As I’m writing this, today is The Big Game: Super Bowl 50. The Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers are going to battle in the ultimate championship of the season in America’s biggest, baddest sport. It is the biggest sporting event of the year by far; last year’s game averaged 114.4 million views per minute, making it the most watched event in American television history. It’s no wonder advertisers pay dearly for the opportunity to feature their product or service during this game! Can you believe each 30-second commercial will cost these advertisers $5 million to air in this year’s Super Bowl?
The football game will be over in a few hours. The whole world will then know who the Super Bowl 50 champion is and who got that shiny gold Vince Lombardi trophy proclaiming their victory. The commentators will review each play, each player’s moves and mistakes, each touchdown and fumble. We’ll all know if the Bronco’s Peyton Manning is really retiring and how he’s going out. We’ll all know how many touchdowns the Panther’s Cam Newton pulled off in the pressure cooker of a Super Bowl contest. Fans from the losing side will ache and mourn as they rally around their team. Fans from the winning team will be wildly rejoicing, talking some serious trash, and collecting bet money. This match will be repeated in a year, most likely with different teams.
While the Broncos and the Panthers fight it out in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, Sunday, there is another, and bigger, battle being waged simultaneously. This other match is silent and invisible, but it’s more real than the Super Bowl. The stakes are much higher, the consequences of losing very, very personal and more far-reaching. The prize: your soul.
Not your spirit, the eternal part where the Holy Spirit lives (if you’re Christian), but your soul. You know, where your mind, will, and emotions reside and rule. Where your humanness can overwhelm your spirit just long enough to get you to sin or, at least, do something stupid. Who will dominate your mind, will, and emotions is the biggest battle you will face, day in and day out, if you haven’t figured it out yet. It’s what many would call “spiritual warfare.”
It’s not weirdness. It’s not creepy or unimaginable, or something to be feared or ignored. Heaven and hell are engaged in a 24/7 battle over you. Yes, you! You may feel like an ordinary little nobody here on earth, but heaven and hell both know who you are. Whether you are a Christian or not, they both want you on their team.
Heaven knows that you were created for a purpose (Psalm 139:13-16; Ephesians 2:10). Heaven sent Jesus down to earth to die for your sins so that you could be pardoned and given a new future, free from the eternal sentence of guilt and existing forever in hell (John 3:16-17). Heaven knows that you have an amazing destiny awaiting as you learn to let the Holy Spirit and the Bible, which is the Word of God, lead you (John 16:13). Heaven wants you to partner with them in creating and achieving lofty, glorious, positive, amazing and scarcely imaginable goals and tasks involving your fellow humans on this journey we call life (Matthew 28:17-20).
Hell knows that you have some sort of heavenly purpose and it wants to head off and destroy any opportunity you might have to achieve that purpose (1 John 3:8). Hell works overtime to keep you from becoming a Christian (Acts 26:26-28). Hell drives you further into your sinful attitudes, motives, words, personality deficits, and habits to entrench you as hard and far down as they can to prevent that heavenly purpose from ever happening (Revelation 21:8). Once you become a Christian, hell wants you to avoid anything that could strengthen you as a Christian (John 10:10). Hell will try to persuade you to not return to Christ if they can get you to walk away from Him (Matthew 27:3-5).
The battleground is you. Your mind. Your will. Your emotions.
You feel the pressure nearly every moment, every day. At every decision point, you must choose which way you will go: toward heaven, or toward hell.
Are you going to stay up late the night before watching movies, staying on your devices, reading your books, doing your homework, preparing for work, watching porn, drinking alcohol, reading trashy magazines and books, having sex, gossiping, smoking pot or meth? Or are you going to use good sleep hygiene, go to bed at a reasonable hour, and get adequate sleep?
The next morning, when your alarm wakes you up, are you going to get up right away or hit that snooze button? Back to your devices? Pray or not pray? Read your Bible or not read your Bible? Coffee and conversation instead of praying and Bible reading? Go to church or not go to church? Exercise or not exercise? Take a lunch because it’s cheaper or healthier, or buy a lunch because you just got paid or you’re lazy or craving certain foods or tired or feeling entitled to some comfort or not concerned about temple upkeep today or just haven’t made it to the grocery store?
This is just the beginning of sorrows. You know how your day goes!
I know how my day goes. I will admit, it is hard sometimes to get up the first time the alarm goes off. I start thinking, if I leave early enough, I can stop some place and pick up breakfast, then I can sleep in. I will worship during my lunch break. I need to go grocery shopping after work so I can take lunches this week. I won’t stay up late tonight perusing social media.
I, like you, have many personal battles to fight every day. Every day, I have to choose heaven. I have to choose wisdom. I have to choose health and godliness and righteousness. Even if “none go with me,” I have to choose to follow Jesus. I have seen the immortal trophies called Eternal Life (John 17:3, 20-23) and the Rewards of the Saints (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) and the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:1-8). I’m not quitting.
You know what your own personal battles are. This is your own personal daily Super Bowl, inside your body, inside your mind and emotions. Unlike football players, who have to play long term and on the same team until they contract to play for someone else, you get to choose every day whose team you’re going to play for.
Jesus, out of love for you, already paid for your contract with His own blood. Jesus, as the team owner, and the Holy Spirit as the coach and trainer, will supply all your needs according to His unlimited riches (Ephesians 3:16-19; Philippians 4:19). In contrast, hell will take your blood, your life, and your resources, waste them all, and ultimately make you pay twice. To be on hell’s team, you will pay both in this life, and the life to come.
You must choose the initial sign-up to be on Heaven’s team. You must see the immortal trophies and decide daily to stay on that team, even when life gets tough and your questions and prayers aren’t getting the answers you want. You must trust this owner, this coach and trainer, and begin letting them train you from the inside out how to live this life we call the Christian life.
Practice is like going to church, getting direction from Heaven’s assistant coach—your pastor—and getting locker room pep talks—encouragement and prayer—from your fellow teammates, who are other believers. Make sure you’re suited up with the armor of God every day before you leave your bedroom (Ephesians 6:10-18) because we ain’t at practice, it’s the Real Game Every. Single. Day. You have to read Heaven’s official playbook, the Bible, and memorize at least a few portions of it for go-to trainings and internal reminders when you are faced with your daily decisions and battles. And don’t try to Lone Ranger your Christian walk, acting like you’re not part of the team. Like it or not, if you’re a follower of Christ, you are part of the Heavenly team, the body of Christ, and you need our support, love and help as much as we need yours (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
Ladies, the Heaven vs. Hell Daily Battle is for you, too, not just the guys!
We got a preview of the end of the game—we win! Therefore, I hope and pray you decide to get on or get back on, and stay on, God’s Heavenly team. Heaven has a much better retirement plan, I’m telling you. Sign up today!
Atkins, Hunter. How the golden Super Bowl 50 trophy came together. Article for Forbes, Lifestyle Section 01/26/2016.
Riccobono, Anthony. Super Bowl ratings: how many people watched the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks game? Article for International Business Times 2/2/2015.
USA Today Sports. NFL Super Bowl: profiles of key players.