Football is a game of wins and losses. Christianity, while not a game, is also full of wins and losses. It’s just backwards, even upside-side down in comparison. Christianity is about losing to win. ◊
According to FIFA, last year’s World Cup final between France and Croatia reached an average live audience of 517 million viewers, with more than 1.1 billion people tuning in over its 90 minutes. Last year’s Super Bowl pales in comparison, having had an average viewership of 98 million in the US plus an estimated 50 to 65 million around the world.1
Any way you look at it, this weekend’s Super Bowl will be watched by a lot of people. As the final game of the American football season, people around the world will be watching. And fans of either side, even those who are indifferent, will be looking for a winner.
One team is going to win and one team is going to lose.
Winning is Control
In sports and in life, winning is everything. Or so it seems. Losers are not heralded or celebrated. We all want to win. We want money, we want a good job, we want friends, we want a happy home life. We want to look good.
We want to win, or at least not fail, in everything we do.
We work hard to control our destiny. To draw a sports parallel, we want the ball. Giving up the ball means losing control, and in the context of a game, giving up control of the ball on a continuous basis is to lead one on a path toward defeat.
In American football, fumbling the ball or passing the ball to the other team inadvertently is a costly error. Proactively punting the ball to the other team is only done after failure to progress the ball down the field. After 3 chances to advance the ball at least ten yards, the failing team punts the ball to the other team and gives up possession. It’s an admission of defeat, albeit a temporary one in the battle of the game, but a failure nonetheless that is a negative outcome to be avoided if one wishes to win the game.
So, Who Wants to Lose?
Christianity takes the issue of control and winning and flips it on its head. The following statement by Jesus is recorded in the New Testament:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)
Of course, this is counter-intuitive. It doesn’t really make sense to us as we naturally seek preservation and life rather than deprivation and death.
What is Jesus talking about?
It’s clear He’s not talking about football. But He is talking about losing what is valued and desired in order to receive what is valued and desired. In fact, He’s talking about life. A few verses earlier, Jesus is telling the disciples about the suffering and even death He will face in Jerusalem before rising on the third day. The disciples, particularly Peter, are angry at the very thought but Jesus rebukes him, saying:
“You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matthew 16:23)
And that’s it exactly. We, like Peter, only have eyes for human concerns, not the concerns of God. We have our homes, families, our careers, jobs, cars, vacations, clothes, electronics, toys and other earthly items that we justify as valuable and even good. We also have our churches, our ministries, our Bible study groups, our programs, our charities, our good works and friendships.
But how can you criticize all of these good things?
Giving Up the Ball
I am not criticizing them – only calling them out. The point is that these things, these idols, even good things that can encumber our well-intentioned world are but traps or burdens that can keep us from a free and surrendered life.
Certainly, this is not about winning in life as the world sees it. It does seem backwards, even upside-down.
In God’s economy (or game), winning comes when we punt; that is, when we give up the ball and admit defeat in advancing under our own power and control. It’s waving the white flag and relinquishing control to God rather than ourselves. The ball, the life, is punted to Him. Now He gets to control and quarterback and drive the entire game plan for success, defined in His terms, not our own.
How Can You Call That a Win?
You might think that looks like a loss, a failure to advance, a defeat. Punting means that I’ve failed to move the ball forward. And that’s right. In the Christian life, it’s where we get to the point of saying “I’m done, I surrender!” And it’s as if God is saying:
“Finally! I’ve been waiting for this moment. Now I can use you fully as I’ve created and intended for My purposes.”
Ironically, the real living comes when we die to ourselves, our personal schemes and agendas, and punt them all to God. It’s when we submit our fears, failures and shortcomings and release full authority to Him who we know deep in our hearts has the better game plan for us, our family and the Kingdom.
As followers of Jesus Christ, It’s just not our game anymore. We’re done. Finished. The old is gone; the new is here. Now watch what He will do in your life. When you really punt and give up the ball, you’ll wonder why you really didn’t do it sooner. That’s the deceit of the worldly game we’re playing. Upon full release, it’s a whole new and exciting adventure.
Enjoy the game!
Have you lost your life to find it?
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? – Matthew 16:24-26
1 Statista, January 31, 2020, https://www.statista.com/chart/16875/super-bowl-viewership-vs-world-cup-final/.