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The Games We Play

What do sports tell us about ourselves? Would we be as interested if the games we play ended without a winner, or without records of comparative accomplishment?

There must be something about everything from board and card games to individual and team sports that awakens something in us that was created by God.

But what are those capacities? Why competition? Could there be any counterpart in the life to come? Or is this all about our fallen nature and need to win at the expense of others?

The Apostle Paul alluded to the Isthmian Games that were an ancient counterpart to our modern Olympic Games (1Cor 9:24-27).  Was trying to remember whether Jesus made any reference to sport but could only think of his statement, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul (Matt 16:26)– which am guessing is a stretch.

I’m hoping to see how Michigan State does against Penn State this afternoon. But why? Is it just to be part of the conversation? Is it home-state pride? An answer to boredom? Self-indulgence? A needed change of pace? Am guessing, depending on the situation,  it could be any of these, none of the above, and more…

PS—At this  point I’ll punt to our Sport Chaplain, Bill Crowder, who together with some of our co-workers produce each week an hour-long Sports Spectrum radio program. With the help of their guests, they  look at the way the issues of our lives show up in the games we play or watch. You can find some of their inspiring stories and good conversation at sport.org.

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33 Responses to “The Games We Play”

  1. poohpity says:

    It would be nice to be in a quiet humble competition of loving others and doing good works. Not to get credit for it from anyone but because of the love we have for God. Wow that would be a game of competition with no comparison.

    I do not know why we as human beings have to be in competitive sports or any other competition other than it gives a sense of accomplishment to be the best. It is not just sports but this happens in many areas of life. Someone always wants to be better than someone else but that would then mean some else is less than or not good enough. I think I has to be a pride issue.

    With sports or anything else if an individual will do their best then there is nothing to compete against is there? Job well done is the best I can hope for and no games involved in that. :-) Go Christian Soldiers!!!!

  2. poohpity says:

    “I think I has to be a pride issue.” error It should have been “I think it has to be a pride issue”. Shows to go ya don’t it. lol. Maybe a Freudian slip!! ;-)

  3. rokdude5 says:

    When I was growing up, there werent a lot of kids around that were close to my age. There was a girl the next block over so on rare occassions, my brother and I would venture over there to see if its more fun to have three of us even though one of us is a girl.

    Well she welcomed us to her home then asked if my brother and I wanted to play “house”. Of course, due to my competitive nature, I asked her, “How do you win playing house?”

    Its a rather common trait that we all have the need to feel special. Of course there are various avenues to accomplish that such as competitive sports, baseball cards collections, painting, music, cooking, etc, etc. But if we just stop to think about how we ARE each one of us VERY special and we dont have to do anything at all. All we need to do is just rest in accepting that fact.

    Now I dont care if Im the “alpha” or “omega” male. I have no longer the desire to prove it on the field yet there is a part of me that misses those days of hooking up with my buddies to just play ball. RJ

  4. saled says:

    The opportunity to live vicariously probably accounts for most of the appeal of watching sports. It’s also totally absorbing to watch someone do something well, be it sport, art, or work. Time passes really fast when you are totally absorbed in something.

    Sport may also be seen as a figurative way for a group of people to face death and, for a time, conquer it. Each time a bull fighter faces a bull, he faces death. And those watching know the feeling of the horror and, (hopefully )eventual victory involved in that fight.

    Each time the Patriots play, you would think it a life and death situation in my home! I’m not sure God intended for us to get so wrapped up in sports, and the question of competition has always made me think of Darwin and survival of the fittest. And yet we love competition. At school, we have to be really careful to use competition in the right way. There is no doubt that it can provide wonderful motivation. But it can also squelch interest in students who struggle.

  5. SFDBWV says:

    Competition….Knowing that God created all things, including our nature. I would have to say competition begins with conception.

    Many thousands of sperm compete for the privilege of fertilizing the egg…the agressor wins.

    Being competitive enables us to survive in a hostile world.

    The games we play to sharpen our competiveness, prepare us for adulthood and when we get older, we simply become spectators, in sports as well as in life.

    Paul stated that we run a race…with a prize.

    In the game of life, even the meek play a good game at how to survive.

    15 degrees f, about a half inch of snow from yesterdays steady stream of flurries.


  6. SFDBWV says:

    Mart asks if this competition is a result of our fallen nature?

    Everything we see, everything we know is seen from the fallen state of creation.

    On a palying field of sports, the team comes together in a unified goal to win.

    Especially in football, the victory is a team effort, not an individual accomplishment.

    In life it is the same if we desire to be successful we will need the help of others along the way.

    A family is supposed to be a team effort.

    The goal of bringing the gospel to all of the world: the explained body of Christ is made up of many individuals with the talent given to each, expressly in order to achieve the goal set before us, the message of salvation….

