‘You’ll never walk alone’
Faith & Inspiration | Home or away, we all need godly encouragement
by Andrée Seu Peterson
Posted on Thursday, December 8, 2016, at 6:25 pm
At the 1930 World Cup in Uruguay, Belgian referee John Langenus agreed to officiate only if there was a boat readied at Montevideo harbor for a hasty exit. The contest was marked by death threats, skirmishes over the match ball, shouts of “Victoria o muerte!” stone throwing at a consulate, and the declaration of a national holiday after Uruguay’s win over Argentina.
Oh, and 22 men played ball on a soccer field.
One of my sons tries to tell himself he doesn’t care about the Philadelphia Eagles because the Philadelphia Eagles don’t care about him. But the Birds may care more than he thinks. Home field advantage is a real thing, and not all of it is material stuff like depth of outfield, condition of court, atmospheric altitude, rigor of travel, and rule-related slantings. Fan love matters.
Only a total philosophical reductionist would discount sideline encouragement as a causal factor in the final score. It is a statistical fact that the home team tends to do better. Again, Philadelphia has been the exception. (Comparing their overall wins from 2004 to 2014, to their home field victories during that same period, we find a .543 winning percentage in the first case and .558 in the second, for a lackluster .015 improvement in play at home.) But after player introductions were re-introduced this year, the team did noticeably better for a while when fans got a chance to greet the players as they ran out of the tunnel and onto the field. Did the personal touch make a difference?
Sports is a religion, of course. And my interest is not so much in those autumnal rites as in the one that saves men’s souls. Do the intangibles of football and fútbol have anything to say to us about the Christian’s fumbles, blocking, completions, defense, offense, interceptions, drive, and touchdowns? Why would they not? Especially when God keeps pushing those intangibles.
“Encourage one another and build one another up,” the Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. Why do we need to encourage one another when an earlier verse said, “God has … destined us … to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ”? Isn’t the outcome assured? The answer seems to be that He who ordained the ends also ordained the means: Let us reach home, as Hunter Thompson said, “skid[ding] in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out,” amidst amphitheater bellows of “You can do it!”—or perhaps the Liverpool soccer anthem since 1963, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
Our spiritual forefathers did well when they heeded fans’ godly encouragements and less well when they didn’t have or heed it. Moses sent out 12 spies to survey the land of Canaan and bring back a report. Ten returned with every excuse for why they couldn’t win against the Canaanites: too well fortified, too tall, too soon. Spirits sagged. Caleb came back pumped: “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”
Saul’s son Jonathan stirred up his armor-bearer with empowering words: “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.” The armor-bearer resonated: “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. For I am with you heart and soul.”
The Son of God “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7) and became a man “who in every respect has been tempted as we are” (Hebrews 4:15). That means He could have done with a little encouragement, just like us. In fact, he point-blank asked for backup from His sleepy apostles in Gethsemane.
Instead, the devil heaped discouragement on Him, the religious leaders heaped discouragement on Him, His hometown people heaped discouragement on Him, his blood brothers heaped discouragement on Him, John the Baptist at one point doubted Him, the Apostle Peter questioned His game plan, His own mother questioned His sanity—and at the end of the day He found Himself alone.
Without the home field advantage due Him, Jesus ran a race that saved your life, that you and I might sing to one another from the heart, like fans in Merseyside, “You’ll never walk alone.”
Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine and the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.