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Photo: Enigma-Sport

"Lord, I don't ask that I should win, but please, please don't let me finish behind Akabusi."

Innocent Egbunike's prayer at the 1988 Olympics

An Opportunity for Worship

Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Romans 12:1

A definition of worship as an activity that we practise on a Sunday morning between 10.30 and 11.30, mainly through singing ‘worship’ songs, is inadequate. Of course, corporate public worship is an important part of our spiritual lives. However, the biblical view of worship is a seven-days-a-week lifestyle activity, rather than requiring but one hour on a Sunday morning. This point is made clearly in Romans 12:1:

We are to worship God and represent Christ all the time in all things. That is, everything in life is to be an act of worship to God. It is a million miles from the religion of ‘keep Sunday holy and do what you like the rest of the week’. The Christian is to please God in everything, by doing it as if for God. That includes sport.

This thought is well encapsulated in the scene from the film Chariots of Fire, when Eric Liddell’s thoughts as he runs are, ‘God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast and when I run, I feel his pleasure.’ More and more Christians have come to see sport, played with the right attitude, as something that can bring pleasure to God.

Those twenty words from Chariots of Fire are very familiar but how many people know how the quotation continues? The full quotation is, ‘I believe God made me for a purpose —for China—but when I run I feel his pleasure and to give it up would be to hold him in contempt. To win is to honour him.’ In the second sentence, the idea is that not to use the talent he has been given would be to dishonour God.

This may seem a convenient way of justifying playing sport all day long—as an opportunity to worship God! Of course, there must be moderation and balance in all things.

Again Peter Pollock, former South African cricketer, has a useful insight on this issue: ‘How you handle fame, success and failure and your perspective on life, is what glorifies God, not the trophies and prizes and acclamation’ (‘The myth of success’).

According to the Westminster Confession, we were created to glorify God. Is there any reason why that should not be on the sports field just as much as in a church?

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