When You Make Sports into an Idol

The other day I came across a story about how Sam Presti, the Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, was receiving death threats (along with his family) because he traded Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers. You can read the story here.

I don’t mean to make light of the actual horror of receiving death threats, since Presti’s family is actually experiencing that, but I thought it was an example of when we make sports into an idol. This, along with fans burning the jerseys of players who leave, are just two of many ways in which people showcase the fact that they’ve made sports their god. This story made me think about how I once did that with golf.

Golf Was My Idol

I can’t remember the first time I picked up a golf club, but I do remember the first time I played in a tournament: I was six years old. Mind you, it wasn’t overl competitive, but I brought home a first place trophy!

For about 20 years, golf was my life. Of course, I had periods of time in those 20 years where I’d be burnt out from playing or practicing. That’s natural. But the passion for the game always came roaring back like a lion. It really consumed me.

Not only did I play golf for the junior high team, I also played individual competitive tournaments in the summer. For a kid who wanted to be on the PGA Tour one day, this was normal. I dedicated my summers to golf just as one would dedicate their summers to basketball if they wanted to play in the NBA.

I went on to play on the high school team and even won state my senior year as a team (thank you, God!). That was the pinnacle; that’s what we had worked for. We’d accomplished our task.

But God wasn’t in the midst of our triumph–not in my heart, at least. He was there, surely, in His sovereignty and omnipresence. But God was an afterthought–if that.

Golf was my god.

God Dismantled my Idol

It was my second year at ECU and I was on the golf team. At the start of the year, something was different. I never played well. Of course, that was mostly due to my lack of practice, which I will get more into later.

I qualified for a tournament in northeast Oklahoma and was very excited to represent ECU. I went up there and shot 87-88-89 over the two days. Completely and utterly awful. My heart was not in it. And it wasn’t that I was simply feeling bad for myself; I did not care. I wanted to be done. I knew I was done–for good.

Later that semester, we had finished our Fall rounds and I had time to think about if I wanted to come back to the team. Long story, short, I didn’t. I quit. It was time.

I look back and see the digression of my passion (and, by consequence, my lack of ability to play the game), and can only tell you that God was dismantling my desire to play the game and was replacing it with a desire for Himself.

Anything Can Be an Idol

Today, I rarely play golf. The last time I played was a couple months ago and, to my surprise, played really well. But my attitude towards it is different. It doesn’t consume me. It doesn’t dictate what mood I’m in. It’s not an idol anymore. God slowly started to take away my desire for golf and then finally demolished that idol. It was a painful process, but worth it.

You may ask yourself, How can golf–or anything for that matter–be an idol? It’s a good question. You make anything an idol–sports, in this instance–when you elevate its importance above God Himself. We sinners have the natural ability to make good things into god things.

It’s so easy for us to take good gifts from the Lord and mold them into gods for ourselves. But when created things become idols, they make terrible gods. And that’s our fault. We take good things like money, family, sex, etc., elevate them above God, and make them into worthless idols that God hates. When put in their proper place, these good things are avenues to worship the Lord!

Be Careful

It’s our natural inclination as sinners to make good things into god things. We must be careful with how much of a priority we make things. You hear people say God first, family second, [something] third. I’d venture to say it needs to be more like God first in all spheres of life. That is, God first in family, God first in education, God first in your vocation, etc.

Or, put it this way: God should be in the center and everything else revolves around it. I think that’s a great way of arranging priorities.

Remember, Christian, how susceptible you are to make things into idols. It’s easy to do. Be careful. Be diligent. Seek God above all else. Place things in their proper perspective. With your mind set on heaven (Colossians 3:2), everything will fall in it’s proper place.

Soli Deo Gloria

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