I’ve been blessed for the last eight years to coach at a Christian university that reflects my faith and my values. We are unabashedly intentional about the mission of the university, but we also have to recognize that the essence of Christian faith is the spiritual growth that takes place in each of our team members, regardless of where they are on their spiritual journey – and that’s true as well for everyone with whom our team has contact such as fans, opponents, and professors. We are each on our own journey, but some times that creates confusion and as a coach who is also a Christian, I’ve been mulling that one over for the last few weeks . . .
BASKETBALL – The Prayer Circle
Last night our team lost a tough game. We were down by 21 in the first half to a team we had beaten by 19 points a month ago, only to come back and lose by two on the final possession. After shaking hands, we did what we always do – we circled up in the middle of the court and prayed. We do it every game, win or lose. It’s not long. It may or may not be emotional and it often serves a different purpose for each of us. For some, it’s a quick reminder of our team unity. For others, it’s a chance to evaluate and reorder their priorities and it’s also another opportunity to connect with God. And for some others, it may be a waste of a minute or two and it’s simply a team tradition that we always do. We are each in our own place with God, and at our institution we encourage our players to grow in their relationship with God and we are permitted to do that publicly. Other schools may have different restrictions, which can change the means of that encouragement for Christian coaches, but in this situation, a public prayer is welcomed. Occasionally, we even have opponents who choose to join us in prayer.
For me, a post-game prayer is just one more method of keeping my heart open to God. What it is not meant to be, though, is a huge public display. Some observers may question our motives, but for us it became a very practical means to reconnect as a team. Since our locker room is not adjacent to the court and we found that emotionally reacting to our team’s performance was not always productive, we chose to give our players a quick opportunity to process the outcome as a group and refocus through prayer, but then to have a chance to meet with family, friends, and fans immediately on the court. It’s helped to create a healthier way to quickly keep the game in context. For the cynic, though, our team circling up creates the opportunity to criticize, but that’s true with any display of faith these days. It’s often risky and made lead to some confusion, but in my opinion, confusion can be a good thing. Confusion leads to questions and questions lead to God. At times, I’ve been hesitant about team prayers because I believe it’s a voluntary action for each of us and I really don’t want to promote anyone “going through the motions” because they feel like they have to. On the other hand, God can work even when we are hesitant.
LIFE – PDF’s
As a life-long Packer fan, the loss to the Seahawks was a tough one to handle. I’ll be looking at the film for a long time, but in the aftermath we had what appeared to be two opposing views on the outcome from professing Christians on each side. On the one hand, Seattle’s Russell Wilson credited God for not only the win, but also the interceptions which set the stage for an improbable comeback. He proclaimed that he had God’s favor. And the other, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, commented that he doesn’t think God cares about the outcomes of sports and that God is more concerned about people (See CP Entertainment for a summary). These public displays of faith (PDF’s) kicked off quite a debate and, for many, created more confusion. A friend asked me if I heard the comments from Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith on ESPN, but I confessed that I had been trying to ignore all analysis of the game. When I watched it, however, my jaw dropped! Rarely have I heard this kind of discussion on the network. I hope you’ll take the time to watch it:
FAITH – God Cares
Bayless and Smith did a terrific job of PDF-ing, too, didn’t they? I agree with a lot of what they said, but as I dig deeper, I know that God cares so deeply about me and wants to be a part of every aspect of my life, including sporting events and my career – not to dictate outcomes, but to help draw me closer to Him and more importantly, to spread His love to everyone I encounter. That’s true for Wilson and Rodgers as well. The confusion of their message draws us to look deeper and to ask questions. Again, that’s a good thing.
My question is not does God care about football or care who wins, but more importantly, how does He view PDFs? On one hand, He calls us to be examples:
“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage” (Matthew 5:13, The Message)
Whether it’s Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Tim Tebow, Skip Bayless, or even Coach Cain, we should be talking about our faith and about our God. That’s salt! But on the other hand, Jesus also spends a lot of time in the next chapter of Matthew explaining that we should be careful in how we go about declaring our faith:
“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it . . . . When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively . . . And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either.” (Matthew 6)
Did I confuse you? Good. Now go find the answers . . .