By Andrew McCarty

Jesus Is Not Your Sports Buddy

In our roughly 12x12 family office (with about 6.5-foot ceilings, I might add), I embarrassingly have 39 items with a San Francisco 49ers logo on them. 

This doesn’t count the three jerseys, three T-shirts, hoodie, pajama pants, slippers, or hat in my bedroom or the three types of mugs, matching set of glasses, and tumbler in the kitchen. Oh—and I almost forgot about the sticker on my computer, keychain accessory, license plate on my car, and three apps on my smartphone that allow me to access virtually identical content through multiple platforms. I can’t make this stuff up!

I’m betting I’m not the only person on planet earth who’s this invested in a sports team. But what’s with our sports entertainment obsession? How much time do we lose fretting over box scores or studying transactions that involve players whose most steady contribution is to keeping the bench warm? Pop quiz: who was the last steady starting quarterback or point guard for your team prior to the current guy? (Alex Smith and George Hill . . . just FYI.) Why do any of us even know that information? And, to be frank, how much is too much?

Let me be clear: I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with enjoying sports. In my work with college students, my sporting acumen actually gets the ball rolling in many conversations that eventually go deeper. The old Frank Gore jersey I wear to work has prompted playful banter which led to handshakes that morphed into me getting phone numbers of people who eventually became friends. And, on the flip side, without fantasy football as a weekly connection to my good friend Jimi, we’ve talked much less over the past six months. Love for sports can and does often lead to many good things.

And yet, if I’m honest, too often my enjoyment of sports holds a far more central place in my life than it was ever meant to. Many weeks this is not too far from the truth:

The Lord is my shepherd,
     I lack no Sunday game.
He makes me lie down on
     my couch;
he leads me beside quiet co-watchers;
     he refreshes me during timeouts.
He guides me to right waiver transactions
     toward my league crown.
Even though I endure
     losing streaks
I will fear no off-season,
     for the GM is for us;
his wealth and staff changes—
     they comfort us.

You prepare a favorable schedule
     to the dismay of our rivals;
You anoint our superstar with “Michael’s Secret Stuff” [pardon the Space Jam reference . . . couldn’t help myself!];
     his trophy room overflows.
Surely success and acclaim will
     follow us
     all the seasons we watch,
and our favorites will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame

But when love and enjoyment of sports drifts into worship of sports, trouble is brewing.

In Exodus 20, God gives Moses some commands to live by: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt. . . . You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image . . . [and] bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God. . . . You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God. . . . Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” I confess, I rarely think of my personal love of sports as being sinful . . . and then I reflect on the 10 Commandments in the context of my standard viewing of a game I’m invested in or a round of gameplay on Madden Mobile. I’ve been guilty of bending all four of these commands in a single sitting of either of these sport-related activities!

How many “all in good fun” prayers—with a touch of seriousness—have I prayed for a particular player to fall to my team in the draft? How many hours have I invested in speculation about potential roster moves that I could have spent familiarizing myself with Scripture? How frequently have I been guilty of minimizing Jesus to nothing more than a fellow fan who patiently waits for me while I spend time with something I care more about than him?

While I become immersed in my love of sports, I’m tempted to forget an obvious, laughable truth: Jesus is not my sports buddy.

Don’t get me wrong—I certainly don’t plan to give away all of my 49ers stuff! And I have no plans to delete Bleacher Report from my phone or quit carrying around my red and gold Tervis mug. Instead, I want to be more convicted to explicitly convey my gratitude for sports to my Father in heaven, in hopes that I’ll enjoy talking with him so much that I’m late for kickoff.

Here are a few questions that have prompted new practices for me as I strive toward a greater love of God than sports.

1. Where do my desires drift when I have unexpected space?

Madden Mobile offers new challenges every few hours. Bleacher Report and ESPN are constantly alerting me about “breaking news” that urgently demands my attention. And yet I realized I don’t currently have a single app on my phone that alerts me about something spiritual. I shouldn’t be surprised that I devote more energy toward the things that most often pop up on the device I carry with me everywhere. One practice this blog has prompted for me is to set up a series of daily alerts on my phone reminding me to listen to God and his Word.

2. How does the time I invest consuming sports entertainment compare to the time I spend enjoying God?

I use software called Covenant Eyes for Internet accountability and had been proud of my reports until an accountability partner said, “I noticed an interesting feature that allows me to see how much time you spend using various apps. I’ve got a couple questions for you the next time we chat.” I was quickly appalled to realize that my friend could see the exact minutes per day I spent on Madden Mobile, Bleacher Report, NFL Mobile, etc. Whether we keep a log on our phone, download app tracking software, or go old fashioned with a notebook and pen, I wonder how many of us would be enlightened by comparing the actual minutes in our day we spend on sports or other entertainment with time spent enjoying our Lord. I certainly have been convicted of this as I review the minutes per day on my own weekly reports!

3. What’s my plan for proactively enjoying God’s presence?

John Piper reminds us that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” If I’m honest, sports—the 49ers, especially—often leave me feeling pretty unsatisfied. The thrill of the big game quickly fades and new additions to the team typically become placeholders. And yet . . . I come back every day for highlights and analysis, already anticipating the next round. I need to proactively plan for how I’ll spend time with God in the midst of the sports madness! Right now, that’s a commitment to read the entire Bible in 2017—and I’m 10 days behind because my natural drift has been toward many other priorities (some of which are sports related).

I think it’s safe to say that God commands the same kind of “no other gods before me” posture of us that he did of Moses and the Israelites. Whether your gods are sports, fashion, relationships, or something unique to you, I challenge you to join me in simply taking stock this Super Bowl weekend. Jesus is far more than our sports buddy.


Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Laura Li-Barbour.
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Andrew McCarty serves as an Area Director with Mid-Indiana InterVarsity.

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