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The Idol Named Sport

February 3, 2016

Over the past few weeks, I’ve intentionally tried to find quiet moments to search my heart, asking God to reveal in me ways I can grow and develop as a mother, wife, employee, daughter, friend, and as a child of the Most High God.

One particular day, during the mundane task of emptying and filling the dishwasher, a random thought fired through my brain: Sport is an idol.

This thought popped into my mind as quickly as it left.

Since that day, I’ve spent a great deal of time reflecting on how I’ve not only subconsciously but willingly contributed to the building of a high seat of prominence for the idol named “Sport” in my home. God has graciously revealed to me how our family’s priorities, as they relate to our children’s sporting activities, have been askew in recent years.

Let’s face it, it’s easily justified that our children’s participation in sports is a very positive and healthy life decision. Yet, I’ll be the first to admit that our family has succumbed to the mounting pressure society has placed on Sport; it has dictated almost every aspect of our daily lives, including church attendance, work schedules, a significant line item in our family budget, when and where we recreate…and even if we recreate.

Parents with children in travel and club sports find it commonplace to attend “critical tournaments” on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day weekends. And, as parents, we willingly take one on the chin for our kids, all in the name of “giving a leg-up” for our children.

The prophet Zechariah warns of idols when he says,

The idols speak deceitfully, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd. (Zechariah 10:2, NIV)

If worshiping idols causes us to wander, feel oppressed, and lose sight of God our Shepherd, then why do we do it? What is so alluring about idols? How do we recognize idols before they take root, and how do we authentically turn our worship back to the Lord?

Why Do We Worship Idols?

Before we can understand why we worship idols, we must first understand what an idol is:

John Piper, defines an idol as

…the thing loved or the person loved more than God, wanted more than God, desired more than God, treasured more than God, enjoyed more than God. It could be a girlfriend. It could be good grades. It could be the approval of other people. It could be success in business. It could be sexual stimulation. It could be a hobby or a musical group that you are following or a sport or your immaculate yard… It could be anything.

By God’s very finger, the first two of the Ten Commandments were written (“I am the Lord your God” and “You shall have no other gods before me” from Exodus 20:3-4) because God knew we are a sinful, easily-distracted people who fail to remember Who deserves our praise. God gave us these commands as a constant reminder of the truth because he knew we’d frequently lose sight of it.

Though all of God’s creation is designed to worship him (Psalm 66:4), we humans have a long history of pride and arrogance whereby we misdirect our innate desire to worship God and turn our worship toward the things of man instead.

And, we’ve been worshiping golden calves ever since.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him…They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator. (Romans 1:21, 25)

What’s the Allure of Idols?

As Zechariah states, idols speak deceitfully (10:2). They make promises they can’t keep and ultimately cause us to give into sinful behavior.  Parents who identify with the idol “Sport” taking root in their homes can likely agree it has deceived many into believing:

  • The better our children become in the sport of their choice, the greater opportunities they’ll be given in social settings, in school, and potentially in life.
  • If we toil and mountain move enough, our children will make the high school teams, college teams, and potentially acquire scholarships to Division 1 schools.
  • Offering our children greater opportunities than we were given as kids justifies the crazy, maddening pace and, in some cases, unacceptable behavior.

Recently, a dear friend shared with me that her seventh-grade daughter was playing a basketball game in the Dallas area.  Now, we know Texans are competitive people, but, in this case, the opposing team’s parents felt justified in hurling foul language at the opposing players. Really? Has our society come to a place where adults can justify slandering children for the sake of a “win”?   

While there is nothing wrong with wanting good for our children and working hard for it, idols allure us with false narratives that slowly pull our attention away from the truth of the Father. As for Sport, it leads many down an alternate path of belief: that we are the determiners of our future and our children’s future.

Scripture tells us precisely the opposite, and this is why we must ruthlessly protect our hearts, minds, and very lives from idols taking root.

They worshiped their idols, which became a snare to them. (Psalm 106:36)

How Can We Recognize Idols Before They Take Root?

My name is Annie Sander, and I have an idol problem.

I’m assuming all humanity shares this issue with me and that it is hidden inside each of us. The question is, how can we become increasingly aware of the power idols have in our lives, rather than carelessly subjecting ourselves to their influence?

A Christianity Today article, entitled “How to Find Your Rival Gods,” author Tim Keller suggests that, to find our “rival gods” which compete for our worship, we must first examine our heart’s true desires by asking ourselves the following questions:

  • What is it that occupies our minds/imagination when we have nothing else to think about?
  • How do we spend our money? (“Where your treasure is, there is your heart also” from Matthew 6:21)
  • What are we really living for? What is our real – not just professed – God?
  • Identify your most uncontrollable emotions (i.e. anger, fear, or despair). Then examine that emotion at its deepest root. Typically there, idols cling.

How Do We Turn Our Worship Back to God?

If we are to become all that God desires for us – if we want to truly rid ourselves of the idolatry that prevents us from living a faithful life – we must turn our gaze toward God!

In a sermon on worship, Pastor Colin Smith says,

How is it possible for us to worship God when all of us have gone astray?…The Lord has laid on [Jesus Christ] the iniquity of us all…

That gives us a picture of what God has done with our sins in their many forms – our self-absorbed rebellion, our self-pitying resentment, our self-indulgent reclining, and our self-righteous recounting…

Can you own this truth about God today? That he has gathered up the sins of his people; and that he has lifted them from you and taken them upon himself in Christ Jesus?

When we see and trust what Jesus has done for us, even though we didn’t deserve it, we will begin to love him above all other pursuits! The Son of God, who never made an idol in his life, took all of our idolatry upon himself at the cross. When we begin to love and trust Jesus, we will find the influence of lesser gods—even Sport—losing their grip over our lives.

Some practical ways to set Jesus before our gaze might be Bible reading, prayer, conversation with other Christians, and regular worship. To know Christ and to love him happens by spending consistent time with him, while owning the truth that Jesus gathered up our sin in himself so we could be freed from it.

As Jesus becomes greater to us, everything else—even Sport—falls into its proper place.

Can you recognize your “rival gods” by answering Tim Keller’s questions? What can you do to be vigilant to resist the allure of idols in your life?


The Author
Annie Sander

Annie Sander is the marketing & events director at Unlocking the Bible. She is also a singer, songwriter, and worship leader. She lives in Lakewood, Ill., with her husband, Todd, and their two kids. Contact Annie at asander@unlockingthebible.org.



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