A Soul-Check for Sports Fans

For years, we Viking fans have been looking forward to this day. Tonight the Vikings play their first regular-season game in the new billion-dollar stadium downtown — and it’s against our division-rival Green Bay Packers.


Beginning two and a half years ago, we watched as demolition workers deflated the dome, imploded her walls, and carried away the pieces to clear the site. Then for months on end, we have seen the new structure rise, higher and huger than we thought was possible for a stadium. The new structure is so massive and imposing that it’s seemed to some of us who frequent the southeast part of downtown as if an invading army is building siege works to conquer our city. 


Now the edifice is complete, and this Sunday chiseled soldiers in helmets and shoulder pads will come streaming in to the deafening roar of 70,000 worshipers. We might say it’s now the biggest temple in town.


If the cheapest ticket tonight wasn’t going for $200, I’d be eager to be in attendance. If you have a ticket, God bless you; I hope you enjoy it. As a Vikings fan, I’m excited. God willing, I’ll be watching tonight. And as a Christian, the pomp and extravagance of it all is eye-opening, and serves as a reminder to keep my fickle heart in check.


What Is Your Temple?


As a Vikings fan, and Twins fan, and perhaps most as a college football fan, I feel the excitement and danger that sports can bring to our souls. Our teams, and our new stadium, and each weekend’s game feel so significant in the moment. They tug at our heart strings. They yank. Victory can make us unfittingly happy, while defeat unsuitably drags us down. Which means we need to pause and ask ourselves, with some frequency, how much this derivative reality called *sports* is calling the plays in our hearts. What is the biggest temple of our affections? Where is our worship? What captures our idle thoughts? Because what captures our idle thoughts threatens to be the idol of our hearts.


So on this big opening Sunday of the first regular season game at the new stadium, I’m asking myself some hard questions, and I exhort all of you to join me. How much am I building my life around my favorite team and its games, and what important things in life are suffering because of this growing priority? Am I getting so attached to this team and to this season that I’m neglecting much more important realities like family, friends, work, studies, and most significantly my relationship with Jesus? Am I closer to him because of sports, or are the games subtly moving me away by eclipsing him in my heart?


If you’re with me in often feeling the unrighteous pull of sports and athletics on your heart, you may need to withdraw and take a break. I’ve done that before, and may do it again. But that also can be the easy way out. God is indeed the giver of every good gift, but no gift is truly good apart from him. 


We don’t enjoy his gifts *most* by intercepting them and running the other direction, but by letting their unique joys and thrills lead us back to him — the greatest joy and the truest glory. That may not mean we say a prayer before every down and sing a hymn after every score, but the full life is a Godward life — Godward in our marriages and families, Godward in our work, Godward even in our rest and entertainment. When Jesus is our greatest treasure, then football can find its good, chastened, and truly enjoyable place.


This reminds us of our need to confess our sins. Let’s pray.


Prayer of Confession

Father, few realities today claw for our hearts like sports and athletics. 

Some in this room, no doubt, aren’t allured in the least by spectator sports. But there is shopping. And HGTV. And countless other seemingly innocent pleasures that subtly capture our hearts and wrongfully eclipse what’s most important. And for those of us who claim Jesus as Lord and also get hyped about our favorite teams, we need a regular soul-check. 

Father, we acknowledge that sports and athletics are good gifts from you, but we repent for when we’ve gone all-in without our spiritual eyes wide open. Watching football has become deeply religious for millions, and Father, as your children, and as worshipers of your Son, we are sorry for when our hearts have been too far in, and ask for your help that the biggest temple in town not become our temple. For those of us who confess we’re excited about the new stadium — and about our favorite teams — keep us, by your Spirit, from the long-term grief of my being unhealthily engaged.

Make sports, and shopping, and education, and rest, and all your good gifts to be channels of our greater enjoyment of you, and greater love for others. Free us from the idols of our hearts that show themselves in our idle thoughts, as we now confession silently in our hearts our sins against you. . . .