Last spring I had the privilege of speaking at a conference for NFL players put on by Pro Athletes Outreach (PAO), a group which exists to unite a community of pro athletes and couples to grow as disciples of Jesus and positively impact their spheres of influence. They have a fantastic outreach to professional football and baseball athletes and their wives. I’ve seen firsthand the amazing difference they’re making.
In the off-season I exchanged emails and texts with dozens of NFL players and chaplains I met at the conference. It was a time of great spiritual impact on many, and a large number of players and wives were baptized. Nanci and I were deeply touched by the ministry of PAO.
This video PAO made featuring Andrew McCutchen, centerfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, is a great reminder that God has His people everywhere, and He has given each of us a platform to use for our Lord, with our own unique sphere of influence.
Of course, many vocations are more important than baseball or football or any other sport, which for most athletes last only a short portion of their adult lives. But regardless of what vocation or position or role in a family God gives us, when God gives His people a platform to stand on, and a voice that can be heard, He expects them to represent Him faithfully. When they achieve something, whether as a farmer, factory worker, teacher, nurse, clerk, or salesperson, He calls upon them to give Him glory.
You may not have as many people watching you as pro athletes, but innumerable angels, saints and the Lord Himself are watching. No matter who you are, God has given you your physical and mental and spiritual gifts to provide you a platform from which to draw attention to Him.
But I can’t talk about sports celebrities without a reminder of gospel humility. Of course, we all like to serve from the power position. We’d rather be healthy, wealthy, and wise as we minister to the sick, poor, and ignorant. Yet when those preaching God’s Word have little personal familiarity with suffering, the credibility gap makes it difficult for them to speak into others’ lives. Our suffering levels the playing field.
Christian athletes and non-athletes alike must learn that God uses the suffering we try to avoid to spread the gospel and build His kingdom. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).
People hear the gospel best when it comes from those who have known difficulty. Paul says, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Suffering creates a sphere of influence for Christ that we couldn’t otherwise have.
E. Stanley Jones wrote, “Don’t bear trouble, use it. Take whatever happens—justice and injustice, pleasure and pain, compliment and criticism—take it up into the purpose of your life and make something out of it. Turn it into testimony.”
So “whatever happens,” what are you doing to honor Christ in your own unique sphere of influence, and to give Him credit for your successes and glory in your sorrows?
If you’d like to check out some more videos from PAO, their site TheIncrease.com has some great ones. It’s also a terrific resource for church leaders and parents to find authentic sports heroes who walk with Jesus in humility and grace. If your kids or grandkids love sports, this is a great place to find athletes they can admire.
One athlete I know and appreciate is Matt Hasselbeck, who retired after last season and is now an ESPN commentator. Here he tells his story and mentions Trent Dilfer, a Seattle Seahawks teammate, friend, and fellow ESPN commentator.
Here are a couple more stories I recommend:
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
By the way, I encourage you to check out Football Sunday, which is produced by The Increase. They’re offering a free, professional video presentation featuring several athletes telling their stories and sharing about faith in the NFL. Churches can sign up to use it during their services, and individuals can also show it to those gathered in their homes. One idea is to use it as a positive alternative to the halftime show on Super Bowl Sunday!