strange that we don't understand much about what all the world outside our country considers real football.
Learning the basics about football did give me some relief so that at least I could watch it intelligently ever since that day. Now if I have to I can sit down and engage in watching a football game and get a feel for the excitement that others feel. However, from my perspective of what is actually important in life I find it strange, even dangerous many times, how captivating this diversion can become for so many people. Over the years it has become clear to me (though people react very strongly in protest) that if one is open-minded and honest about what is to be observed in the actions and attitudes of football fans, or fans of any sport for that matter, that what is really taking place there is nothing less than the activities of worship.
When I came to realize that being a sports fan was no different than participating in worship – in their case worship of the players (and even the cheerleaders sometimes), it all began to make even more sense than the day I first learned the basic rules of football so I could figure out what was going on down there on the field. Observing the activities of the fans (fan is the shortened version of the word fanatic) and admitting that it is really just spontaneous or organized worship activities little different than what takes place in churches, I was able to get more insights in all sorts of things about how we worship or think we worship God. I began to see that much of what we call 'worship' of God is really not worship of Him but of the players on this earth or the activities and traditions or music surrounding the game or even the feelings that can be experienced while watching or playing the game of religion. We may convince ourselves that we are worshiping God and we may say all the words and sing songs that make it sound like we are worshiping God, but in our hearts it is very easy to be worshiping something short of who God really is and what He wants to be in our hearts.
Given all this, I felt a bit surprised this morning when the Spirit spoke to my mind and suggested that I might find some compelling parallels between the Kingdom of God and a football game. The last few days we have been on a very steep learning curve about lessons of faith. God has been priming us for several weeks with a saturation of teachings about the real truth about God and the great war that we all find ourselves involved in between Christ and Satan. I believe it to be vital that one must have a proper perspective of the bigger picture and the rules of engagement involved in this titanic battle or everything else just doesn't fit together properly. It is very much like watching a football game without understanding the details and rules and then trying to draw conclusions about what is happening without being informed of the nuances and principles that govern the decisions being made on the field. Until one becomes better informed about the fundamental principles that govern reality as heaven views it, we will be continually confused as to why things happen the way they do and will try to live life in ways that violate these principles and then wonder why we are confused by the outcome.
What was presented to my mind this morning first surprisingly, was the role of cheerleaders and how they can have a powerful effect on the way a football game progresses. Given that football as enjoyed by the world fully reflects the desires and lusts of the world, there is usually considerable immoral influences woven into the activities and appearances of most cheerleaders. However, as the Spirit was pointing out to me, there is still an important effect accomplished by cheerleaders that is vitally needed within the Kingdom of heaven. And while the moral dangers and suggestiveness of worldly cheerleaders is clearly not what God desires for us as believers, it might be easy to miss the vital importance of their role in inspiring people to live with more passion and energy and even joy.
While worldly cheerleaders may inspire many with the lust they can produce in many hearts, cheer-leading in the family of God could have a powerful effect to bring encouragement, hope and energy into the lives and hearts of many who are seeking to do the hard work of advancing the Kingdom of heaven against stiff opposition. Cheerleaders could bring a sense of inspiration by enthusiastically reminding the players that they believe in them and are counting on them to do their best or even better. Cheerleaders are there to urge on the others, to orchestrate even the onlookers to get involved in believing in what is going on and to create an atmosphere of hope, courage and confidence when it appears that things are not going so well.
The Bible is full of examples of cheerleaders and is even itself a document of strong encouragement from the greatest cheerleader of all, God Himself. For me, I have grown up with a vacuum of sorts in the arena of clear understanding of what the very word 'cheer' is to start with, so I find myself analyzing the word to see where it fits into life and what it really means and how to experience it personally more readily. I realize that it is a powerful element in life and I need to learn to both receive it and share it with others as part of my personal training for the game of life that is far more important than any football game ever played.
There are other aspects of a football game that I am sure have corollaries to the game of life, but I hesitate to push this analogy too far. But the Spirit noted a few minutes later to me that there is the issue of sometimes launching the ball out of the hand high into the air with the intention of the right person receiving it without it falling into the wrong hands at the other end of the pass. To me this is a lesson of our need to sometimes take great risks with the things we tend to want to cling to most tightly much of the time. There are times where instead of holding closely to the things we consider most important that we have to release them toward heaven and launch them from our hands with careful calculation toward our desired results.
Of course, once they have left our hands there is a waiting time in which there will be a great deal of suspense while everyone watching wonders how it will all turn out. And in life, it is this waiting time that might be most beneficial for the cheerleaders to exercise their gifts to inspire the faith of those who are risking everything and trusting in God to take care of the results at the other end of their pass. It is during these times in life that we are challenged to believe that God is able and maybe even eager to catch the ball in spite of all odds and all interference which is out of our control at that moment.
But in the game of life, unlike in football, the presence and quality of our faith that motivates us to make these passes has a great deal more to do with the outcome at the other end. There are supernatural principles of which most of us are far too ignorant that govern the outcome of the risks we take in the Kingdom. The Bible is clear about the vital role of faith – trust in the heart of, and based on the truth about God – and how our faith can determine our success or failure. What we believe about God and His relationship to us can have a dramatic effect on the outcome of our choices in life and whether or not the 'right person' catches our ball after we have released it from our control.
After I got up this morning I began to look up the verses that were coming to my mind along this line and found them very enlightening given this context. These verses reveal and reflect the underlying principles invoked in our 'plays' and show how we need to better understand them if we want to have more success in our battles against the opposition. It is not enough to just want to win and to sign up on the winning side. We need to learn the rules of engagement and be willing to be trained under intense disciplined practice and learn to work together as a team under the intense training of the coaches assigned to us. We also must be aware that there are a great number of counterfeit coaches designed to fool us into believing we are on the right track while deceiving us into playing into the hands of the enemy at the worst possible times. This game of life is far more serious and life-changing than any earthly football game ever thought of being. But the rewards for playing properly and enthusiastically on the right team in life has rewards far out of this world.