In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller describes an idol as “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”
He later explains that it is “anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.”
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Who cares? God does. He actually cares a lot. Exodus 20:4-5 shows us that God is jealous for our full attention. We see in Colossians 3:5-6 that the wrath of God is coming upon idolatry. We need to take seriously anything that takes our minds off of God. I don’t know about you, but sports tend to take my mind off of God more than most things in my life.
The first step to killing our idols is to identify them. I have created a 10 question test that will help aid you in this process. Is your sport an idol? Let’s find out...
The Sports Idolatry Test
Rate every question on a scale of 1-5
1 = does not describe me at all
5 = absolutely describes me
- I feel most significant when I achieve success in sports
- My greatest fear is my sport being taken away from me
- Even when I am not playing/practicing my sport, I am constantly thinking about it
- I think about my sport more than I think about God
- I spend more time practicing/playing/thinking about my sport than I spend in the spiritual disciplines
(reading the Bible, prayer, attending church, fasting)
- When I think about my self worth, I identify more often with being an athlete than a child of God
- I often use God as a “good luck charm” in my sport
- I feel most loved and appreciated by others when they affirm me for my success in sports
- I feel most depressed when people speak negatively about me because of my failures in sport
- The first thing I think about when I wake up and go to bed at night is my sport
Scoring Your Test
I have pulled four examples from the Bible to compare ourselves to based on how each of us scored.
40-50: Baal Worshipers (1 Kings 18)
Yikes. Bad news. The hope you are putting in your sport is similar to the hope the prophets of Baal put in their god. They were willing to risk it all on the blind hope that Baal would answer them. He didn’t. Lowercase “g” gods never do. You’re answers indicate that you are “all in” on your sport and trusting it to be your god. Check out 1 Kings 18 for the full story.
30-39: Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17-27)
You are in a similar predicament as the rich young ruler from Mark 10. He had a lot going for him. He was rich and knew a lot about what it meant to follow God. He said the right things. Probably did most of the right things too. But when Jesus asked him for what he treasured most, his money, he couldn't give it up. He walked away saddened. You’re answers indicate you are similar to this guy. If Jesus asked you to walk away from your sport and follow him, what would you say?
20-29: Help My Unbelief Guy (Mark 9:14-25)
You are similar to the man in Mark 9 who comes to Jesus asking for his son to be healed. Jesus tells him anything is possible for those who believe and the man cries out “I do believe, help my unbelief!” He understood there was a gap between where he was and where Jesus wanted him to be—but he asked Jesus for help in the midst of it. Like this man, you walk the line of understanding your sport has potential to be an idol but are constantly asking God for help. You realize there is a gap between where you are and where you want to be and ask God for help to close it.
10-19: Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:8-19)
You are like Paul and Barnabas. In Acts 14 they heal a guy and the crowds start worshipping them. Sound familiar as an athlete? Instead of bro hugging and saying “Thanks! All glory to God!” they plead with the crowd to stop worshipping them. “We are men just like you!” Having the crowd’s attention, they then share about God. You view your sport as a gift from God to steward for the good of others, not just yourself. You look for ways to leverage the platform your sport offers you to share God’s love with those in your sphere of influence.
A way forward:
Regardless of how you scored, I don’t think quitting your sport is the answer. I really don’t. And I think for most of you, God probably doesn't want you to quit either. What He wants is for you to repent of the idolatrous role that sport has played in your life and then to view your sport differently moving forward.
Most idols start as good gifts that God has given us that we misuse by turning into gods. I believe sports are one of these good gifts from the Lord. What if we began to use sports as a vehicle to drive us closer God instead of using God to get more out of our sport? We get this backwards!
This is just a test to identify where you are at. It is not meant to provide all the answers on what to do next, but I want to at least give you a few options.
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