Tim Tebow and the Gift of Success

I now tread where every human should fear to go. So, why go there? I tire of  absolutist statements concerning Tim Tebow, God, and football games. That is probably not a very good motivation, but hopefully something positive will arise–maybe even a good conversation. (Or, maybe I just want more traffic at my website? That is a sobering thought. 🙂 )

Does God care anything about football games?  Yes and No.

Yes….God delights in play. Play is part of God’s intent for humanity. All work and no play is workaholism. God’s creatures play–even the Leviathan, the great sea monster, plays in the ocean (Psalm 104:26). God delights in humanity’s play. Sport is part of the joy of life.

No…God, I imagine (though how could I ever really know), is not a fan, that is, God does not root for one side or another in the sense that God’s mood is affected by wins and loses. God is not a Pittsburgh fan that grieves their loss nor is he a Bronco fan that rejoices in the defeat of the Steelers.

Ultimately, it seems to me God is not interested in games but in people.  Interested in people, can not God gift some people with success on particular occasions?

This is not a gift based on some kind of prosperity gospel, that is, “Tim Tebow is a believer…therefore he will succeed.” Rather, it is a gift based on grace, and God gifts many people with success who do not have a Christian bone in their body. God gives wealth and empowers rulers.

When God gifts people with success–a gift that is cooperatively received by those so gifted–God holds them accountable.  What will they do with that success? God tests the wealthy.

What is seemingly impressive about Tim Tebow is that (1) he gives thanks for his success and recognizes it as a gift, (2) he does not blame God for his failures, and (3) he is committed to using that success for the growth of the kingdom of God.

Perhaps the gift of success that God has given Tebow–however long-lasting or short-lived it is (and it may be very short-lived, like, 1/2 a season)–is something that is possibly kingdom-affirming and kingdom-promoting. Perhaps God’s gift to Tebow will result in feeding the hungry, healing the sick and saving some children from death.

Rachel Held Evans tweeted: “So God’s busy altering the outcome of a football game when 30,000 children died from preventable disease today? Got it.”

I find that tweet significantly short-sighted. That God is too small. Why is one mutually exclusive of the other? Could it be that the gift of success is one of God’s means for healing some of these children–one means among many that God is now using or preparing. Perhaps God is even now preparing a person whose financial success will enable funding a cure for cancer, or drilling wells in Africa, or…..other kingdom work.

Paul does say “give thanks in everything”…..including our play as well as our work. God gives success, but also God gives failures (think about Job for a moment).  In both God is looking for witnesses to the reign of God in the world.

I don’t think Tebow wins because God is a Broncos fan or even that Tebow is one of God’s favorites. But perhaps Tebow’s success (and our own too) is something God enables for the sake of the kingdom of God. And there will be days when Tebow will not succeed and God will be good with that since even  Tebow’s failures (and ours as well) will be opportunities for bearing witness to the kingdom of God.

The danger for Tim Tebow (as it is in everyone’s success) is the potential for pride and the revelation that everyone has clay feet, even Tim Tebow (and certainly I do).

The kingdom of God, of course, does not depend on anyone. God will usher in his kingdom by whatever means God desires.

Can God use a football game for the sake of his kingdom?  Absolutely. To think otherwise is to remove God from the daily moments of our lives. That God is too small.

Is Tim Tebow God’s favorite and thus he will win the Super Bowl this year? There is no evidence that God’s favorites win the Super Bowl, and I don’t think Tim is any more one of God’s favorite than I am. We are both loved–as are all the dying children in the world–by God.

God loves play but God loves play because God loves people. God is not a football fan; God is a Tebow fan….and a John Mark Hicks fan…and your fan as well. God is especially fond of each of us.

37 Responses to “Tim Tebow and the Gift of Success”

  1.   Charles Strahan Says:

    I THINK THAT WHAT YOU SEE IN TEBOW IS SCRIPTURE WORKING AT IT’S BEST………………..”God opposes the proud but favors the humble.”
    7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
    8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.
    9 Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy.
    10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.
    (Jam 4:6-10 NLT)
    NO I DO NOT THINK GOD IS A FOOTBALL FAN…HE IS A FAN OF THOSE WHO DRAW CLOSE TO HIM, THOSE WHO HONOR HIM.. the scripture .. let me rephrase the WORD OF GOD … is what you see at work here in this young mans life….he bows the knee before GOD and mankind…he chooses to humble himself..in front of a nation.. that laughs at him…..a nation that reviles the God he serves ..,a nation that needs to realize that GOD WILL NOT BE MOCKED…sad to say that this nation whose reputation and might was built upon the acts and christian nature of it’s people towards others is now .. simply wandering in the wilderness of idolatry and unbelief.

