I read an interesting article yesterday in Christianity Today about the Brazilian national soccer team which has a number of evangelical players.* In this predominantly Catholic nation, these players have made a name for themselves by being very open about their love for Jesus.
According to the article, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) recently banned team members from “religiously themed demonstrations” on the field. That would include the practice of some team members of wearing tee shirts with Christian messages beneath their jerseys and displaying them after a goal, and could even include kneeling during a game as if in prayer or pointing to heaven as if to thank God for a successful play. According to the CBF, these celebratory displays are being banned because “the practice could divert focus on competition and constrain athletes who practice other beliefs or are agnostic.”
As I read the article, I could imagine a chorus of outraged Christian voices rising up to condemn this suppression of religious belief. It reminded of a friend who once argued that we need to support public displays of Christian belief (on our coins, in the pledge to the flag, at the beginning of legislative sessions, and in national days of prayer) because God needs the PR. And there’s no better PR than a winning team or a winning player displaying gratitude to the Heavenly Father after a spectacular GOOOAAAAALLL!
The real problem with these displays, as I see it, is that they associate the grace of God with winning. You don’t often see a Christian player of any sport pause after a disastrous play or the loss of a game to point to heaven with grateful smiles. It’s when they score that they thank God for being with them. It’s when they win that they show the world that God has favored them.
So, where is God in the losing?
In the Bible, we often find God in the losing. Many of the most beautiful Psalms were written by David while he was being hunted by King Saul who wanted to kill him. David ran from country to country looking for a safe place to stay. He was betrayed by allies and surrounded by enemies. He lived off the land and bedded down in caves. Again and again he prayed for deliverance and wrote out those prayers in commemoration of God’s goodness.
Wait, God’s goodness? Even when David was on the run? Even when things weren’t going his way? Even when he had to wait three decades for the fulfilment of God’s promise to make him king over all Israel?
The introduction to Psalm 54 says, “For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David. When the Ziphites had gone to Saul and said, ‘Is not David hiding among us?’” It ends with David proclaiming, “I will praise your name, Lord, for it is good. You have delivered me from all my troubles.”
Psalm 56 was written about a time “when the Philistines had seized (David) in Gath.” In it David sings, “In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid.”
In Psalm 57, David is hiding from Saul in a cave. He writes, “I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.”
Psalm 59 was written “When Saul had sent men to watch David’s house to kill him.” David’s response was to declare, “You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely."
Each day David survived, he found a reason to praise God—whether he was winning or waiting or on the run, fearful for his life. He didn’t wait for a great victory to declare that God was on his side. He loved God and trusted God’s love for him, perhaps finding it richer and purer and stronger during the losing times of his life. Shouldn't Christians today live more like that?
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What is my mission as an author? The goal dearest to my heart is to help Christians think about what they really believe and then to act as if they believe it. It all begins with understanding what it means to be a Christian. Then we have to learn to live like a Christian.