What is This?
This guide offers you a sampler lens through which to view one of the biggest sporting events in the world, and to stimulate and guide a prayer path as you watch.
Loving God is the greatest commandment. Too often we love the blessings of God more than God Himself. A central theme in the Bible revolves around the human propensity to worship created things rather than the Creator.
We desperately need instruction and reminders to flip that narrative. What would it look like to enjoy God’s blessings—like games and sports—in a way that draws our attention back to Him? This guide explores a path toward experiencing God in the midst of watching a game.
Imagine you see the Grand Canyon for the first time. Your immediate thought might be, “This is amazing!”
As a Christian, the view of the Grand Canyon and all of its majesty gives us an opportunity to take that thought further: “God, you are incredible for creating this! Thank you!” In this case, the Grand Canyon triggers a thought in the mind of the Christian that brings him back to God.
Apart from God, we pursue experiences and goals in a quest for lasting satisfaction, enjoy them for what they produce when we acquire them, but then must return to the same questions that drove us toward the experience in the first place: “Can I find something that really lasts? Is there any bigger purpose to these experiences? Why do I still feel a sense of emptiness?”
Cultural route for happiness
You ---→ Event ---→ Happiness
But God offers a better way. In Christ, we can pursue experiences that He creates for us and enjoy them as good gifts from His hand. In the midst of the experience, we can deepen our relationship with Him through prayer- giving us an eternal perspective and ultimately producing a fuller satisfaction that transcends temporary experience. With our life anchored in Christ, the experience becomes an accessory to our relationship with Him, which is our final goal rather than the experience itself.
Christian’s route for happiness
You ---→ Event ---→Turn to God ---→ Deepen Relationship--→Happiness
This guide is meant to do something similar. As you watch the Super Bowl, we want to draw your attention to a few elements of the game so that when you see them, you are triggered to think of and pray to God.
Our culture—frequently even the Christian culture—fails to see how God and sport intersect.
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It’s time to equip ourselves to engage the game differently by being properly conscious of the God who oversees all things. It’s time to flip the cultural script.
Houston, Texas. An interesting fact: Although Texas is in the Bible Belt region, the number of Texans who identify as “religious” has declined from 1990 to 2010. Even among Houston’s megachurches, religious service attendance is declining. This trend is occurring not just in Houston, but across the United States.
Key Quotes: “Houston is the most ethnically diverse city in the United States. It’s a perfect place to ‘get a little taste of heaven.’ In heaven, it tells us that people of all colors and all races and all ethnicities [come together].” Pastor Chris Seay, Ecclesia Church, Houston
“Houston is the fastest-growing ethnically diverse city, which creates great opportunities to engage with people who haven’t heard Christ.” Eric Nelson, Athletes in Action staff and native of Houston
Action Point: When the blimp gives a city-wide shot after commercial, pray for the people of Houston. Pray that God would use His local church to spread the gospel. Pray for those who claim to know Christ to truly surrender to Him.
In the days leading up to the game and even during the game itself, reporters and analysts will broadcast on location in Houston. Over one million additional people will descend on the city, bringing with them an estimated $100-300 million dollars to spend. Alongside the influx of men and money, a global evil makes its way to the host city every year—one that most people hardly associate with sporting events.
Human Trafficking. Houston is one of the country’s largest hubs for human trafficking. But this is not just Houston problem—it is a world problem.
Human trafficking, the second largest and fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world, is the trade of humans—most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labor, or forced prostitution. Most cases involve a person abusing power over a vulnerable victim and exploiting them for profit. Victims are stripped of their identity and forced to work against their will with no hope or way to return home.
The Super Bowl and other large sporting events are considered to be attraction events for traffickers. Last year, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot called the Super Bowl "the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States." Super Bowl weekend means that victims will be in danger.
Action Point: When you watch analysts and reporters on location, pray for the victims who are in the sex slave trade industry. Pray for their safety and escape.
There is a social media campaign called the #HalftimeChallenge which raises awareness about this issue. During halftime as you share tweets and social media posts, use the hashtags #SuperBowl and #HalftimeChallenge to raise awareness for human trafficking.
Further Learning: To learn more about the human trafficking industry and what you can do to help, go to: enditmovement.com
Since 1988, Athletes in Action has hosted an NFL sanctioned Super Bowl Breakfast on Saturday morning of Super Bowl weekend.
The breakfast is a platform to celebrate the Bart Starr Award winner. The award is given annually to honor an NFL player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community. This year’s honoree is New England Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater whose dad Jackie Slater won the same award 20 years ago.
Action Point: Pray for Matthew Slater and all previous award winners who undoubtedly face even more temptation to do wrong after being honored for doing good. Pray also for the sold-out crowd of 1,700, that they would completely surrender their lives to Jesus.
Unfortunately, you will not have an impact on who wins or loses the Super Bowl. You can, however, have an impact on the players' lives through prayer.
