Lessons from the Football Field

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It’s that time of year again. My beloved Tennessee Volunteers are back in action, barely scraping out a win in overtime Thursday night over Appalachian State. And my favorite high school team has taken to the field again.

As I was at the football field the other day, the thought occurred to me. When these players prepare to play, they get ready. They spend hours at practice. They lift weights and get stronger. They review film so they will know their opponent, the other team they are playing. They eat right and do everything they can physically to be in shape.

And when they go into the game, they are dressed for action. They have on their uniform to show which team they are on. They have their pads and helmet to serve as protection from injury in what can be a pretty rough game. And they go into it as a team, together.

My thoughts ran to Ephesians 6:10-20. As Christians, are we aware and do we remember that we are in a spiritual battle? We face an opponent: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (v. 13). When we go out into our day, do we consider that there is spiritual opposition for which we need to be prepared? And how do we prepare?

The Apostle Paul gives us help and tells us how:

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil… Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. (v. 11-12, 14-18a; underlined to indicate actions we take and bolded to show the parts of the armor we need.)

Like a football player, we put on various pieces to shield and protect us: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, prayer. And like a football player, we take action to prepare: be strong, take up, put on.

The command that fascinates me is the one to “stand.” It’s repeated several times in the text. God equips us for the battle, and we are standing against, withstanding, standing firm.

It reminds me of Exodus 14 when the Israelites were standing on the edge of the Red Sea, and Pharaoh and the Egyptian army were closing in on them. The Israelites feared and cried out to the LORD. And Moses said, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Ex. 14:13-14).

Which reminds me of 2 Chronicles 20:15, 17, another battle: “Thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed…, for the battle is not yours but God’s…. You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you.”

What an encouragement that the battle is really the Lord’s! We need, though, to put on, take up, and use the armor He supplies (the Word of God, prayer, faith, truth, righteousness, the gospel, salvation). And we are to find our strength in Him and stand firm. He will fight for us. We can be still and, having done all, stand.

This spiritual battle is real. Our enemy prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. But we can resist him, firm in our faith, knowing that our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are going through the same kind of suffering (1 Peter 5:8-9). Similar to a football team who goes together into the game as a team, we love and support our Christian brothers and sisters and pray for one another that our faith would not fail.

And from football, there’s another analogy we can draw: like the team that is dressed in similar uniforms, we also have an identity. We belong to Christ. We have been bought with a price, the precious blood of Jesus, and we can go out in confidence, knowing whose we are and in whose name we go. We are dressed in the Lord’s armor, standing in His strength, going out under His banner.

If God did not spare His own Son to bring us to Himself, we should have no doubt about His love and faithfulness to us, that He is able to fight for and deliver us from the schemes of the evil one, to keep and protect us, and to bring us safely to Himself. May He be praised!

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