The interviews with Indy 500 drivers in today's Monitor help confirm that participants in many different professional sports are relying on their Christian beliefs for support in their careers. They find that prayer brings a peace of mind that enhances performance, keeps in check the rivalry that can border on antagonism, and helps them cope with defeat - and victory.
A friend of mine, who was chaplain to the New York Yankees and Mets baseball teams, delighted in the time he spent with even hardened pros before their Sunday games. "They knew that their strength came from God," he said. "I can't believe how much I learned about God just by listening to those guys pray. And they really meant it when they sang Martin Luther's words:
A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing."
During my career in broadcasting, I found that many athletes of different cultures and faiths put their quest for an understanding of God even higher than their pursuit of gold medals and laurel wreaths.
Over breakfast in Colorado last September, a world champion marathon runner was less eager to talk with me about his accomplishments in grueling road races than about his joy in spending time with God while training among the foothills of the Rockies. "I can't describe the feeling," he said. "You're out there alone in the early morning light, yet you're not alone. It's the greatest!"
While traveling with several international rugby teams, I found that some players asked that even before they visited the fields they would play on, they should be allowed time to scope out the churches they could attend after the game. They made it clear that their spiritual fitness was as important to them as their ability to win matches.
And the recent book "God's never offside" by Lorna Grady focuses on the role Christian beliefs have played in the lives of 11 successful footballers (soccer players). One of them, Marvin Andrews, describes in the book how he was cured through prayer alone of a painful lower abdominal injury. "[God] healed me miraculously, without surgery," says Andrews, "and from that moment on I trusted Him and gave Him my life."
Protection from injury on the field of play - or safety for race drivers - is crucial. Nothing hits headlines faster than names of players placed on the injured list, or crashes that cause a multimillion-dollar racing team to rebuild a car. Strength, endurance, and freedom from mishaps are key to any pro athlete's (or driver's) career and earning power.
My exposure to leading world sports personalities who give their faith top priority has given me a template into which I can fit challenges in my own life - including calls for safety and courage. The importance of daily prayer and consistent obedience to what God expects of us have taken on fresh meaning.
No wonder participants gather in many arenas to talk together about their relationship with God. The founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, put this activity into perspective when she wrote: "Divine Mind rightly demands man's entire obedience, affection, and strength. No reservation is made for any lesser loyalty. Obedience to Truth gives man power and strength" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 183).
Spiritual power and strength - here are qualities essential to the kind of victories that matter the most.
Hold thou me up,
and I shall be safe:
and I will have respect
unto thy statutes continually.