I may have been taping my wrists, or perhaps I was adjusting my game-socks so the proper amount of white showed below my knees. Though I do not remember exactly what I was doing, I do recall I was sitting at my locker preparing to take the field for a football game as a member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. This was my rookie season in the Canadian Football League and I was about to learn a valuable lesson. Mike Kerrigan, a Northwestern football alumnus and one-time New England Patriot quarterback, strode confidently into the locker room. He was not only announcing to the Christian athletes that the pre-game chapel was starting, but he was also doing his best to encourage the non-Christian players to participate in our weekly ritual.
Mike approached my locker and reminded me of the chapel that was about to start. Then he looked at the man in the locker beside me. “Dale, you coming to chapel today?” he asked. Our starting offensive center, a product of Tennessee's football program, looked up from adjusting his knee braces with a mischievous grin. “What does Jesus have to do with hitting, slapping, punching, pain, blood, sweat, and tears?” he replied half-serious, half-joking.
Kerrigan's profound response was, for me, unforgettable. It is etched in my memory and I have found myself replaying this veteran quaterback’s reply many times over the ensuing 14 years of my professional football career and beyond. With complete seriousness, and with a passion that indicated the gravity of his words, Mike said, “Jesus knows more about hitting, slapping, punching, pain, blood, sweat, and tears than you or I ever will."
His answer indicated to me one way I could honor God in my profession; I could allow my job to preach God’s truths to me. I could, and I believe should, be watching for God's truths in and through my chosen vocation: professional offensive lineman. It wasn't until I was retired that I would read about, and hence be able to articulate for myself, this enriching discipline of discerning theological truths from everyday situations.
Now it struck me that God is every day preaching to us by similitudes. When Christ was on earth he preached in parables, and, though he is in heaven now, he is preaching in parables today. Providence is God's sermon. The things which we see about us are God's thoughts and God's words to us; and if we were but wise there is not a step that we take, which me should not find to be full of mighty instruction.
Spurgeon articulates the sanctifying habit of looking for gospel truths in our everyday lives. He promotes a dynamic discipline for discipleship; searching and seeing God’s gracious truths in the daily rhythm and routine of life. He calls these edifying reflections of God and his Word “similitudes.”
A similitude is a likening or comparison in the form of a simile, parable, or allegory. A similitude compares two dissimilar things for the purpose of emphasizing something they share in common. A similitude is experienced when we apprehend God’s grace in the ordinary living of our lives. A carpenter might recognize the cross in intersecting lumbers as he frames a house. A homemaker might see the cleansing work of Jesus’ blood in a load of laundry that comes out clean. A truck driver might reflect on the narrow road while stuck in traffic on the interstate.
Spurgeon explains what Mike Kerrigan had recognized and what I applied throughout my playing career; the things that happen to us and around us can declare God's truths to us. Mike Kerrigan saw in the physical punishment of a football game a glimpse of the suffering of Christ.
Many of us are, as Spurgeon says, "engaged in a business which allows [us] to see but very little of nature, and yet even there God has provided [us] with a lesson." He gives the example of a baker who is warned by the heat of his ovens that the wicked will be consumed in fire. Spurgeon imagines the butcher contemplating his own plight when an animal is slaughtered; where would he be if Christ had not been the sacrificed lamb in his place? What mundane piece of life is God using to teach the gospel to you?
Providence is God's Sermon
Thus we see that the everyday providential occurrences of our lives are fodder for God's “mighty instruction” if we are open to seeing these things. The very fabric of our existence, our vocations, our relationships, and our experiences all have potential to teach and re-teach us biblical truths and encourage Christ-centered meditation.
Eventually, everywhere I turned as I played football professionally I could also see theology. And as I reflect on that part of my life, now over as a result of a forced “retirement,” God was and is able, by the Holy Spirit, to use everyday situations and scenarios to bring edifying truth to me. This daily devotional experience was, and continues to be, incredibly uplifting and educational.
For example, as an offensive lineman it was my job to provide a refuge for the quarterback. This would propel my thoughts to the refuge Christ provided when he propitiated the wrath of God with his death. Similarly, I enjoyed watching my young son gain access to a player’s sacred domain, the locker room, because of his relationship to me. My affections for Christ were consequently raised as I perceived that my relationship to Christ and his identity as Son of God gains me access to the very throne of God.
In many ways football is a ridiculous sport. They took a round ball that would bounce and roll with uniformity and consistency and made it oblong to remove its predictability. They drew lines on a field and decided that between those lines players could physically assault one another. The fact that God could teach me his gospel truths in the ridiculous world of football should be both enlightening and encouraging. Enlightening because this type of discipleship is available to anyone and everyone; and encouraging because if I could learn of grace on the gridiron, than God can certainly teach you truth on your turf.
I think it is our fallen nature, and the sin that so easily entangles us, that leads us to believe there is a discontinuity between what we do every day and what we do on Sunday. But this type of thinking neglects the fact that what we do, whether our jobs or our hobbies or anything else, is intimately related with who we are. And we are Christians, adopted into God’s family through Christ. And we take that identity with us wherever we go and in whatever we do. No believer should ever think that God is not intimately involved in every aspect their lives; seeing similitudes will assure the believer of God’s presence.
The Practice of Seeing Truth in the Everyday
This practice of seeing similitudes in our comings and goings is a practical way to remind ourselves of the all-pervasive power of the gospel; it applies to everything. Whether you are a dentist or a dock-worker, retired, just hired, or unemployed, this discipline will remind you that there is a Person at the center of your life that relates to everything you do and is relevant to who you are.
The first step to seeing sanctifying similitudes is to understand what they are and where they can be found. What they are, as Spurgeon has suggested, is God’s instruction in everyday life. They are the doctrines of the Bible illustrated in the regular routine of living. Jesus saw the Kingdom of God in the scattering of seeds, the hiding of treasure, the settling of accounts, the hiring of labourers, and many other day-to-day activities. We will be richly blessed as we are reminded, exhorted, and instructed in the tenets of our faith through the moments of our lives. Don’t miss this everyday education; seek to see the spiritual in the spot God has placed you.
Jude St. John (@judestjohn) played football professionally in the Canadian Football League for 14 years and currently teaches English at Saunders Secondary School in London, Ontario, Canada. Jude is married to Nicole and they share their lives with their 5 children: Ena, Adele, Mara, Judah, and Arwen. He blogs at quercuscalliprinos.blogspot.com.
Read more in Jonathan Dodson's book Unbelievable Gospel.