By Brandon Lemons
A few days ago, the Packers’ season came an end. It was a disappointing year for the Packers that failed to live up to expectations. There was a renewal of hope in the last few games, but then it screeched to a halt.
I bring this up because I want to draw a few analogies from football to apply to our spiritual lives. I’m not going to pull the Packers into these analogies, though you are free to do so if you’d like. The analogies I’m sharing apply specifically to activities and themes at Friedens here at the beginning of 2023.
1. To succeed, you need to be committed.
Playing football well requires commitment. Skill and talent are certainly valuable, but for a player to develop their skills and capitalize on their talent, they must be committed. That commitment involves learning the playbook, working hard at practice, listening to coaches and teammates, lifting weights, watching film, and being wise off the field. It takes time, energy, discipline, perseverance, and sacrifice.
Likewise, following Jesus requires commitment. In Luke 9:23, Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Jesus calls for commitment to Him. He calls anyone and everyone to come to Him, including people who know they are deeply messed up. He welcomes everyone. Yet a person cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24); we must choose whether we are going to be committed to Jesus or to the other things that call for our attention. Who has the highest priority?
In the upcoming Not a Fan sermon series and small groups, we will be studying what it means to be a fully committed follower of Jesus.
2. To succeed, you need to know the playbook.
In football, players must memorize the playbook. During those 10 or 20 seconds between when a play is called and when the play is run, they can’t be consulting their playbook to see what to do. They need to know it by heart.
For Christians, the Bible is our playbook. Obviously, the Bible is longer than even the most extensive NFL playbook. So unlike ancient Pharisees, we don’t need to memorize the whole thing. But memorizing key parts of the Bible, and internalizing the heart and teachings of the entire Bible, is a crucial way to grow in honoring God, enjoying God, and living the way He designed us to live.
In this New Year, I encourage you to prioritize digging into Scripture for yourself. Maybe it’s on your own, maybe it’s with a group, or both! But nothing replaces getting to know the Bible (God’s playbook) so we are prepared to run whatever play is thrown at us.
3. To succeed, you need to be a team player.
Football is a team sport. It’s impossible for one star player to win the game alone. Whenever the game is being played, there are eleven players on the field on each side of the ball – each with their own part to play – and coaches are influencing the action as well. The best teams – especially those that sustain success over the long haul – have built a deep trust and camaraderie among themselves. They are in it together – and they know it. To succeed, it’s vital that each player is playing for the team, not merely for themselves.
The same is true for Christians, because Christianity is a team sport. Some people act as if Christianity is an individual sport like golf or tennis, where an individual can thrive without the help of a team. But Christianity doesn’t work that way. To grow and thrive in our spiritual lives, we need one another. Meeting together matters. Investing in each other’s life and growth matters. This is why Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.”
There are many applications for the idea of being a team player in your faith. Perhaps it’s having a conversation with a visitor after a worship service. Perhaps it’s joining a Not a Fan small group to get to know others at Friedens. Perhaps it’s taking a meal to someone who is struggling, or initiating a difficult conversation to seek reconciliation. The applications are many, but the principle is simple: to succeed as individual Christians and as a church, we need to be team players.
There are many more analogies I could draw from football or other sports. But I will close with a truth that I frequently think about when watching sports: I am thankful to have something greater than sports to live for. Sports can be such a let-down. For most teams, their season ends with some sort of failure; even if a season feels like it’s building toward something greater, that “something greater” (i.e., a championship) frequently never happens. This is one of the reasons why sports – whether watching or playing – is not a great recipient for our ultimate allegiance or commitment.
Following Jesus is different. Yes, we will have setbacks in this broken world. But following Jesus gives us something to live for that is truly worth it. As we follow Jesus, we can experience the joy of knowing Him, the joy of seeing Him work through us in others’ lives, and the joy of knowing that when this life is over, we have the promise of eternal life. This is why investing in the three principles listed above is so important in 2023 and beyond!