  2.   Jeff McVey Says:

    Good thoughts, John…

    I suppose the most prominent OT example of “fallen heroes” was Samson, Israel’s “fair-haired boy” who was loved and respected by all until Delilah trimmed him severely.

    Human heroes all have feet of clay.

  3.   adammetz79 Says:

    Thanks for the post . . . I’ve been doing a lot of work in the intersection of sports and theology lately – and how timely it has proven. There is much work to be done redeeming a theology of play. Much of that has been lost as the contemporary American sports scene has morphed into a powerful Sports Industrial Complex. Unfortunately, Christians’ involvement in sports has largely been limited to organizations such as FCA and Athletes in Action whose platform was built on “muscular Christianity” – essentially to be as successful as possible in order to broaden the preaching platform – a kind of Billy Graham philosophy on the field/rink/court (ie. our culture listens to “winners” not “losers.”) I believe this has created a bit of a theological impasse for Christians who embrace sports (in our culture that’s the vast majority). Having only “winners’ preaching about a Messiah who “lost” is a tough message to maintain. [Recently, Athletes in Action has acknowledged their impasse and is beginning to address a way forward (they recently inaugurated a center for Sports and Ethics for on example).]

    As for Tebow, we have been here before, as Christians. This article is from 2007, and reflects on a “miraculous” season Jon Kitna was having – an outspoken conservative Christian. http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=3036235 The Lions went on to lose, and Kitna preached a wonderful message to combat the prosperity Gospel that has so prevalently oozed into the American sports scene.

    I think Tim Tebow has brought about such an incredible attention because he represents the penultimate of the muscular Christian message of conservative Christians, thus inflaming the raging cultural war. Christians should enter into a theology of sports with trepidation for it has been my realization that most of us have an incredibly undeveloped theology of body, and more broadly aesthetics. Americans love winning. I think it’s one of the reasons why soccer has never really caught on – we hate ties! Our economic system is built on winning and losing. It’s the American way! The best thing that can happen as we begin to take seriously how our faith impacts our understanding of sports (instead of allowing it to be some neutral reality) is to consider again the purpose of play. It’s not surprising that the professionalization of sports has happened alongside our dismissal of the importance of Sabbath. Play is not work.

    Sorry to take a bit of a sidetrack from your post, but it’s where my Tebow tangent took me 😉

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:


      Thanks for the helpful response.

      I agree about the Industrial Sports Complex. I rarely spend money on this industry, and it is minimal when I do. I fear the industry is idolatrous itself as it turns play into greed and power.

      I also agree that part of the Tebow phenomenon is the muscle version of conservative Christianity. It can be so used, but as I look at from long distance I don’t see Tebow himself approaching this as a war on culture but as a more of a witness to culture and the promotion of kingdom work in various regions of the world.

      Your caution should be heeded. It is much too complex for a simple post or for assessment in a few days or weeks.

      John Mark

  4.   brian Says:

    thanks for saying what needed to be said, I had some vague thoughts in my head, but you said it better than I could have

  5.   Stephen Pate Says:

    Dr. Hicks, I really appreciated this article. I think it is very evident that God is using sports for a higher purpose. The eyes of the entire nation are on Tebow. Some are waiting for him to mess up so they can mock his Christianity, but I do believe there are others who are inspired by him and God’s gift to him. I remember a few weeks ago when Detroit Lion’s linebacker Stephen Tulloch (who used to play for the Titans) sacked Tebow and “Tebowed Him.” (Tebowing is getting on one knee and acting like you are praying. You can do a google search for this). I remember thinking how tasteless it was to make fun of Tebow for giving praise to God. However, after thinking about what Tulloch did, it just goes to show how much of an impact on the football/sports world Christians like Tebow are making. Colt McCoy is also doing a good job. If you get a chance, take a look at the book “Growing up Colt.” He did some amazing things while at Texas including having Bible studies with his offensive line and even baptizing a few teammates. It is amazing what God can do because of His high interest in people! Since most of America loves football, it seems fitting that God would use players like Tebow and Mccoy to inspire a nation.


  6.   Bobby Valentine Says:

    Glad you brought Ps 104.26 into it. God created the dragon/leviathan simply to frolic/play/sport (shahak) in his giant aquarium.

    It was a great game.

  7.   Paul Franks Says:

    Enjoyed your article. I plan to use it in my bulletin. Hope all is well!

