Learning to Celebrate (Something Other Than Sports)

When I was in Liberia, I saw a whole community celebrate because they had easy access to clean drinking water. The joy was tangible. It filled the air like a fresh pie in the oven. It permeated my soul. God was happy. You could feel it. Real celebration. Real praise.

Psalm 149 is a powerful song of praise. It says at one point: "Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre! For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation. Let the godly exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds" (Psalms 149:3-5 ESV).

In the middle of people celebrating water, it struck me. We don't celebrate like that. Ever. Except for when our team wins the Super Bowl, a national championship, a state championship, or something of that sort. I see it on Facebook. A team wins, and all of the fans celebrate. Publicly celebrates. Celebrates and they don't care who hears. They're happy. It's a great time.

Why do we celebrate sports in our society more than most anything else? Someone celebrating five years of a successful business that gives people jobs in a community is more important than someone sinking a game-winning basket. Someone turning their life around from meaninglessness to Jesus is more important than someone scoring a touchdown. Volunteering at a soup kitchen is more significant than a walk-off home run.

Maybe we're not invested in the important things of life like we are in sports. Maybe we care more about our children being athletic rather than spiritually mature. Often, we would much rather have him or her win a state championship rather than dedicate their life to serving the Lord. In a small town like ours, we don't have the obvious idols like they did in Bible times. In Ephesus, Paul faced the furor of the people who profited off of the temple to Artemis. But we do have idols that keep people away from church and being who God wants them to be. We sometimes veer into worshipping athletic accomplishment instead of God.

A friend of mine told me about a young man in the ministry. I interviewed this young man for this article, but his name will remain anonymous because what I am sharing does not portray his parents in a positive light.

A few years back, this young man had God interrupt his plans. He holds his state's record in the 800m dash. He went on to win nationals. And received a full ride to a division one college where he was on course to pursue his Olympic dream. If he wanted, he could have ran for a living, getting sponsors once he got out of college. Yet he gave up running a couple years before his prime.

In typical God fashion, tragedy struck and it made him reevaluate his life. He got in a car accident. There was some damage to his left side. That night, in the hospital bed, he prayed for the first time. The next day he was 100% fine but completely changed. His body hadn't changed one bit, but something happened to his soul in that accident. He then transferred to a smaller Christian college, being a tremendous blessing to the small school's track team. While he was there, he felt that he had to give up running for records and start running completely for God. He then transferred to another college - the college I went to - where they had no track and field program.

In completely pursuing God, he found a great amount of peace. But his parents didn't feel the same way. They had never missed a track meet, flying all the way across the country to cheer him on. Yet the first three times he preached in his home church - the church his parents go to, a church just a five minute drive from his home - they didn't make it. They would not attend to hear their son preach. The support that they show him being in the ministry is not even near the same support that they showed him in his running career.

Imagine investing your life - your time, your energy - in your kid being a star athlete. And then he gives it up to be a minister. How awesome would that be! Really, it's awesome! It might be tough to acknowledge how awesome it is because we misprioritized all of those years, but that type of spiritual commitment is what we should be striving for in our children.

I want to be clear. Sports are not evil. This is not an either/or situation all of the time although God made it that for this young minister. Our kids don't have to avoid sports to be who God wants them to be. There are many great Christian athletes out there. But we do need to realize the dangerous spiritual pitfall that sports can sometimes be. Sometimes we place sport above God. When we do this, a blessing such as sport can draw us away from God rather than supplement our total commitment to God. I see people choose sports over the kingdom of God time and time again. Let us be vigilant not to do that. Let us not celebrate or value sports over the most important things in our life. Let us praise God and become people who He takes pleasure in. Let us learn to celebrate!