    Today, as in ages past, what is more competitive than religions of the world?

    Was it not competition between God and, a lessor being, Satan that began the whole competition for mens souls?

    The drive to win…who wants to lose?


  7. poohpity says:

    I don’t mind losing. I lost my life so that it could be found. I gave up control because I realized I am not in control. I do not have to be first as long as I finish. I play different games because of the fun there is being with people. I hang around those that the world may consider less than but to me they are worth so much.

    The best competition that I have ever watched is the Special Olympics where someone who was winning stopped before he had won to help someone behind him who fell to get up and finish the race. That was the most beautiful picture of competition I have ever experienced and hope that I can reflect that in each and everyday in this game called life.

  8. poohpity says:

    Today I saw one of the kindness things in Pro football. The Packers gave the Falcons the ball in the Packers own end zone, lol. :-)

  9. SFDBWV says:

    Before television and electonic games, people used to go to each others houses and play cards…

    What would always start off as a social activity and a *friendly* game of cards, would ultimately turn into a lifelong feud between neighbors and especialy other family members.

    I knew people who never spoke another word to an old friend or a relative the remainder of their lives…over a game of rummy.

    I guess there is something very deep about having your plans thwarted by someone you trusted, before your very eyes, and watching their pleasure at having you fail,…that brings up a hurt so deep as to cause hate in ones heart.

    Thinking about it, I would say that some of the games we play tell a great deal about our true inner self.

    Most any parent will lose happily to their child in little games they play. Winning over the feelings of someone you love is never winning at all.

    13 degrees here in the mountains of West Virginia this morning…winter is coming, lots of time for a nice friendly game of Monopoly, or Sorry, or checkers, or Trivial Pursuit..whichever you enjoy losing to.


  10. SFDBWV says:

    Gee I almost forgot about the most famous fans of sports anywhere…..Soccer (football) fans.

    Their mid or post games activities are legendary.

    I don’t know of a war started over a soccer game, but I have seen some fairly fierce battles in the stands during the games.

    Of course then there is the great American pregame activity….*Tailgating*….competition once again over who can cook the best food and get the drunkest before the game.

    Thinking about it I suppose the release of tensions through sports is a better way of living, then holding them in and allowing them to come out in other places not intended for such rough activity.


  11. plumbape says:

    Go to the fight to see if a hockey game will break out…

  12. Ken says:

    I would like to submit a quote from the Ken Burns documentary called Baseball.
    Baseball is played in big city stadiums and in farmers fields.
    It is played by old men and boys, rank amateurs and millionaire stars.
    It is a liesurlely game that demands blinding speed.
    But most of all it is about time and timelessness, speed and grace, failure and loss, imperishable hope and coming home.

    I hope that along with all the wonderfull things that we will be be doing when we all come to our real home is play baseball.

  13. tha.khoza says:

    competition can be applied to all aspects of life including work, family and friends. it’s very difficult to apply God’s word and to feel special at work when everything is about who has achieved the most or come up with the brightest idea etc. how does one reconcile competition and God’s word?

  14. poohpity says:

    tha.khoza, reconcile competition and God’s Word, I do not know that there would be any competition. I think that God speaks to each individual as Peter speaks about in 2 Peter 1 that each person learns to know God better and better that will result in kindness and peace. Then he says we will share God’s glory and goodness within us. That will save us from the lust and rottenness around us and give us His character. The more we learn to know God we will put aside our own desires (competition) and allow God to have His way with us. Anger, hatred, and resentment which maybe caused by competition are things of the flesh.

    In the last 20 months our family has lost one cousin who was younger than me, my mom, my dad, and my aunt who just recently passed. Playing games was one of the things that always brought us together. When we played a couple of them were really competitive although we could not understand the anger they felt inside because it was just a game to the majority, we would help out another player so that they could win or succeed but it was just fun. I so enjoyed that time together and miss it so very much even the little bickering that went on. Life is so short.

  15. foreverblessed says:

    That’s a very good question.
    To be honost, this verse in 1 Korinthians 9:24-27 always had a wrong influnence in me. It made me more competitive, and made me proud in this way: I am working hard to be a good christian while the other is not.

    I now believe that the fight is meant to your own old self. Fight the old man, that is what Paul meant in verse 27, beating his own body.
    I sense it to mean: If my old man is reacting, I must stop him immediately, and then go to God for His life.
    For instance, when meeting with other christians in church, like singing together and worshiping God, there is easy irritation coming up when someone next to you is not so concentrated, and maybe busy with his telephone, or a woman singing in a strange way.
    When I feel irritation coming up I now stop that in myself, as a few years ago I would let my mind dwell on the irritable behavior of someone else. If you do that too long, you feel entitled to have a good reason to say something about it, to stop the irritable behavior of the other person.
    While the exact opposite has to be done: stop the irritation in yourself, it blocks the living life of Jesus to flow through me.