  8.   Eric Livingston Says:

    I’m going with Rachel on this one. It’s a football game. There are Christians on both teams. I don’t see how the outcome of a football game affects the Kingdom. If anything, I think the Tebow phenomenon only propagates misunderstandings about Yahweh who seems to work more out of brokenness and poverty than fame and wealth.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Life is life, including football games…they are part of life. God can grant success through many different avenues…businesses, family heritage, sports. It seems to me Yahweh works through both wealth and poverty, works with both and calls people in both to bear witness to the kingdom. It is both/and. If the outcome of a business deal, or birth, or game, gives a person a standing of success, then it is a gift to be used for the kingdom. Recognizing that is not a distortion of Yahweh but a recognition of the sovereignty of Yahweh.

    •   Scott Says:

      Eric, I’m reassured that God works on anyone, wealthy or poor, in whatever state of brokenness. So many times we succumb to presumption that it’s only the broken and poor who will accept God’s authority or acknowledge our need for His blessing. In our culture it’s almost ironic to see a celebrity accede credit to someone higher than themselves. Tebow is a refreshing reminder that God is found everywhere – even in the playing of a game.

    •   Jeff Says:

      I remember seeing that tweet from Rachel, and I found it to be rather cynical and mean-spirited (that’s probably not how she meant it). Better, I think, is the idea that God is bigger than we can possibly imagine, and He does kingdom work in many different ways.

  9.   Mary Lee Cunningham Says:

    John Mark –
    I’m not a Biblical scholar like so many of your blog’s readers but am merely a friend and sister who has a particular fondness for you and an appreciation for your wisdom and spiritual insights. As such, my comments may not be on the par of others who may choose to respond. Never-the-less, I will humbly add them for what they are worth.
    I admit that I am not a follower of sports, and thus, not a football fan, but I have heard the name Tim Tebow. I am aware of his unashamed claim to be a follower of Jesus and how Tim gives thanks to God for his abilities and his victories on the football field. I applaud his courage to do so in the face of criticism and slurs by those who are unbelievers. Yet, none of that makes me desire to become a “fan” of football.
    I do, however, like to think of myself as a “fan of people”. Unfortunately, when I am brutally honest, I fear that too often I am a bigger fan of people who are kind, educated, clean in appearance (and smell) and who are, in my estimation, more “like me” than I am of people whom I perceive to be different than I. This is not a statement which makes me proud, but rather one which causes me to feel rather ashamed. It’s not that I see myself as a particularly “bad” person, but neither do I see myself as being the kind of “fan of people” that our Lord was and the kind He desires for me to be.
    As I read the scriptures I find that the closest associates of Jesus were not likely the kinds of folk that I would immediately choose to draw close to me. Yet, they were people whom He saw as valuable and with potential beyond their own imaginations. He taught them how to be their best as they learned to serve others. When they stumbled or experienced failures along the way, He offered them encouragement and “cheered” them on just as a true fan would do. His belief in them and love for them helped them to become more than they might ever have dreamed they could.
    With this in mind, I pray that I will learn to be a “fan” of all types of individuals — those like me as well as those who are significantly different. May I be able to come along side of folks who may have stumbled and fallen and help them to understand that God is a fan of theirs, desiring to see them succeed in His strength and through His power. Interestingly, as I commit to being a fan and encourager of others, I am being reminded that God is indeed a fan of Mary’s, too.
    Thank you and bless you, John Mark, for sharing your thoughts that cause me to think as well.

  10.   Terry Rush Says:

    Good point and well said.

    Tebow is fun to watch. I am sure he gives God the glory in the victories. I look forward to the future moments when he continues to thank God in the center of misfortune and loss.

    Believers seem to always believe.

    Because of Him…everything is a Yes!
    II Cor. 1:18-20

  11.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    I saw the tweet by Rachel Held Evans too and I must admit that there is a big part of me that is sympathetic with the apparent frustration she feels. Why, after all, would God affect the outcome of a Denver Broncos football game (or any sporting event) when there are children all around the globe suffering and dying from poverty, disease, exploitation, and other forms of evil (natural and moral)? Of course, that question of “Why?” is part of the mystery of suffering that we have no answer for.

    Yet, I can see your point that God could be granting or allowing for such Success so that Tim Tebow, being the Christian that he is, will use all aspects of his success (financial, prominence, etc…) to bring glory to God by using his unique position for the advancement of God’s kingdom. I needed to be reminded of that, so thanks for that.

    I suppose then that for the rest of us Christians, rather than jostling back and forth about how God may or may not be providentially at work in this situation, we should be praying for Tim Tebow that he will see his success as an opportunity for God’s kingdom and glory.

    Grace and Peace,

    K. Rex Butts

  12.   Sam Says:

    Thanks. great post.

