"Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Jonah 2:8-9)
The book of Jonah is about a God who loves even His enemies. It is also about the hard and unloving heart of the prophet of God. At the lowest point of his life, Jonah utters these words of confession. He confesses his own vain idols and renews his vows to God because he recognises that salvation belongs to the Lord!
God still desires for the nations to be saved! He might not always do it in the most "logical" way. After all, who'd have thought that Nineveh would be saved by God sending His prophet there! Years later, He didn't just send His prophet to His enemies. He sent His own Son to preach, live and die for His enemies, so that they could be forgiven and restored to Him. Salvation belongs to the Lord, and today, we're only called to proclaim it!
As we pray for the nations, let's pray for the Christian footballers, coaches, members of the sporting team that they may proclaim this good news!
Pray for Uruguay
Uruguay made it thus far after beating Portugal thanks to goals by striker Edinson Cavani. Cavani has been outspoken about his faith. In this old 2012 interview, he says,
"That's why I play for Him, to give Him glory, to thank Him for giving me the ability to play football and be able to compete in a league like the Italian one, for giving me that divine gift that I am trying to manage more and more. We belong to the Evangelical church. I don't like the term athlete of Christ."
His faith journey started when he moved to Naples to play for a club. He shared,
""I read the Bible every day, study it, and share with my wife the blessings of faith. I understand that there is a time for everything: for the sacrifice, the rewards and goals. ... Faith really helped me realise that the temptations that you have on hand will give you joy, enjoyment, whatever, but only for a short while. And after that it is all gloom."
Uruguay enjoys exposure to Christianity, but there are also pockets of unreached peoples. Today, a large part of the population also describes themselves as non-religious, atheists or agnostics.
Pray for Christians in Uruguay as they seek to obey God daily. Pray that they will faithfully study and love His Word and share it when the opportunities arise. Thank God for Cavani's story and pray that he too will remain steadfast in his faith.
Pray for France
The last time France won the World Cup in 1998, their team was dubbed the "Rainbow Team" for the diversity and makeup of players that hailed from different backgrounds. The 2018 team also comprises of quite a diverse group. This year, several players who hail from the "les banlieues,", are drawing attention to the nonwhite working-class suburbs surrounding the major cities.
In particular, teenager Kylian Mbappe who has already made a few stunning goals is from one such suburb, Bondy, less than 10 miles from Paris, but feels like a whole different world from the glitzy Paris that the world is familiar with. His story, like many others in the French team, remind us that France still struggles with immigrants and the tensions of assimilation and/or integration. Pray for the small group of Christians in a largely secular France, that the gospel will help heal racial and ethnic tensions. Pray for churches to be planted in these suburbs also and for Christians in these communities to live as one, just as the Ephesian church did.
Pray for Brazil
Brazil can be seen as a "Christianized" nation, with 90% of the population as Christians. Thus, it would come as no surprise that many in the Brazilian national team are also Christians. Some players such as Thiago Silva and Neymar have taken to social media such as Instagram to share their praises and prayers during this sporting competition. Goalkeeper Alisson Becker has also openly shared his faith and joy on social media too.
Thank God for Christian footballers. Pray that they will be able to share the gospel with their teammates and those they work with, not only in the national team, but also in the leagues that they play in. Many of them play in European leagues in nations that are increasingly non-religious. This might be an interesting way for the gospel to reach Europe! Pray that these players will also play with joy and integrity, recognising that their talents are God-given and not their ultimate identity.
Pray for Belgium
The Belgic Confession comprises of 37 articles dealing with doctrines of God, Scripture, man, sin and salvation, among other issues. Adopted at a synod held in Antwerp in 1566, this document was used to counter the issues raised in the Arminian dialogue. Till this day, churches still confess the truths in this document! Belgium (and the Netherlands) played a role in church history and faithful Christians sought to clarify and stay true the gospel. Today, Belgium is often referred to as a "post-Christian" society.
Their World Cup team comprises of some who have professed faith in God. Players like Christian Benteke and Romelu Lukaku have mentioned God in their interviews, and in their goal-scoring celebrations.
Pray for missionaries and churches working in Belgium as they try to reach out to those living there. Beautiful cathedrals dot the landscape of their towns, but for many Christianity seems to be a thing of the past. Many young people know almost nothing about Christianity, much less the difference between Roman Catholicism and the Protestant faith. Pray that the faith of sporting personalities will spark a conversation and an interest to find out more about God.