  16. SFDBWV says:

    tha.khoza, My short answer to your question as how cometition can be recociled to God’s Word, is this..

    There is no greater competition than the one we have with ourselves….Always striving to improve our standing with God, we strain at doing better at being a better Christian.

    Never being fully satisified, we attempt to improve our understanding of scripture and so be better informed as to the nature of God and what it is He wants from us. Hosea 4:6 gives us dire warning of the consequence of not learning all we can.

    So we can have competition with the hour glass of our lives, and against ourselves without the bruises of hurting the feelings of another.

    Just my thoughts.

  17. SFDBWV says:

    foreverblessed, it seems we had similar thoughts miles apart, but on the same plane of thinking…


  18. Loretta Beavis says:

    Well, sports = training for war. How is that? In my sport (horses) the horse was used in battle and had to be easy to maneuver (one hand has a sword) and trust the rider over its own instincts of fear. Horses are not used in battle now, but the gymnastic training for the cavalry (principles recorded in the 1700s, but practiced since the Scythians rode) is the basis for the sporting events I compete in or watch.

    There is also a need/goal for the horse and rider (a team in themselves) to understand each others signals-that is, communicate. There is the desire for a oneness…

    War is over things and control (being God); sports symbolize the things with ribbons, trophies, monies, et al.

    So, the comparative is I am in a spiritual battle, one in which I must persist with faith as King Jesus has already won-we just stand in the full armor of God!

  19. Helmet says:

    Hi everybody,bless you all!
    I wish like sports people, or a soldier we all find our stenght in Jesus for this battle, day by day, depending fully on HIS arms. Keeping His word in mind.

  20. thsino455 says:

    Remember this: As Christians, we will never have to compete for God’s love. It is free, it is unconditional, and we are the only ones who can separate ourselves from Him by abandoning our faith. Even then, Jesus waits with open arms to forgive us and bring us back. Trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit when competing in a game or sport; it is an earthly pursuit, but in all aspects of our lives, we Christians are bound by love to refrain from causing another’s pain. (I have a hard time when considering hockey, football, and boxing, etc.) But whatever you think of these…good sportsmanship is our duty!

  21. poohpity says:

    Hey Helmet, long time since you posted welcome back. How is Mexico? Is it cold down there like it is here. Our high today was 56 in the valley of the sun, totally unheard of.

  22. Regina says:

    Good Morning All

    Off topic here…
    Just dropped by to say hello, and to tell you how much I miss conversing with you all. Haven’t had time to share my thoughts on the blog topic or on your thoughts and comments, but I love reading your comments on Mart’s topics! They’re such a blessing to me, and I’ve learned SO much from all of you! THANK YOU!
    Also want to thank you for praying with/for me regarding the situation with my family.
    Yesterday, my husband told me that it would be a “win-win” situation for him no matter what happens. He said, if I go, he still wins because his situation wouldn’t change that much financially and if I stayed he still wins because that wouldn’t effect him that much either. Then he said if I go, I would have to depend on friends and family for the most part, and I told him that I would be trusting and depending on the LORD to provide for me and see me through my adversity. He didn’t like my answer; I would share more if I had time, but I’m sure you can tell that I still need your prayers (my husband too because I don’t know if/doubting that he has a relationship with/loves the LORD).

    40’s/Low 50’s in Texas today.

    Love you all,

  23. tha.khoza says:

    wow. thanks a lot guys. your responses have been very helpful! God bless you all:)

  24. BruceC says:

    I was never very big into athletic sports. Only time was in grammar school in intermural basketball. My gym teacher in 8th grade became my freshman year phys. ed. teacher and was furious with me for not going out for basketball. I told him I’d rather spend my spare time in the outdoors and that blew him away.
    I’ve spent many times outdoors since I was about ten years old. I never viewed it as a competition between myself and the fish and game. It was relaxing and fun. After coming to Christ it was like spending time in God’s living witness of Himself.
    I am currently reading Pilgrim’s Progress after watching the movie and that is real competition. Competition between our spirit and our flesh; and between we as Christians and the dark forces of satan.
    That is a competition that all believers are in daily.
    Many times we lose; but the Coach doesn’t take us out of the game or trade us to another team. He is always there to cheer us on, help us improve our skills, and rejoice in our triumph.

    Soli Deo Gloria!

  25. Regina says:

    **husband made the “win-win” statement on Sunday, not yesterday.

  26. SFDBWV says:

    When I was a child, baseball was the big deal. I have a picture with my great grand father as manager of my home towns baseball team….

