Sports are one of my passions. Any sport, really. Football, basketball, baseball, hockey — a ball, a puck, anything. I suppose it’s something to do with the home I was raised in. Even now, the Stacy men keep a group text going devoted to sports news. (If you need proof, I could show you the most recent text: Dad solving the NBA Draft dilemna)
I have this other suspicion; sports stuck with me in life because sports teach. Sports helped flesh out my understanding of faith in Jesus, and living a life of significance. It’s no wonder Scripture uses athletic imagery*
I have this suspicion; sports stuck with me in life because sports teach.
Right now, I can’t get enough of F1 racing. (Thank you, Netflix) There’s so much to learn, love, and appreciate. Teamwork, excellence, greatness, ambition, leadership, defeat, victory — it’s all there.
As I followed this rising obsession to wherever my curiosity and interest took me, I recorded a few races leading up to the 2019 F1 season. My curiosity was rewarded at the end of one race, when the broadcast team gave just the right commentary, the sort that makes all sports worth watching — a life lesson.
The broadcast team was commenting on the final lap, the leader pulling ahead by +3 seconds — an eternity. Trying to help us less experienced viewers who were expecting a to-the-wire finish, the broadcaster said: “This race was won entirely in the pits”. There it is!
All it takes is a simple glance at Jesus’ ministry to realize the importance of rest, renewal, and retooling. Luke tells his readers “But the news about Jesus spread even more, and large crowds would come together to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. Yet he often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.” (Luke 5.15–16)
We often equate greatness with what we accomplish. But true greatness, modeled by Jesus, is a willingness to “pit” — to stop. Unfortunately, many of us just stop there. We hear “rest” and assume “lazy-day-Netflix-binge”. But look again.
Jesus’ idea of rest is first, to leave the race — but not really. A pitstop is actually necessary to stay in the race. Refusing to pit is a decision to quit. He would withdraw to desolate places, Luke says.
The desolate places are those seasons or moments that reveal what you really reach for when the going gets tough. Think about the last time you attempted a diet. How many times did you reach for the Reeses? Or think about the last time you detoxed from social media, how many times did you reach for the phone? The desolate places are places of strenuous rest. They reveal what our souls most long for. God loves us too much to leave us without the desolate places that expose where our souls are looking beyond Himself for rest, satisfaction, and joy.
Most importantly, Jesus does something in the desolate places. He reaches for God, the one who renews and refreshes our soul — and our body. David writes, “He restores my soul, he leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even if I walk through the valley of death’s shadow — He is with me.” (Psalm 23) Strenuous rest, communing with God, strengthens our faith. It prepares us, gives us courage and a clarity over our purpose. Think again of how many times Jesus’ ministry could have been derailed had he listened to the demands of the crowd instead of His father.
If you watch an F1 pit stop, you see a flurry of activity for anywhere from 7 (good) to 10 (horrendous) seconds. Tires changed, fuel topped off, any adjustments or communication and then — BAM — you’re gone.
Sports teaches that monumental truth that life is not a series of accomplishments, of continual work — but a rhythm of rest and work that dates back to the dawn of humanity itself.
The race of life is won in the pits. In the moments away from the blazing fast straightaways, where we commune with God in solitude, and receive, in the desolate places, what only God can gives us: courage, confidence, and the passion and purpose of the new humanity — made possible by the risen Jesus.
* “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” I Corinthians 9.24