  13.   forest Says:

    Well put and thanks for taking the time to mete it out 🙂

  14.   Jon Owen Says:

    God does not love Tebow any less, nor any more than the 30,000 kids.

    This will always be a tension. How do we celebrate when there is poverty, sickness and brokenness among us? Could it be that we celebrate that which we personally find praiseworthy, while expecting others to share both our celebration and piety as though the two are separate matters?

    I have no problem with Held’s tweet. I’ve tweeted similar things. I have no problem with Tebow’s success, I’ve talked about it as well. I agree with JMH’s first paragraph that the absolutes are what tire me. Maybe one day I cheer for Tebow and another I lament for desperate children. Then another day comes and I celebrate or lament whatever is on my heart that day and hoping, maybe even expecting others to do likewise, or at least “understand me” and my point of view de jour.

    I think the “only absolute” is that there will be days when we miss the point about anything and everything and have a desperate need to receive grace and extend it more than we realize.

  15.   V. L. Edwards Says:

    Well said, Dr. Hicks.

  16.   Stephen M. Kenney Says:

    When Kurt Warner went to his first Super Bowl with the Rams, he gave an interview where he thanked God for the privilege of playing football and then remarked that he knew his time would be fleeting, but that his faith would remain. He knew he started as a grocery stocker and ended up as an NFL quarterback. Shortly after that, his career fell apart, only to be revived at the end resulting in another Super Bowl appearance, this time for the Cardinals. It was his witness when he was down that proved how genuine his faith really was.

    In Tebow’s case, he’s had so much success in college and the NFL that it’s easy for people to assume he’s basically a “prosperity gospel” quarterback. His witness will gain increased power and validity when he is tested by adversity and failure.

    That only applies to NFL quarterbacks, right?
    Grace & Shalom,
    Steve Kenney

  17.   William E. Deem Says:

    Thank you Dr. Hicks for this post.

  18.   holly Says:

    John Mark,
    Thanks for your well-written article. Just last night my nephew, posted this on his facebook status: ” I’d rather support the baby girl rapist then tebow” — I was shocked, to say the least and could only comment, “I hope the baby girl doesn’t end up being your girlfriend, your wife or your daughter – disrespectful comment on all levels- ” I appreciate you taking the time and resources to create such a thought–provoking article that I was able to pass along! God Bless-

  19.   Terrell Lee Says:

    I’m not an NFL fan. No problem with it; just different priorities (say, motorcycling or target shooting 🙂 ). But my observation is that to a great extent Tebowing is a media-created sensation. Tebow himsefl seems to have modeled his faith without flaunting it. And so far, I’ve heard pretty good theology coming from him. Pretty much in line with my theologian friend, JMH. Thanks, John Mark for treading on this soil. And may God keep Tebow’s faith strong. With all this attention, he needs or prayers.

  20.   Clark Coleman Says:

    ‘Rachel Held Evans tweeted: “So God’s busy altering the outcome of a football game when 30,000 children died from preventable disease today? Got it.”’

    I don’t see the logic here. The fact is that children did die today. Either you have come to grips with “the problem of evil” and you understand how God can permit these deaths, or you have not. If you have not, then discussions of Tim Tebow are irrelevant. If you have, then the deaths of children have been explained in your mind and you can consider other questions independently, including whether God raises someone up in public view to help generate positive thoughts about the kingdom.

    I think that it is also possible for God to “root for” Tebow to live up to his potential and behave himself as a good example, without rigging the outcome of a game. A Christian is not just a good example when he is winning. If Denver loses next week, Tebow is still a good witness for Christ. It is a team game. We don’t have to claim that God is altering the game outcome.

  21.   Larry Henderson Says:

    Perhaps Colt McCoy’s greatest testimony came in the midst of significant personal loss after his game-ending injury in the 2010 BCS National Championship.

  22.   JIMHARDING Says:

    Agreed! However, I love the freshness of the way the story was told about his mother, trying to save one fetus from death–as was recommended to her by doctors and others! I acknowledge his trust to do what he believes against a flow of the critical elite press! I don’t suppose that he set out to “get their goad” by thanking God for everything he does! I see many giving thanks to God on the field. But for some reason, when he does it, it is a photo op! It is a point of media attack! Have you seen the play that ended the sudden death overtime as he began to bow to one knee, how the photographer was trying to get down on that shot as quickly as Tim thanked God? Pretty interesting!

