Can I thank God for football?

As a Manchester United fan, Wednesday night was a mixture of emotions. I haven't been so tense about a game of football for years, since I was a teenager for whom watching footy was one of the most important things in my life. The first half was great as United took the lead and played brilliantly, then missed a couple of chances to finish it off, paying the price when Chelsea equalised just before the break. The second half was very different as Chelsea's strength forced United on to the back foot, hitting the woodwork twice. Both teams had good chances, but, rather like the season as a whole, separating the two was very difficult. So to penalties and a whole new world of tension! My Mum was going crazy, and was doing so in a much quieter way. Ronaldo missed and I thought it was all over but incredibly Terry also missed. And then van der Saar saved Anelka's penalty, and we were champions of Europe again. Mum and I danced around the room, and I realised how much I'd wanted United to win and, frankly, Chelsea to lose! The euphoria has faded, but I keep having sweet moments when I'm reminded of what's happened.

I remember being at a youth event when I was 16 hearing a leader say that God wanted to be more important to us than anything else, including football. I honestly wasn't sure if that could be the case for me. (I don't know if supporting a team who are so spectacularly good and successful makes it any harder!) But over the years as I've got to know God more, and walk in His ways more and more, I've grown in maturity. Of course I realise now that God should be more important than anything else, but I have also experienced His grace in my life so much that He is more important than anything or anyone else. So where does that leave football?

Many Christians seem to think that it is their calling in life to be miserable, that nothing should excite, entice, or enrapture them. The only thing they can take pleasure in is God Himself, but there seems to be no joy in them at all. Is it possible to find a balance between the two extremes of miserablism and idolatry (i.e. putting anything or anyone in God's place)? I think that the Bible clearly teaches that God wants His people to be full of joy. Primarily and essentially this is to be found by delighting in God and His greatness. The teachings of John Piper opened by eyes to this, summarised in his statement that "God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him." And I am convinced that God wants us to delight in Him and in every good thing that we experience. James writes, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17). On Wednesday night I had feelings of excitement and happiness, and enjoyed celebrating with my mum. Those are good things, good gifts, so surely this text suggests that they were from God for me. Was it the most important thing in my life? Certainly not. But can I give thanks for it? Absolutely.

How Chelsea fans deal with what happened is a whole other issue!