Healthy competition is a natural desire in the lives of our children and has so many benefits that it should never be overlooked as a tool for spiritual instruction. Authors throughout the pages of Scripture have used athletic training practices to symbolize specific values in righteous living. The following verses are rich in heavenly wisdom:

  • "Lay aside every weight..." (Hebrews 12:1)
  • "Run with patience..." (Hebrews 12:1)
  • "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course..." (II Timothy 4:7)

With five children of my own, it seems someone is always involved in some type of sport. The competition fever ranges from the culinary arts to barrel racing to a variety of team sports.

Teach them to lay aside every weight.
The most cumbersome weight that competitors (or their parents) struggle with is the heavy chains of discontentment, resentment, and poor sportsmanship. It doesn't matter if you're at a ball field, a horse show, or a track meet, someone's wounded ego will be brewing up a storm and clouding the event for competitor and spectator alike.

We've heard it all before: "the game was fixed, the coach's kids play the most, the umpire wasn't doing his job, she only won because her parents bought her a $10,000.00 horse, the other team cheats, the referee had it in for your child." I'm sure there's more, but who can bear to hear it!

"Laying aside the weight" means more than taking off the lead-filled straps around a runner's ankles. The verse in Hebrews adds this short phrase, "and the sin which so easily entangles us." What is more entangling than the arrogance of one who esteems himself (or herself) as the all-seeing, all-knowing, I-do-everything-right, critic and judge? What a cumbersome, shameful weight for a parent or child.

Sure, we want things to be fair. Yes, we want our children to win, but not everything in life is fair, and learning to deal with life's injustices is every bit as important as dealing with the victories. Do others see Christian character when your child was "safe" and the umpire saw things differently? How do they react when a rival cuts your son or daughter off and no one caught it? Rather than cause a scene, be diplomatic with those in authority and train your children to "refrain their tongue from evil." Teaching them to compete with dignity should include a lesson on "laying aside" all the "weights" and "sins" that hinder an honorable testimony--even when life's not fair.

Teach them to be patient.
Winning doesn't come easily. It shouldn't. Children need to learn that if a reward is worth gaining, it is worth working for and waiting for. When Aidan, my third son, began playing biddy basket ball, his team had the best reputation and the longest record of wins. It just so happened that the year he joined, all their star players graduated. The coach was now building a new team from the ground up. As a result, their winnings for the season were few and far between.

One thing that impressed me the most was the coach's attitude with the young boys. He kept realistic goals for them and constantly reminded the young men and their parents of the athletic abilities they were developing for the next year. As a result, the boys learned patience. They relaxed with the game and had fun. They learned that the process of becoming skilled athletes takes time, and they were investing a great deal of it in next year's championships. That coach's attitude did much to build the team's confidence, anticipation, and inspiration to work hard but also to wait patiently for the next season.

Teach them to finish.
Persevering means "going at it" until the desired result is accomplished. Finishing the course means to see it through until the end, playing the entire season, setting a goal and working hard until you gain the reward and taste the fruit of your labors.

There is great virtue in endurance and perseverance. Christians should keep their eye on heaven's rewards and demonstrate commitment to the kingdom of God. Learning to persevere in sports is an excellent way to teach endurance in the Christian life. My children have never wanted to quit a sport or hobby just because they had a bad day or because someone rebuked them. Likewise, I want them to be committed to their local church and to the Lord Jesus Christ even if someone hurts them or God chastens them. Rewards are for those who are steadfast.

A personal word of wisdom from this writer: in order to finish well, you must have the time, energy, ability, commitment, and motivation to support your goal. There is no joy in being spread so thin that you can't enjoy the fruits of your labor. Therefore, evaluate your children's interests and talents honestly. Teach them to "press on" under reasonable expectations. Encourage them to finish a project or sport season in order to know the joy of fulfilling a commitment, but don't provoke them to wrath in the process.

Teach them the value of competition.
You don't have to be an exceptional athletic or know everything about a sport to teach your children the value of good sportsmanship. The best horsemanship instructor I ever had was a crippled, old man under five feet tall. I never once saw him mounted on the lofty Saddlebred horses which he made me ride, and yet, he taught me more about being a confident, courageous equestrian than I ever learned from previous instructors which could ride. Don't be intimidated by what you don't know or can't do.

I believe God has instilled a desire for achievement in most everyone. It is natural for people to want to measure their level of skill, knowledge, or strength, even if its against their own standard. This also is part of God's design. Teaching your children how to use competition in a healthy manner, and demonstrating it in your own life, will have a positive effect on their spiritual lives as well.

Learning these principles from the Word of God will enable your children to be righteously competitive; furthermore, the value of your teaching will carry over into your children's everyday life. Learning perseverance and patience, and "laying aside" the weights of the world will benefit them the rest of their days. The rewards are truly worth the investment.

-------------

Pastor Timothy Palla and his lovely wife Jennifer live in McDermott, Ohio with their five children: Drew, Dane, Aidan, Ethan, and Meghan. You may contact him at tpalla@rocketmail.com.