A great performance is always pretty impressive. If you are an old-school NFL fan like me, you remember the AFL New York Jets upsetting the mighty NFL Baltimore Colts back in January 1969. Both teams were champions in their respective Leagues, but only one could win the Super Bowl. The AFL team had never won before, and most folks figured the NFL champion Colts would easily defeat the New York Jets. Jets quarterback Joe Namath sent shock-waves through the sports world when he boldly predicted victory for his team. (Joe Namath’s Super Bowl III Guarantee: Legends of the Super Bowl | NFL NOW (youtube.com)) It seemed brash at the time, but the Jets went out and proved him right. Broadway Joe had a big game on the big day.
Men work hard to make it in the NFL. There is an elite group of billionaire owners and millionaire athletes who compete fiercely as they try to find every edge that might help them win. In addition to the game itself, before they play the Super Bowl, the NFL gives out its annual awards. They extoll the accomplishments of players both on and off the field. Each team nominates a player for the Walter Payton man of the year award. It is good to see some of the athletes giving back to the community. (It helps offset the stories of political protests, arrests, drug use, and domestic violence.)
With its inherent dangers and the high risk of injury, the NFL has become our modern equivalent of the gladiators in ancient Rome. Players literally put their bodies on the line to try to win championships. America was reminded of the life-threatening nature of the game when Darryl Stingley was paralyzed from a neck injury, or when Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest during a game (and prayer was suddenly ok again in football!) But, toughness in the NFL (and in many professional sports) means that men will play through pain and injury to achieve glory. Fans look upon them as heroes for staying on the field of play even when they are put through tremendous physical stress.
I was trying to imagine what those players headed to the Super Bowl were doing and thinking, making the final preparations for their huge moment in the spotlight, when they would be putting their training, their skills, and their determination on the line for team and personal glory. Would they be fine-tuning their technique, confident that they have prepared physically in every way? Perhaps they would be visualizing success, or meditating on their assignments… Would they succumb to outside influences, or be distracted from their goal by all of the hype?
Perfect Preparation Empowers Perfect Performance
What kind of performance would they give on the biggest stage of their careers? I was reflecting on the adulation and status we confer on such men, in some cases rightfully so. They are men who work hard, are committed to a goal, who embrace team virtues, and who put themselves at risk to attain glory. People are so fanatical about their teams that we call them “fans”. You’ve seen them. They dress up and carry signs. They follow and support their athletes with passion and emotion. (Ok, they are a little bit crazy…)
I know there are still Cowboys’ fans who still are STILL mad that Jackie Smith dropped a wide open touchdown pass against Pittsburgh in 1979! (He was so frustrated by his missed opportunity that he kicked his legs out as he lay on his back in the end zone.)
Based on the effort and the risk and the high stakes involved, it seems natural to us that the men who make such preparations and take such risks should be considered heroic. Their performance certainly has a lot riding on it.
The Highest Stakes
Then it occurred to me: there was once a man who also faced the biggest day of his career, who was committed to a goal, and who put himself completely at risk to not just attain glory but to reflect it and give it away. The night before he had to compete in perhaps the toughest contest of all time, and certainly the biggest game, he was preparing as well. Perhaps we need to re-calibrate our perspective on what it means to be a hero.
“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:36-38, NIV)
The Most Pressure
Jesus knew what was coming, and he knew the price he was about to pay. I’ve often thought that the fact Jesus knew he would be resurrected from death did not diminish the pain and agony that was coming. He knew he faced the devastation of being separated from the Father. And I don’t want to sound like I doubt God’s power or plan, but I’ve always thought that BEFORE the cross, God had never experienced death, so that there had to be some sense of risk involved… what if it didn’t work? What if something went wrong?
While Jesus wrestled with the weight of what he was about to do, and prepared for the suffering he knew was coming, he thought of YOU. He said: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20, 21, NIV)
Two things. If you are willing to be fanatical about an athlete who gave his greatest performance in the biggest game, then think about Jesus. Become a fan. He thought about you. Second, take a moment to reflect upon the fact that he prayed for you: Be worthy of that prayer! You, too, are playing in a high-risk game, and it has nothing to do with football.
The Ultimate Game
Every year the League allows its teams
The chance to play upon the field of dreams;
They work all year to win the coveted prize,
To show their skills before a billion eyes…
The pundits say that history is made;
But isn’t it really just a sport that’s played
Between two groups of men who play a game?
The big things in this world will be the same,
With war, corruptions, hunger, lies and fear–
And they will play this game again next year…
There was, however, once the fiercest test,
When one competitor had to be his best.
The heat was on, but he was cool as ice,
When it was on the line, he paid the price
And showed mankind the ultimate sacrifice.
One athlete made a difference on this earth:
Our calendar revolves around his birth,
And he competed right until the end.
I’m proud to call him Savior, Lord, and friend.
He sometimes called himself the Son of Man:
He won the ultimate game, and I’m a fan.
To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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