Three Responses to the England Game

I wrote yesterday about not sacking off your church prayer meeting in favour of watching the England game. We had an alright turnout. Not as many as normal but not exactly minuscule (by our relative standards). Plenty of people announced that they wanted no updates or commentary as they were recording it at home. I was pleased they had decided to come despite clearly wanting to watch it and not have the score ruined.

I am writing this before I know the final score. I didn’t record it but managed to watch from the start of the second half on the +1 channel. I thought it might be worth offering some thoughts on how we ought to weigh the result.

Keep it in perspective

I don’t know whether we’ve won or not. If we’ve won, let’s be honest, all that’s happened is we’re now in the quarter-finals. At best, people remember the two teams that advanced to the finals. Let’s be honest, they generally only remember one of them. Making it to the quarter-final is great, but it’s not that great. It’s one step on the road to doing something valuable.

If we’ve lost, just remember that tomorrow I’ll be talking to people who don’t have enough food to eat this week, can’t pay their utility bills or can’t speak English well enough to tell doctors about their major health complications (or even make an appointment to see them). I will have conversations with people who are facing deportation to a country in which they are likely to be killed, even if not for the reason they are claiming, certainly for the treasonous act of claiming asylum in another country at all. These are frequent conversations. Beyond these things, there are people in our communities – many of whom we have met – who are regularly beaten by their husbands, denied the right to leave the house, been severely abused and other such things. Just remember this when (or if) you are despondent.

Get your priorities straight

I, like most English people, think it would be great if England won the world cup. I, like most bible-believing Evangelicals, would be happier if we didn’t win the world cup but somebody became a believer through the opportunities the world cup afforded. Of course, I’d like it most if we won and somebody became a believer because of some discussion that came up as they were round our house watching it (or, longer term, because of the relationship that developed). But if I had to pick, I would happily see England never win another game if it meant even one soul coming to Christ (thankfully, the Lord doesn’t tend to make stupid deals like this!)

But, whether we won or lost, get your priorities straight. Make sure that, for you, this world cup is less about who wins what game and more about how any given fixture might help you lead somebody to Jesus – and if that means foregoing games in favour of meetings, or meetups, or anything else, then do that. Our highest calling is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. He is glorified when we do his will and when unbelievers come to faith. Little glorifies God more than when we share the gospel because we love Christ and those people come to faith. Both are ultimately works of the Lord, empower us to share his gospel and working in the one who comes to faith. If that’s our highest priority, then whether watching the world cup or not, let us use all legitimate things to this end.

Enjoy it

There is often a sense that unless we are doing something overtly ‘spiritual’ (whatever someone means by that) we are somehow wasting our time and doing something unprofitable. But it is alright to just enjoy stuff (honestly!) Some people give the sense that it’s good to enjoy a nice walk in God’s creation but not so good to enjoy a meal in a restaurant. Delineating stuff some stuff as spiritual, and therefore good, and other stuff as unspiritual, and therefore bad, is essentially just Gnosticism. Or, at least, Dualism. Either way, it’s not good and nor is it Biblical.

Often there is something of a Catholic guilt thing going on. A friend of mine was always fond of saying, scratch a Protestant and there’s often a Catholic hiding beneath. What he meant was that despite our commitment to salvation by faith alone and the final authority of scripture, so often we are motivated by guilt which is, in essence, the dominant Catholic emotion. We simply feel a bit guilty enjoying ourselves and feel we need to make up for it by doing a load of praying, evangelism, or something like we’re re-balancing the scales. One minister friend told me that, when at university, they once missed a Sunday evening service and felt so guilty that they committed to a week of evangelism just to make up for it! We can often fall into the same mindset when we dare to enjoy something. Instead of giving thanks to God for a good gift, we descend into guilt as though God wouldn’t allow us to enjoy ourselves.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying the football. Of course, as with any good gift, we need to give it its proper place. It is only a problem if we begin to make the gift more important than the giver. So long as we recognise it as a good gift that can be legitimately enjoyed, just enjoy it and give thanks to God for it. And if you hate football, give thanks to God that he has limited the world cup to a few weeks every four years! But it is OK to enjoy the football and it is OK to want the fixtures to fall on different days to your church meetings so long as we have our priorities straight and see the Lord and his people as more important than watching.