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What does it mean to glorify God in sport?

In the Christian world today, we are used to hearing that we all have the same purpose (to glorify God) but that individually our calling (how we do this) is unique. As I have pondered on this statement, I have begun to see it in a slightly different way because in order for us to actually fulfil God’s unique calling for our lives, we must OBEY Him. I, therefore, propose to you that our purpose is in fact to obey God (to submit, observe, follow and conform to Him and His ways – to be one with Him), but that who we will impact (because we are called to “people” ) is unique according to the will and plan of God.

In other words, glorifying God (which itself means to praise, worship, celebrate and honour Him) is actually the by-product of our obedience to Him, in the same way that fulfilling our calling is a by-product of our obedience to Him. Our purpose and focus must then be to obey God because, without obedience, we can neither glorify Him nor fulfil our calling.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. (John 15:1-10, KJV)

In this passage of scripture, Jesus reveals to us that the Father is glorified when we bear much fruit. He also reveals that we cannot bear this fruit unless we abide (remain, stand, live, dwell) in Him. He goes further to tell us how we can abide in Him and that is by keeping His commandments. Once again, we come back to obedience.

So far, we have learned that to glorify God we must obey Him. In our obedience to Him, He is glorified because of the fruit that we produce. So, what exactly is this fruit?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23, KJV)

The fruit of the Spirit is love and all its expressions. This is who God is. It is His character, His heart, His person.

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love (1 John 4:8)

To glorify God, we must grow and mature in love. To glorify God, we must be conformed to the image of the Son, Jesus Christ. We can’t look like Christ if we do not abide in Him. Only in remaining obedient to Him can we produce the fruit of His Spirit. Only in learning obedience and remaining in obedience can the character of God be formed in us.

Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; (Hebrews 5:8)

Jesus was a Son, yet He learned obedience through His suffering. It was His obedience even to the point of death that glorified the Father. It was His willingness to obey the Father regardless of what it cost Him which showed us His love for the Father, His love for us and what ultimately caused Jesus to fulfil His calling.

Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence. (John 14:30-31, KJV)

These are the words Jesus spoke before going to the CROSS. He understood that it was His obedience that would glorify the Father and fulfil His calling. Without Jesus’ obedience, there would be no salvation and no opportunity for us to experience oneness with God.

To glorify God, we must have His character, but to develop His character we must go through some things, all the while remaining in obedience.

Moreover [let us also be full of joy now!] let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance. And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character (approved faith and tried integrity). And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation. Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us, for God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5, AMP)

So, we’ve looked at what it means to glorify God, but what does it mean to glorify God in sport?

Glorifying God in Sport

It was probably in 2011 or 2012 that I began to question the ideal I had (and that many in the sporting world have) about what it means to glorify God in sport. For years I had seen people stand on the podium (or the like) and thank God for their successes, whilst at the same time endorsing a lifestyle that denied fellowship with God altogether. Similarly, growing up I had always thought that to use one’s gift was the equivalent of glorifying Him, but how could this be when even unbelievers and open haters of God use their gifts? Could it be said that these people glorify God too? I think the answer is obvious. It was these sorts of experiences that led me to question the belief system I had up until that point, and the process the Lord took me on from 2012 until now has played a huge role in the renewing of my mind and helping me to see things more clearly from a biblical perspective.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:1-2, KJV)

To glorify God, we must obey Him. To glorify God in sport, we must still obey Him. As believers in Jesus Christ, our lives are not our own. Regardless of which industry, field, sphere or arena we may be called to operate in, our purpose remains the same – to obey Him (to submit, observe, follow and conform to Him and His ways – to be one with Him). The scripture above says that it is our reasonable service to present our bodies a living sacrifice. It also says that we are not to be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our mind. The world speaks of “the system” or the non-kingdom way of doing things; we are not to conform (submit, observe, follow or obey – be one with) this world, but we are supposed to conform to God.

This is a huge statement that I’m making. Take some time to let that sink in.

To glorify God in sport, we need to think, act, speak and operate like Jesus. We need to be people who know love and walk in love. The love that I’m talking about is not the same as what the world says. The love that the Bible talks about is not rude or self-centred, it is not easily angered, it suffers long, does not envy and rejoices in the truth (1 Corinthians 13). This is the character of God, and as we can see, it is in stark contrast to the culture that we find operating in the sporting world and the world as a whole.

The question is, do you believe it's possible to thrive in your sport God’s way? The second question is, are you willing to do it God’s way? If you said, yes, hallelujah! However, know that God’s way is not easy, and it WILL require a process. It WILL require you to die to yourself, and it WILL require you to endure hardship so that you might learn obedience and develop HIS character.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4, NLT)

To glorify God in sport, that is to exalt, honour and reveal Him to this dying world in sport, we must be conformed to Him. What greater way to show the world who Christ is then to be mini Christs? This is what it is supposed to mean to be a Christian in the first place.

Glorifying God in sport is about more than being the best in your field. Yes, we must work willingly as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24) and run to win (1 Corinthians 9:24). However, what good is being the best in your field if you have no fruit when you get there? It is much fruit (His character and love oozing through your life) that glorifies the Father. If you want to have more than just worldly success or accolades, then you must surrender your sport to God and allow Him to lead you (I mean truly lead you and not just ask Him to bless your plans) so that He can develop His character in you.

Many of us are scared to truly present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God, especially when it comes to sport, because the desire for success can be so strong, and we fear that God will perhaps take from us the very thing we love and desire. Nevertheless, this is a misconception. God is not opposed to you succeeding in sport or even from giving you the desires of your heart (in fact, His plans are greater for your life than what you can imagine); nevertheless, He desires to be first place in your heart and life. He wants to be your delight.

Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. (Psalm 37:4-5)

If you cannot give up your sport (even in your heart) then perhaps it is an idol. The Lord may not ask you to do this, but as a believer, we must at least be in a place where we are willing to give up anything and everything should He ask us to.

So, this has been a long post, but prayerfully an eye-opening and edifying one.

In Summary

To glorify God in sport is the same as glorifying Him in all aspects of our lives i.e. we must obey Him. We must be conformed to Him and His ways and mature in love. Only then is He truly glorified. Only then can we fulfil our calling – which, as I said before, is always to people and not to a position (any position is just a means to an end). If the Lord has called you to the arena of sport, then it is so that you can reach and impact the people in this sphere for HIS GLORY. Not just so that you can be the best. If you want your impact on people to have eternal value, then you’re going to have to learn to obey.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

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