My hopeful anticipation quickly faded on Sunday as I laid on the edge of the couch watching the painful loss of the would-be World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Painful because of their many injuries. Painful because of how they played. Painful because of how they lost. Painful because of the non-penalized, illegal formation on the last play of the game. Painful! Painful! Painful!
Phone lines immediately lit up for the local sports talk shows. Emails flowed as fans provided their armchair critiques. Hines Ward called it one of the worst losses he had ever experienced. Filled with shame, Ike Taylor wouldn’t even talk with the media. The entire Steeler nation lapsed into a state of mourning.
There’s been much talk about how the performance of college and professional sports teams affects the psyche of a geographic region. Success in sports helps to ease the pain of economic and domestic difficulties. Failure intensifies the agony. Panthers. Pirates. Steelers. Penguins. Western Pennsylvania is walking with an emotional limp; our hope wearing an ankle boot.
But amazingly, the sun still came up on Monday morning—doubly significant because it’s always cloudy in Western PA in January (and the rest of the year for that matter). Perhaps God wasn’t aware of the Steeler loss.
Proverbs 13:12 tells us that, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Heart-sick—sounds like an appropriate description of how the Pittsburgh Steeler faithful feel (not to mention the fans of all of the other pro football teams that have fallen short this season).
There’s only one problem with this scenario—and it’s a big one! Professional football is first a business (notice the Professional), and second a game. We err to our own detriment when we put so much hope in a group of highly paid (yet fallible) men running around in tights chasing an odd-shaped ball.
If hope deferred makes the heart sick, continually misplaced hope makes it diseased. We find ourselves downtrodden, constantly searching for a few bright spots of victory. And it isn’t just sports; there are so many other areas in life in which our focus is on a human-based hope.
Jeremiah 17:5-8 speaks primarily of faith, but I think a strong connection can also be made to where we focus our hope:
“Thus says the LORD, ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD
And whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought, nor cease to yield fruit’” (NASB).
If we want 2012 to be full of life, the appropriate response is to focus our attention on The Living Hope. I’m not saying that we can’t enjoy sports, or that the economy or the presidential elections are unimportant. It’s just that these things pale in comparison to the eternal hope we have in Christ—a hope which never fades; a hope which serves as the anchor of one’s soul in turbulent times.
Personally, I’m so thankful that there’s more to Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (NASB). With the right focus, each and every day in 2012 can be brimming with hope and filled with life! Go Tebow!