Action Point: Click on the team roster and choose a few guys to pray for. Know that many of these men on both teams are already actively involved in attending chapel and discipleship with Athletes in Action and staff from other ministries.
The head referee for the Super Bowl is Carl Cheffers. Cheffers has been an NFL official since 2000, and was selected to be the alternate referee of Super Bowl XLIX two years ago.
When Cheffers was promoted from side judge to referee, NFL officiating director Mike Pereira said, “Carl has been extremely successful on the field as a side judge. He is very knowledgable of the rules… When we first saw Carl, we saw referee experience from him even though he had refereed basically at the small-college level.”
Do you know how many rules an NFL official needs to know? Check out the rulebook.
On top of knowing all of that, they also have to make multiple decisions every single play on whether to throw the flag or hold it. And they do all of this while dressed like a zebra with 110 million people watching! As Christians, we need to consciously give them grace, in spite of the emotions that come with watching.
Action Point: When the ref inevitably makes a bad call, relax. Your friends notice your actions when things don’t go your way. Your family—your kids!—notices too. Be a model of grace for those around you and cut the refs some slack.
Jesus says in Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Jesus commands us to do good works, but also, when we see good works, to glorify God. As a fan, your biblical mandate when you see someone act admirably on the field is to give glory to God! Let’s make this really practical.
One attribute prevalent in sports culture is pride. Pride is essentially self-worship. Pride is refusing to believe and act in a way that shows God is the provider and sustainer of everything in your life.
“What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). That is why we give God the glory—He alone deserves it.
The key word to focus in on for the Super Bowl is humility. Humility sits on the opposite end of the spectrum from pride.
Action Point: Whenever you see someone display an act of humility, give glory to God. Here are some actions to look for:
- Helping an opponent get up from the ground
- Tossing the ball to the ref
- Giving credit to a teammate after a successful play
- Not yelling at the ref after a questionable call (or no call)
- Not drawing attention to oneself after a big play is made
- Rallying around a teammate after he makes a mistake
Using situations like those listed above should trigger your heart to give glory to God.
- “God, thank you that the world just saw that act of humility.”
- “God, your ways are better than the world’s”
- “God, thank you that Jesus was the ultimate example of humility.”
The TV Event
The season finale of MASH in 1983 saw 105.9 million viewers, and is still the most watched episode of a television show ever. By comparison, each of the last few Super Bowls corralled viewing audiences of over 111 million. In 2014, one billion people watched the FIFA World Cup final and an estimated near half of the world’s population watched the Rio Olympics on television.
Sport is a universal language unlike any other. As you are watching the game on Sunday, there will be over 111 million people around the world watching it with you.
Action Point: As a Christian, we can actively pray that God uses the game to reveal a glimpse of Himself through the game and its theatrics. For instance, if there is an unusual act of sportsmanship that causes you to think, “Why would they have done that?” a portion of those 111 million people will be asking the same question.
In that moment and others like it, pray that curious people would have an opportunity to meet a Christ-follower who can explain God’s transforming grace clearly and succinctly. Like the players, pray for a longing in people post-event for something more substantive- for an answer to the question, “Is that all there is?”
For a 30-second commercial this year, advertisers will need to fork over $5 million. They would not pay that much money to advertise their product if they didn’t think it would be worth the money. What makes it worth it to them?
The consumer’s discontentment with life. Yes, you and me. Advertisers convince us that we need their product. Not only do we buy into it, we buy it. As a Christian, our contentment shouldn’t come from things (or who wins a football game), but from the satisfying life that Christ offers.
Action Point: When the game goes to commercial, consider your own vulnerability to the tempting nature of “stuff.” Confess your own idolatry regarding the mindset “If I only had __, then my life would be better,” and ask Jesus to be your contentment.
The Vince Lombardi Trophy
Our society celebrates the championship as the finish line. The Super Bowl trophy is in honor of a man who had this to say:
“After all the cheers have died down and the stadium is empty, after the headlines have been written, and after you are back in the quiet of your room and the championship ring has been placed on the dresser and after all the pomp and fanfare have faded, the enduring thing that is left is the dedication to doing with our lives the very best we can to make the world a better place in which to live.”
When the game ends and the trophy is handed out, know as a fan that the experience of joy that players feel will not last long. At some point they will ask the question: “What next?”
In June 2005, Tom Brady famously said in a 60 Minutes interview, “Why do I have three Super Bowl rings, and still think there's something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, 'Hey man, this is what it is.' I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me, I think: God, it's gotta be more than this. I mean this can't be what it's all cracked up to be.”
Action Point: Pray for the winners of the Super Bowl. The joy will not last long and when it wears off, they are going to wonder why it did not satisfy. This is prime time for God to enter in as the ultimate satisfier of our souls.
Pray that the discontentedness that inevitably follows reaching a goal would spur a desire to resolve “something missing in my life” and that God would make Himself known at the opportune time. Winning is fun. Spending eternity with God is better.