    Anyone who saw “Field of Dreams” can relate to how important to American’s baseball had become in its beginnings and growth.

    I, like many children my age, grew up expecting to be as good at the sport as our fathers were. Competition between father and son…nothing new under the sun.

    The effect that fathers or peers has on the young developing mind of a child, creates the person we become.

    It can become an unhealthy competition with no winners only losers.

    Very few of us can live up to what we view as expectations from a father or someone we feel has such a lofty placement…how can we ever measure up?

    For me, I spent way too much time trying to prove myself to a father who never expected me to, and to myself…The most difficult person to be satisfy, yourself.

    Though as I look back accross my life from this view, I can see God’s hands clearly on me, I can see the road I took to get where I am today was indeed filled with difficulties, and obstacles I created myself…Trying to be someone I thought was who I wanted to be.

    Somewhere between trying to be the image of the man I seen and where I am today, Jesus Christ transformed me into the man He wanted me to be. Giving me a heart to understand what is truly important in life…It is not the games we play.

    Rather it is the full surrender to Christ, the old man.

    Healing old wounds and enpowering me to used of Him for His purposes, not mine.

    It is His game now, and whether I set on the bench or am a clutch player, to me dosen’t matter, as long as I am in the game.


  27. SFDBWV says:

    …And on His team…


  28. dust says:

    When I was a boy I wanted to be like my hero Ted Williams. I tryed but didn’t have the heart to withstand rejection. Jesus has never rejected me and has very patient with me all my life. Now at 75 I am so grateful to Jesus and His great love (no rejection there) and right now I could almost burst with love for you all and our Lord and saviour Jesus.

  29. davids says:

    Paul uses the Greek games as a way to teach about self-discipline. When my children were young we played games of chance or simple logic. The point was to teach them to take turns, be patient, and follow rules.

    As they got older I tought them Chess, Kingmaker, and Risk: games that require them to use logic, to develop a strategy, and to think ahead.

    We encourage them to play sports, because that requires them to develop their bodies. My teens like to try to beat me in a run (and sometimes they do!)

    Games and sports have objectives – winners and losers – because otherwise there would be no reason to try harder and to improve your abilities. This self-discipline benefits people as they approach other challenges in life.

    I am reminded of the old story of two boys running late to school. One says, “I have an idea. Let’s stop and pray.” The other says, “I have a better idea. Let’s keep running and pray!”

    Faith and prayer are important, but we still need to develop the gifts God gave us. Games and sports seem a useful way to do that.

  30. toria says:

    I just discovered this blog a few months ago and have been a reader only, never commenting. I’ve really enjoyed reading it and reading all the comments. The depth of wisdom and experience and knowledge of God’s Word is wonderful!

    I decided to come out of hiding so to speak because this topic and all the comments hit on something that I’ve been struggling with a lot lately. For me, my problem is competition at work. For years, I was always sort of a super achiever at work. There may not be anything wrong with that, but I was getting my delight and fulfillment from work before God. I didn’t realize it at the time. Three years ago, I took another job at the same company. Since then, I have not had the opportunities to excel that I had previously. I’ve felt unhappy about myself and also worry a lot about losing my job. My company (a large telecom company) has layoffs one to two times a year. I believe the Lord is working in me to show me that I must work to please Him first and I must delight myself in Him. Also, for me to stand out meant that others had to look not as good. That is pride and also just plain mean.

    I could really indentify with tha.khoza’s question about applying God’s word and feeling special at work when everything is about who has achieved the most. I loved the image by poohpity of the Special Olympics where someone who was winning stopped before he had won to help someone behind him. There were several who made comments about already being special in the Lord’s eyes. Another statement by poohpity that I love: “The more we learn to know God we will put aside our own desires (competition) and allow God to have His way with us.”

    It’s funny because with playing games, I’m not very competitive, and I don’t play sports. The problem for me has been at work. I’ve been getting my self confidence and sense of purpose and sense of acceptance from my work for many years.

    God is so gracious to me. He’s been surrounding me with relevant thoughts on this subject. I’ve really been seeking Him on this issue. I’ve been feeling like such an underachiever at work that it’s been causing a lot of anxiety.

    Sorry this is so long!!

  31. poohpity says:

    toria, you have already won by truly seeking the Lord. That sounds like a winner to me and everything else will fall into place. :-)

  32. Mart De Haan says:

    Together you really took this a lot further than I had hoped for. And some of you have expressed personal thoughts and comments that I hate to leave behind. But am going to post a new brief thought that I hope will let us keep the conversation going while also reflecting what some of you have already said.

  33. toria says:

    Thanks, pooh! That means a lot. :)

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