Fall nights, football games and the pressure to perform

There’s nothing quite like Friday night high school football on a crisp, fall evening. Bundled up in your thick, comfy sweatshirt, you stand among the roaring crowd, cheering on your team and favorite players. The atmosphere of laughing with friends, chanting along with the other fans and screaming for that next touchdown keeps you warm despite the chill in the air.

But then one team pulls drastically ahead, and before the last quarter begins, there’s a clear winner. As you look at the stands opposite the field, what once held hundreds of cheering fans now holds a few parents. Everyone else slowly files out one by one, the allure of their warm bed calling to them now that the game has lost excitement.

Those poor kids. Not only do they have the pressure of performing well for college scholarships or the approval of family and friends, but they also have the pressure of playing an exciting game. We see this in many sports. If there’s a clear winner, the game has lost its appeal, and those who once supported now leave feeling bummed there wasn’t more competition.

Athletes must feel this pressure. A win is a win, sure, but if the crowd isn’t enjoying the game, there’s a sense of disappointment and slight failure there. A sense that even though they won, they weren’t good enough.

Football and following Christ

Regardless if you are an athlete or not, you have most likely felt this same pressure. Off the field, this pressure masks in a variety of templates. How well you perform at work, how much community service you accomplish each month, how often you encourage those around you.

For those who don’t follow a biblical lifestyle, they might have enough knowledge of what Christians are “supposed” to do and say to know how to watch the game. Then, when you slip up in your sin, they call you out on it, or they start to believe maybe you aren’t worth watching anymore because you’ve lost the appeal of having it all together.

You might feel as if the people in your life are watching you, waiting for something exciting to happen. They’re waiting for you to make the next life decision. Waiting for you to screw up doing something they think foolish. Sometimes you may think they want you to make a mistake, because that makes the game more exciting. Then they can accuse you of not living the way you’re supposed to live.

In a sense, they’re right, though. Just like athletes have training that enables them to perform better than someone who has never stepped onto a football field, believers in Christ have the Holy Spirit who guides and convicts when it comes to our deeds. And so when we mess up, people can easily point their finger at us and say, “See, you aren’t as talented as you think you are!”

From excitement to pressure

When we fall under the weight of this pressure, we forget the purpose of this life. We’re not athletes on a field hoping people will cheer our name by the end of the night. We’re ambassadors of Christ, hoping others will join us in glorifying the Name of God.

It’s incredibly easy, though, to fall into the pattern of believing we need to perform. It starts with a desire to please and honor God. We go to church because we thirst for community and learning from those wiser than us. We volunteer for community service because we want to give in a way we already have. Or we talk about our faith because our souls overflow with love for our Savior.

But then, slowly, desire turns into repetition. Repetition turns into obligation. Obligation turns into guilt. And what was once the excitement of living out our faith is now the pressure to carry on for fear people will stop looking at us as Christians. 

Why do we live with the fear that if we mess up we’ll look like everyone else who doesn’t follow Christ? Or, going a step further, why do we fear that if we mess up we’ll let God down in the process?

When did living life become about placing upon our shoulders the pressure to perform?

Remembering our first love

Faith without deeds is dead, but did God really intend for us to perform for Him out of pressure and fear of failure? Surely not! How, then, do we set aside the fear of performing and return to the place of desire?

By remembering our first love and the truth that He stands at the right hand of God interceding for us. We must throw off the perceptions of others. We must rid ourselves of the expectations that every moment of life for Jesus must prove exciting.

It’s hard to admit, but most of the time we’re the only ones to blame when the pressure to perform feels too heavy. Should people put that pressure on us? No. But it’s our choice to listen to the voices of this world when they tell us to try harder. It’s our choice to believe them when they say since we aren’t good enough, then Christianity must be a farce.

Instead of adding to that pressure, it’s time to remember every single word and action should flow from our desire to glorify God. Not to look the part and not to add excitement to life. But to honor the One who forgave us of all our sins and said we didn’t have to be good enough in order to receive that forgiveness.

We don’t have to ensure the game is exciting enough for others to watch. Jesus took that pressure from us and put it on Himself. He’s the One who softens hearts. Even if we lived perfectly, we couldn’t do that.

Yes, we must live our lives in such a way that people notice the difference. But we shouldn’t live that way just so people will notice a difference. Our main desire should be living a life that glorifies God because He deserves it.

Once we enter into that relationship with God, we can lay down the pressure to perform. We can throw off the burden that our lives must convince people to accept Christ. Our mission is indeed to spread the gospel and share the truth of Christ through words and actions. But ultimately, God is the One who changes hearts.

Living for God in this way brings freedom. Accept that freedom. Don’t follow Him only to continue bearing the pressure to perform. Choose to live in freedom.

And the next Friday night football game you attend, enjoy the game and cheer on the players because they’re playing and giving their all, not because they’re providing you with the kind of game you want to see.

Let’s Talk About It: How have you seen this pressure in your own life? How can you choose God instead? 

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4 Replies to “Fall nights, football games and the pressure to perform”

  1. Thank you for sharing this perspective, I love this, “we must live our lives in such a way that people notice the difference. But we shouldn’t live that way just so people will notice a difference. Our main desire should be living a life that glorifies God because He deserves it.” <3 so true!! <3

  2. I always thought it was weird when Christians said they had to do this and that to stand apart to people who were looking. I’ve never lived my life that way. I love Jesus with wild abandon, and I try to abide in Christ so that who I am shines through–the love of God that is impossible–that love shines out and is our testimony. The whole rule-keeping lifestyle was slammed by Jesus because the Pharisees obeyed lots of rules but didn’t love. They lived their lives as a show-off to others rather than abiding in Christ and glowing God’s love out.

    1. It’s such freedom to know we don’t have to be perfect! But also knowing that Christ was perfect and sacrificed Himself for us puts into perspective why we don’t have to follow the letter of the law. Thanks, Susan!

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