Does God take sides and help athletes or teams win? Well, I am not God, but I think I know the answer: I don’t think He picks winners in any competition. It may very well be that God has given someone a victory, but I am not sure I have ever witnessed it. But, certainly, God is in everything in our lives including our victories and defeats. The most dramatic differences God makes are in the moments when love rules our lives.
Winning takes a loving spirit willing to give up everything to God and others. A good athlete sincerely led by love will often beat a great athlete led by fear when the stakes are high. God is love and when He rules our lives, we are truly all we can be, and we are not moved by fear, no matter what.
It’s not until we say, “Never mind winning. All I have and do is for God and others—win or not,” that love begins to rule our lives; and winning, then, becomes our destiny.
Love’s destiny is winning; fear’s destiny is losing
Still, winning is actually beyond our control. In other words, it’s a fruit not a root in our lives. Roots are things we control—choices and decisions we make. Fruits are the natural results of our decisions. If our roots are strong, fruitfulness becomes our destiny. If our roots are weak, then fruitlessness becomes our destiny. Winning is the natural sweet fruit of love. Losing is the natural bitter fruit of fear.
This assumes, of course, that all things are mostly equal. If one person’s talent and training is significantly greater than another, it’s not reasonable to expect love will help the unprepared person win. But in most elite competitions, physical and mental abilities are matched close enough that I believe the difference is normally made by God—by the laws of love and fear that God put in place and instructs us to follow.
If one person or team is led by fear and the other by love, get ready to see one’s humble win or loss and the other’s prideful win or sore loss. If both competitors or teams are led by fear, then you will have one prideful winner and one bitter loser. If each is led by love, then get ready to witness the battle of a lifetime; and when it’s over, to see two humble and grateful finishers—win or lose. You see, love’s destiny is winning and it will take a lot to beat it. Fear’s destiny is losing and it will take a lot for fear to win. That’s how life works, because God created it that way.
John 4:18 says it best: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
I’ve noticed the difference
I’ve watched the last three Super Bowl competitions and picked the winners—those teams that showed the most love. It's not fail-proof because anything can happen. But the Ravens’ 2013 Super Bowl win is a prime example. The media called that win over the favored 49ers a “love story.” After the game, Ravens linebackers Ray Lewis and Brendon Ayanbadejo talked to the media about the players’ love for each other. Ayanbadejo told the media, “This may sound crazy because football is a tough sport, but it was love that put us over the top … It's something Ray Lewis has told us since day one: ‘What would you do for the man next to you?’ For us, the answer is, 'Anything.'”
Fast forward to last November when Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) superstar Ronda Rousey lost her fight to Holly Holm. We watched love and fear move beyond the rink. Rousey was described by the media as “boastful” and Holm, the more “humble.” After the fight, Rousey wouldn’t even congratulate Holm, and admitted publicly that she felt she was nothing after the loss, and thought about suicide. But Holm took up for Rousey in her media interviews, and spoke of how competent a fighter Rousey is and that she wished her no harm. Holm showed love for her opponent, while Rousey seemed totally consumed with the bitter fruit of fear.
What does the Bible tell us about winning? These scriptures show the larger context of winning, and how love allows us to put God and others first in any contest. That’s really the win, no matter the contest outcome.
- 1 Corinthians 9:23–25: “23 I do all this for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”
- Hebrews 12:1–2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
- Luke 18:27: “Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
- Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”