Sports and other physical games are something that I threw myself into growing up and still enjoy when the opportunity is availed to me. On some levels I would even have been considered to be a 'successful' athlete - meaning I won races or was the best player on a team and scored numerous runs or goals. On many (most) other levels I sweated through practices and then used the gravitational force exerted upon my body to ensure the bench was secured to the floor.
My skills in various sports have run the gamut from 'good' to 'OK' to 'he tries hard.' As years went by my athletic prowess has settled upon the 'trying hard' side of the spectrum. I have at various levels played or competed in baseball, football, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, rugby, volleyball, and tennis and golf. Although tennis and golf have been strictly recreational with no real coaching - as any of my intermittent golfing scores would certainly attest.
My oldest girls are currently involved in competitive swimming. This past weekend I watched them compete in a state district swim meet. It is a study in contrasts to watch them and cheer them on. One started swimming later, isn't particularly gifted as an athlete, has worked hard, is lowering her times at every meet, but is not close to competing for any ribbons. She's a 'tries hard' swimmer. Another daughter started swimming earlier, has talent as an athlete, has also worked hard and has a general succession of second, third, fifth and occasional blue ribbons to show for her efforts. She's considered to be a 'good' swimmer.
So who's the success? Can someone who 'tries hard' but never wins (or is never even competitive) be considered successful? Does competing and then winning equal Success? What about winning with a haughty attitude. What about winning on talent, but not working hard in practice, and ignoring your coaches.
And does any of this really matter?
The Bible says physical training in considered to be of 'some value:'
1 Tim. 4 (NIV)
7Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
The Bible also talks about a Christians body being the temple of the Holy Spirit; therefore we should live in such a way as to honor God with our bodies:
1 Cor. 6(NIV)
19Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
The Bible even references a running race - but only as a example of how we should live in regards to God - we should live lives of discipline and purpose in order to not be disqualified:
1 Cor. 9 (NIV)
24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
I look at some of my own responses:
Watching the marathon runner in the Olympics who is hours behind all the other contenders, stumbles into the stadium, is cramping and staggering around the track and then collapsing on the ground and the finish. He didn't win, he wasn't even competitive, but he kept going and he finished. I find myself willing that person on, cheering with the people in the stadium and feeling that person won more than the person who won.
But that is only part of the story: If that marathon runner knew he was going to be in the race but didn't train diligently, then he didn't prepare his body for the event. And then I think that my feelings of success for that runner would have been misplaced. That person created their physical and emotional breakdown and didn't train to win. It's commendable that the runner kept at it and finished but I am not sure I should consider that to be a success.
Another aspect: I enjoy watching team sports. In particular the Denver Broncos football team (having grown up in Colorado.) When I have the chance to watch them play, I will be 'in' the game with a capital N. I am 'Up' when they win and 'down' when they lose.
But for all the enjoyment I may feel in watching my team play and win, again what is success? For the most part when 'big time' athletes win these days, they strut, they're loud and they're proud. They may have won the game, but I cannot consider that to be a success if brashness, pride and haughtiness is what they represent. And I think that my feelings of success for 'my' team are misplaced if those attributes best describe their game.
As a conclusion: The second part of the 1 Timothy passage is what I tend to overlook:
1 Tim. 4 (NIV)
8For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 7Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.
In whatever I am doing, am I learning, teaching, and/or being trained in godliness? Are my children in their swimming learning and displaying Godly character? Am I concerned about my children winning or am I concerned that they are being obedient to their coaches and showing love, patience and faithfulness to their teammates and being diligent in their training. Am I, when I play volleyball, displaying joy and goodness? These are what should define what success is in these sporting activities.
Gal. 5 (NIV)
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
I think sports and physical games can be a wonderful training ground for learning and demonstrating the many fruits of the Spirit. But sports can also be a breeding ground for conceit, envy and a spirit that causes us to provoke others. For myself I need to be aware and watchful to nurture the fruits of the Spirit in myself and my family.