The stirring hymn, “God of Grace and God of Glory,” features this chorus: “Grant us wisdom / grant us courage / for the facing of this hour / for the facing of this hour.”
The chorus is a prayer to be infused with the Spirit of Pentecost anew, with power that brings courage and wisdom and banishes fear.
In 2019, I saw this prayer lived out. That spring, my daughter’s high school golf team won the state championship. She posted the best score of her life in the final round, making clutch putts and playing steady from tee to green in a pressure-cooker environment. The joy and excitement on her and her teammates’ faces as they received their school’s first-ever state championship trophy is a lasting image in my heart, mind, and memory.
Two weeks earlier, right before the regional tournament, a beloved teacher died tragically in an ATV accident. Her tagline was “Go forth and be leaders.” The team honored her memory by printing those words on their golf towels. They dedicated their regional championship to her. I can still see them draping one of those towels over the trophy. Yet another lasting image.
Before both the regional round and the state tournament, the team—comprised of five girls and their coach—huddled closely together, usually near the practice green. They put their arms around each other’s shoulders, and they prayed. They prayed God would give them strength, mental toughness, and a few fortunate bounces. They also prayed for their school, their community, and the family of the teacher they were mourning and missing. Finally, they prayed for courage. A picture of one of those prayers recently popped up on my “On this Day” feature of Facebook.
Looking back, I believe those events in April and May 2019 revealed God’s grace and God’s glory. Sports often do that, when we stop to notice.
First, though, some reflection on both God’s grace and God’s glory. Grace, simply put, is God’s undeserved favor. It is, as Brennan Manning writes in The Ragamuffin Gospel, “our deepest awareness that we are deeply loved by Jesus Christ, and have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” The God of grace is the father of the prodigal. He runs to the road, embraces us, and then hosts a bar-b-que.
Tim Keller helpfully describes God’s glory as “at least the combined magnitude of all God’s attributes and qualities put together.” Brian Smith, reflecting on Keller’s words in The Christian Athlete, writes, “God’s glory is the combined weight of everything that makes God God. His love, justice, goodness, wrath, omniscience, omnipotence, majesty, wisdom, and grace are all aspects of who he is and, when combined, are ‘at least’ what makes up his glory.”
The hymn writer who penned “God of Grace and God of Glory” was not the first to notice the close relationship between God’s grace and God’s glory. In Psalm 113:4, we read, “The LORD is exalted over the nations, his glory is above the heavens.” Then, five verses later, we read, “He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children.” He offers an example of incredible, amazing grace—a child in the midst of infertility. The God of the universe—holy and transcendent—cares about our deepest desires, so he stoops down, becoming personal and intimate. He is the God of glory and the God of grace. His grace (love for us) reflects his glory (his immeasurable weight).
Back to the golf championship. The hard work, talent, and perseverance of that team undoubtedly contributed to their success. But the timing of the championship, so close to the tragic loss, brought a measure of grace in the midst of grief to the school and community. It lifted the spirits of people who needed their spirits lifted.
That grace reflected God’s glory. Through prayer, God was rightfully seen as the source of the team’s wisdom, courage, and strength. The God of the universe — holy and transcendent, as well as good, just, and loving—actually stoops down frequently, hearing and responding to our petitions and needs, as well as our desires. It does not always end in championships, but occasionally, it appears it might.
The ultimate expression of God’s glory is Jesus Christ (John 1:14). He came from the Father, “full of grace and truth.” Sports can sometimes serve as another (albeit dimmer) expression of God’s grace, and God’s glory. Intrinsically, they are gifts, and they are good.
About the author: Brian Coats is a pastor, preacher, communicator, teacher, writer, speaker, husband, and father. An ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), he has been the Senior Pastor at Central Christian Church in Waco, TX, since 2012. A participant in FSI’s online certificate program since 2021, he finds the exploration of the redemptive aspects of athletic participation to be an avenue for faith growth. (Note: this post was adapted from an essay written for one of FSI’s certificate courses)