  23.   stanemo Says:

    That GOD, would change anything for Teboe is dumb. But that teboe would acknowledge GOD is very cool. Try to Know what faith is.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      God changed something for Hezekiah. God changed something for Moses. God answers prayer. God does things for his people and even for those who are not. I don’t see how that is “dumb” (a word I experience as quite uncivil and offensive). If God is engaged in the world, at work in the world, for God’s purposes, why can’t one of them be for me, you or even Tebow. If it is good for Tebow to acknowledge God, then it seems appropriate to affirm that God did something for Tebow.

      •   Eric Livingston Says:

        Herein lies the problem in my mind, John. How do we make sense of a God who favors Tebow over the Christians on the other team? That goes against how I understand the concept of justice. Moreover, it seems to me that God’s brand of justice (which I sometimes don’t understand) wouldn’t even be at play in this arena. Yes God’s justice is at work in “everything,” but I’m ok limiting “everything” to things of importance. I don’t attribute that good parking space that opened up at Walmart to God’s favor upon me. Nor would I think God’s pulling strings for Tebow. That doesn’t invalidate Tebow’s faith, or mean that God can’t use Tebow for his Kingdom, I just have reservations about God raising up a winning football player for his grand purposes.

        The ‘somethings’ that God changed for Hezekiah and Moses were not on the level of insignificance as a football game.

        Finally, if God were in the business of imposing supernatural football success, clearly his favor lies on Demaryius Thomas, not Tebow.

      •   Clark Coleman Says:

        Why the focus on justice? God has many attributes other than being just. Who says he makes Tebow look good because justice demands it? I think the argument was that PERHAPS God makes Tebow look good because it helps advance the kingdom of God on earth, not because it delivers God’s justice to human beings.

        Furthermore, if people are going to argue that football games are trivial (in and of themselves, they are trivial), then it is not just or unjust for either team to win or lose. Justice is not a concept that applies to football games, so it is no injustice that there were Christians on the losing team.

      •   John Mark Hicks Says:

        Your good question raises multiple issues. One is the question of “fairness.” It seems to me that God has always acted justly but not necessarily equally with regard to people. He does not always treat everyone alike though he has the same goal for everyone (to be conformed to the image of Christ). So, it seems to me that God can favor (bless) someone in a particular circumstance while not blessing others with the same thing or at the same time. It is not a question of justice.

        Also, it seems to me difficult to designate something as insignificant or trivial. The principle of “butterfly effect” (chaos theory) entails that even small things have huge effects given time, relationships and the interdependent matrix of life. Even a parking space can have significance. I don’t think we have the wisdom or knowledge to name something insignificant. We might think of levels of significance but even then it is a judgment call as we don’t know the effects of anything (or know little if anything) in the matrix of existence.

        I never said that God imposed any supernatural act or even caused anything to happen. However, I think we do recognize that all good things come from God and God is at work in everything. If we judge that everything is some kind of hyperbole than it is difficult to give thanks in everything if we are uncertain God is at work.

        God raises up people in many contexts for the sake of his kingdom…rulers, business people with financial success, Mother Teresa, including the poor. I don’t think it an inappropriate step to say that God can bless (however God does it) Tebow with financial success or even football success if it begins a “butterfly effect” for the kingdom of God in the world. At the same time, I perfectly will to say that God could also give Tebow poverty for the sake of the kingdom of God as well…and he might yet. I don’t know.

        I hesitate to restrict God’s movements, blessings, activity and involvement based on a extra-canonical principle of insignificance or a rational principle of justice. But, of course, I am willing to hear how the biblical story might narrate such principles or distinctions of insignificance.

        Blessings, Eric

  24.   Warren Baldwin Says:

    I read a similar statement by Rachel on FB. As much as I am a Tebow and Broncos fan, I did think she made a valid point. But, I appreciate your perspective – we don’t need to limit God. He certainly has a broader scope than we might be inclined to grant to him.

    Interestingly, I just read the bio on Steve Jobs by W. Isaacson. Jobs was 13 when he saw a picture of hungry kids in a magazine. He asked his preacher if God knew about this kids. The preacher said yes. Jobs then said something to the effect that if God knew about these kids, but couldn’t/wouldn’t do anything to help them, then he (Jobs) wanted nothing to do with a God like that. He left the church then and never went back.

    Sadly, Jobs never became a philanthropist. Perhaps God did want to do something with those kids, and he chose to do it through Jobs’, and our, success.

    Good post.


  25.   rich Says:

    found this john mark

    “and now you know the rest of the story”

    Conan Obrien Presents: Tim Tebow’s Miraculous Pass

  26.   Doug Bush Says:

    John Mark,

    My son contends that if Tebow wins the Super Bowl it proves the existence of God. He calls it the Tebological Argument.

  27.   John Crabtree Says:

    Well said.

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