This year has been a big turning point for me, and for a lot of guys on the Eagles. God is moving on this team and the bold faith of those in our locker room has changed my life.
I grew up in the church and I knew of God, but I didn’t know God. For a long time I was being fed knowledge but hadn’t fully arrived at the truth of the Gospel. When I entered the NFL I knew who the Christians were, and while some of them were really on fire for Christ, others—myself included—were just lukewarm; we were marginalizing the power of God. We would go to Bible study “when we could” and go to chapel the night before the game.
This worked out alright for me in college, but in the NFL it’s entirely different. Here you feel the constant pressure that is put on you by your fans, the media, and other players—it’s overwhelming. In this industry it’s so hard to avoid succumbing to the desire to figure out what the fans are thinking, getting as many sponsors as you can, or follow what the media is saying about you. Even stronger is the temptation to prove yourself to people, whether that’s your parents, your girlfriend, your haters, or yourself. But that cycle never ends because you can never fully please everyone. I began searching for peace in it all.
I started paying attention to the guys who I noticed were the same every day. When we win it doesn’t affect them, when we lose it doesn’t shake them; if they had a bad practice they don’t stay down, if they had a great practice they’re not on top of the world. I realized that these were the believers—the ones who were spending time in God’s Word every day. When I started hanging out with them, I realized that they were going to hold me accountable, but not because they were looking to judge me. Instead, they wanted what’s best for me.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” — Colossians 3:15-16
It was a hard adjustment for me to open up to others and ask forgiveness from those I needed to ask. In fact, my whole lifestyle had to change. I thought this process was going to completely derail my season but, surprisingly, when I started living in the Truth I began to play much more freely. I felt better and better each day when I went to the field because I was finally living the way Christ wanted me to live—the way I was created to live.
Like I mentioned, when I came into the NFL I was searching for consistency, and I was searching for peace. I’m not the only one in this league who searches for these things. Many players live for the approval of the world—people praising them for their achievements on the field, but the moment they perform badly, the praise dries up. Every guy in the NFL wants to know that someone appreciates them for who they are, not they way they perform. They need to know that there are people who will treat you like you are a child of God no matter what you do. Every guy notices that and really appreciates that. I’ve noticed that my teammates will gravitate towards me more now because I care about them as a person, off the field and on. That is the work of the Holy Spirit in me to love them as Christ loves them.
“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” — Galatians 1:10
Our Bible studies and chapels have been such a blessing to me and the other guys on my team. The couples’ Bible study we do each week has especially been a blast, I would even say it has been the best thing for our team this year. Since we, as NFL athletes, are constantly in the spotlight, people tend to dehumanize us. They don’t look at us like people anymore and it’s easy for us to stoop to that same level of thinking. If you’re not careful, you might even start to treat your friends and family as if they were commodities. But when we, as players, get together with our teammates, wives, girlfriends, and even as singles to study God’s Word, we see each other the way God sees us: Equally loved and humbled before Him. We are being the Church the way it should be—the way Jesus wanted it to look—as open people who are broken but serving each other, desperately wanting to be connected to the Spirit.
We get together not only to study God’s Word, but to share it with others. A bunch of us from the team are getting ready to go speak at a local youth group’s lock-in about how we came to know Christ. This gives us an opportunity to not only soak in the knowledge of God’s Word for ourselves, but to spread it to others just as Christ calls us to do.
You know God is really moving in your heart when you get to Saturday night and you’re not living for tomorrow’s game. Often, some teammates and I will be in the hotel room past midnight breaking down Scripture, reading, and praying together. We are hungry for God’s truth.
The game is then easy when we put it in its proper perspective, not making it the be-all and end-all. I can rest in being Christ’s servant, and I don’t have to worry about what other people think. When I go to practice, I practice for Him. When I go to compete, I compete for Him. That is when I find fulfillment in the game.
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” — Colossians 3:17
—Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver