I remember some things about the fall of 1987, but none nearly as vividly as our high school football team playing in the state championship. The whole city seemed caught up in the anticipation of what was happening. There was even a coach's quote that made it onto sweatshirts, bumper stickers and business signs: "never, never, never, never, never give up." Sadly, few in the stands wearing the shirts realized that they and the coach were actually quoting Winston Churchill. Nothing could deter our enthusiasm to cheer for our team! "NNNNNGU" was seen all over town. 

In the semifinal game, as time grew short and our team found itself behind, the chants from the stands came raining down on the field. "Never, Never, Never, Never, Never Give Up! Never, Never, Never, Never, Never Give Up!" Our team rallied to win and advance to the finals. It was all very cathartic for an entire town caught up in the exploits of its players. Those players would later say that hearing the cheers from the stands gave them encouragement to play well, but the truth is neither I nor anyone else sitting in the stands that night had any effect on the outcome of the game. The players had to pull it off. In fact, on the other side of the field was a group of fans equal in size and voice to our side. They cheered just as hard and just as loud - and their team went home defeated. We did all we could, but it was up to the team to pull it off... and they did.

Even though we would go on to lose the state championship, this great memory is replete with human drama and the glorious unknown. It makes for good inspiration. However, it parallels a disturbing trend I've noticed among followers of Christ to take this storyline and its exhilarating mystery and apply it to our spiritual lives. If I may oversimplify, I see two predominant schools of thought regarding how God is active in our spiritual lives. The core of the difference is who is central in the story. We love to be the center of the story and the focal point of God's affection. But when it comes to walking in the Spirit, is God my cheerleader, the one shouting "NNNNNGU" and praising my performance... or am I His? It may seem inconsequential, but what you believe about the roles in this scene has an impact on how the characters relate to each other, as well as how life's day-to-day events unfold.

In a recent devotional, beloved Christian author Max Lucado somewhat gave voice to the "God-as-cheerleader" viewpoint. In an excerpt from his book, Let the Journey Begin, Lucado, seeking to encourage the downtrodden, says:

"God is for you. Turn to the sidelines; that's God cheering your run. Look past the finish line; that's God applauding your steps. Listen for him in the bleachers, shouting your name. Too tired to continue? He'll carry you. Too discouraged to fight? He's picking you up. God is for you. God is for you. Had he a calendar, your birthday would be circled. If he drove a car, your name would be on his bumper. If there's a tree in heaven, he's carved your name in the bark. We know he has a tattoo, and we know what it says. 'I have written your name on my hand,' he declares (Isa. 49:16)." 

Now, obviously Lucado, who also authored a book titled It's Not About Me does not believe that we can find meaning by believing we are the center of the world. However, it sounds like Brother Max believes we can find value by believing that we are the center of God's affection. The logic would go something like this: Life is not about us, life is about God. And GOD is about us, so be encouraged. In this view, God's role in our life is as our biggest fan, perfect parent and consummate cheerleader. He wants your happiness even more than you do and he's cheering for it, so go out and get it!