What I learned from the NFL offseason
Why the NFL works (and why it doesn’t)
Now that the NFL draft is over we have the long haul before the opening of training camp and the preseason. If only it were voluntary, this absence of football from my life! Then I could rightly call it a “fast” and pat myself on the back for it. Maybe, since I don’t watch arena football, it can still count?
No, seriously guys, fasting isn’t about earning credits. No more than any other discipline undertaken for the sake of my relationship with God. It isn’t about earning anything, but it is about making room for God to bless me, and even though I don’t have much of a choice until August, this absence of the NFL from my life has made some room for God to show me some things.
I fast because no matter how good a gift from God is intended to be, I often receive it in a way that robs it of any “nutritional” value. I am called to rely on God, to feed on His Goodness, drink of His Mercy and Kindness, and every gift that comes my way is intended to draw me into that state of dependence on Him. But when I consume His gifts as though they were mine to dispose of, as though I might fill myself with them, they become twisted and addictive. Good food can become a false source of comfort when it helps me get by without feeding on His Presence. Dessert can become a honeyed poison when it becomes a substitute for the sweetness of His Goodness.
And the NFL has become for me a substitute for the source of the warrior spirit that the Father wants to give to all His sons. Even though players are often criticized for it in times of conflict, there is a good reason that they speak of their games as “combat” and “war.” Brothers, you and I are called to be on the front line of the war for God’s Kingdom. We aren’t called upon to win it (Jesus has done that already) but we have been entrusted with the visible working out of His victory! We are all warriors of one sort or another at heart. Conquering is in our very DNA, but we have long since lost sight of the spiritual warfare for which we have been enlisted.
It is a sad thing that we complain bitterly about women’s presence on the front lines in earthly battle, but when we look at the prayer warriors in our churches, the vast majority of them are women. They battle fiercely, but God never intended them to bear this burden alone. Perhaps because in the carnal world men have found outlets for their “warriors” in sports, in the military, and even in the business world, men have not been as eager to seek out the truest of warfares, that of the Spirit. Women, largely excluded from the carnal arenas, may have become our prayer warriors because they have few alternatives for expression of this calling. They have ably taken up this task without our support, but only because we have let our swords fall to the ground. Side by side, we are to conquer and to consolidate our gains in Jesus, but there are so few men ready to take up the challenge.
The NFL is as popular as it is because the warrior spirit lives in every man. Because we haven’t learned to engage the enemy in spiritual warfare, we have taken to consuming football games instead.
Spiritual warfare is more exhilarating than even that Dolphins/Chargers playoff game I remember from my youth. (Still the best game ever played, in my book… Kellen Winslow will always be a hero of mine after that performance.) When we engage in warfare through the medium of worship (the only place from which to start) the “rush” beats any post-game feeling you’ve ever had. What’s more, we get to play for the side that always wins! There may be setbacks from time to time, but for those who persist in praise victory is guaranteed. Kinda gives new meaning to Lombardi’s phrase, “Victory isn’t everything, it’s the ONLY thing,” doesn’t it?
We don’t have to win the territory Jesus has won for us in the world, just claim it. All the hopelessness and despair we see in our communities is just ground that we haven’t claimed for Jesus yet. We are, as the Israelites were commanded, to take possession of the land that God has given to us. Just walk in. “Every place on which the soles of our feet tread” will be ours. (Deut. 11:24, rephrased) Of course, the enemy won’t like this much, and he’ll do all he can to discourage us and to do us harm, but he is already defeated. The warriors of God have no need to go on “seek and destroy” missions. Indeed, there is real spiritual danger in that kind of arrogance. But we “resist the devil” (James 4:7) and he flees. We resist through our praises and worship. The enemy can’t stand to be in the presence of the praise of God. And we resist on behalf of those too weak in their faith or too blind or crippled (spiritually) to do it for themselves.
This “standing in the gap” on behalf of others is the warfare of intercession. Many of us think of “intercession” as the reading of a list of names on Sunday morning, but for me, nowadays, it’s like standing with my eyes locked on my Father as He scatters His enemies and laughs. He really does hold those who oppose him “in derision.” (Ps. 2:4) And you and I are invited to join that battle whose result is already known. Spiritual warfare takes other shapes, too, but these are less familiar to most of us, and it is good to begin where we are rather than where we would like to be.
Brothers, during this offseason, I invite you to ponder your hunger for the wild and wooly competition of the NFL season, and to discover that this (hunger, not the football) is in fact your spiritual heritage. Then begin to explore what it might mean to derive your warrior spirit from the Father instead of the NFL. I am ready to support you via email or phone in any way that I can. I have a few books that I can recommend if you like, too.
Let’s see what it might mean to play at some “smash mouth” Christianity…