Tim Tebow is a phenomenon. A better-than-average football quarterback, he is also an evangelical Christian whose testimony for Christ includes some very public expressions. No matter what you think of Tebow’s style of Christian witness, if you are also a Christian, you need to pray for Tim Tebow… regularly and fervently.
Generally speaking, I am not a fan of blatant displays of public piety. When I see a public figure, particularly an athlete or an actor or musician, wear his (or her) faith on his sleeve, I think of the parable Jesus told in Luke 18.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)
Now I am not for one minute suggesting that Tim Tebow is the 21st century equivalent of the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable. In fact, as far as I know from what I have read and heard, Tim Tebow is the real deal. At least his former coach thinks he is. Here is what Urban Meyer, OSU’s newly-appointed head football coach, said in a recent newspaper article.
Meyer said… that his faith was strengthened by his contact with Tim Tebow, whom he coached to two national championships at the University of Florida. “I’ve always been a believer,” Meyer said. (Columbus Dispatch, Friday, January 13, 2011)
So, while Tebow gives every indication, so far, that his faith is genuine and the quality of his lifestyle matches his testimony, Jesus’ parable may still be instructive. Public testimony invites public scrutiny. The press loves to uncover any flaw or foible in the behavior or character of a public figure. Ask anybody who has run for public office. And the intensity of the investigation seems to increase exponentially when the subject is both a prominent athlete or entertainer and one who is open about his (or her) Christian faith.
Tim Tebow is not superhuman. Everybody who watched his performance against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots last weekend knows that. He is, however, a good football player who is getting better, and he may very well have the drive and the raw talent to become a great quarterback.
He is also a committed Christian who goes out of his way to let people know that. The combination of innate talent and the admiration (which verges on hero worship) of a growing fan base makes him especially vulnerable to the devices of a spiritual adversary who would love nothing more than to see Tim Tebow fall.
Whether we like it or not, athletes and entertainers have become the American equivalent of royalty. They hold endless fascination for us, at least in part because we constantly wonder when they will do something inappropriate or say something stupid. In most cases we can, and do, forgive these miscues because, unless they are grossly immoral or criminal, they simply reassure us that even our “idols” are human, just like us mere mortals.
The stakes are higher for Christians in these professions. Whether it is fair or not, we expect more of public figures who practice their religion in a public manner. In this regard, Tim Tebow has set the bar very high indeed… for himself. By his public displays of piety, which most of us would reserve for a more private, more “reverent” context of expression, he invites examination of his life in minute detail. The pressure on him will be immense. He may not be superhuman, but he will need superhuman strength and the sustaining grace of God to live faithfully and consistently in this fishbowl existence which he has, at least in part, created for himself.
That is why I am praying for Tim Tebow, and I encourage you to do the same. We will eventually hear about some of Tebow’s weaknesses and shortcomings. That’s OK. He needs to be humanized, and perhaps humbled, a bit. That will actually add an appealing note to his Christian witness and make his testimony to God’s grace more genuine. What we do not want to hear is news that his character and behavior, in private, do not match his public display of piety.
Tim Tebow stands at the threshold of opportunity such as few of us could even imagine. Jesus reminds us that, of those to whom much has been given, much will be required. Tim Tebow is a brother in Christ. His consistent testimony will be an asset to the cause of Christ in general. His fall, God forbid, could do untold damage to that same cause. That is why I ask you to join me in praying, regularly and fervently, for Tim Tebow.