There is an ingredient in sports than can make or break a competitive athlete. With it, an underdog can overcome what seem to be insurmountable odds. Without it, even the best of the best can fall to another with less talent or experience.
Some may think it’s just a gameday thing; a surge when one is playing for a “W.” In reality, this ingredient tends to permeate the lives of those athletes who possess it.
You might have guessed by now, I’m talking about passion. And I’m not the only one!
"I want to become an athlete of influence!"
Have you noticed, when people are talking about sports, passion is eventually a part of the conversation. When you have a minute, type the word “passion” into the search bar of your favorite sports media outlet and watch the headlines stack up! It’s the secret sauce that everyone looks for when they’re looking for success.
“Walton says Ball, Ingram ‘need more passion.’”
“Nadal enjoying improved serve, renewed passion.”
“Rules, habits, passion keep NFL aging quarterbacks around.”
Passion and sports just go together! Try to imagine an athletic event of any kind without a roar erupting on and around the field of competition. You just can’t do it! Even with sports like golf, tennis or bowling – where the crowds are regularly hushed – the gallery comes unglued as the games unfold!
So what is it? What fuels it? And how does passion relate to the rest of life, particularly our faith?
At its heart, passion generally emerges from a personal connection with someone or something desirable. Athletics ignite passion because they lend themselves so easily to that connection. Think about it — in the world of sports we readily identify with a community that shares similar activities and aims. We experience camaraderie around practice and progress. And finally, there are victory celebrations which the community enjoys (some more than others) from one season to the next.
In other words, we naturally feel passion for our sport and its community because both provide a context for experiencing a sense of belonging and purpose, an opportunity for growth, and the pursuit of victory in the face of opposition— all things for which we were made!
Having said that, let’s make a distinction between passion and rage, both of which represent great intensity, but for very different reasons. Athletic passion flows freely from a heart of gratitude for the gift of “running the race” so to speak. Rage, on the other hand, stems from a thankless, wounded heart. Rather than seeing sport as a gift to be received and enjoyed, one who plays angry makes demands that his sport give him what it can’t. Take it from one who ran on rage for far too many years.
I needed sports to secure a life for me I felt like I deserved but had somehow lost in the dysfunction of a broken home. When things weren’t working out well in the gym, I became angry, which fueled my effort, but hardened my heart. I didn’t play for the love of the game and the gift of being able to participate; I played to seize the life I thought I ought to have.
Fortunately, and painfully I might add, I lost my sport for a season and discovered that my passion had been misplaced. I began pondering a question Jesus asked, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26a)
As for my rage, I came across the wise words of James, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:1–3)
As a result, my perspective gradually began to change. I learned that playing with a passion that honors God has much more to do with our heart for the One who gives us the gift of sport than it does with our heart for the sport itself. If we are ultimately looking to athletics for belonging, purpose, growth and victory, instead of looking to the One who made us for those things, we will be disappointed, regardless of how much we achieve in this world.
To come at it another way, our love for the game should be an overflow of our love for the One who created us to play. The intensity with which we practice and compete should reflect our passion for the One in whom “we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
It’s truly never a bad time to ask ourselves about our first love (our greatest passion). We can so easily set our affections on the things of this world and miss out on the ultimate things that matter most. If we love our sport more than we love our God, we are destined for an enormous let-down. But if we set our hearts on God first, we can enjoy the fruit of our efforts in this life, whatever we may achieve.
Imagine the freedom to be had by those who don’t need ultimate satisfaction in this life.
Those who are convinced of perfect fulfillment in the life to come can give themselves fully, might I say passionately, to any and every endeavor of this live without regret. They can give themselves wholeheartedly to the assignments and opportunities of this life knowing that they will have their first love in the life to come.
That sounds like a life of passion. And it awaits all who want it.