The eyes of the world are on the FIFA World Cup 2022 soccer tournaments taking place in Qatar between November 20th to December 18th this year. An entire league of 32 nations is battling for supremacy on the soccer field – France, Croatia, Belgium, Spain, Costa Rica, Germany, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, England, Iran and Canada – just to name a few. The intensity of every single game is communicated by the crowds gathered there, and by the gatherings around the live coverage of each game even here in Toronto 11,000 km away.
I confess that I don’t follow “the beautiful game” much, but I cannot help but observe the quiet but more intense challenges that take place in the spiritual battlefield of Qatar. We know of the church planted by those in New Life, our very own Wilson and Sulochana while they were in Doha, the capital city of Qatar and the stories he tells us of the struggles against an Islamic regime that disapproves and limits the worship of Jesus. As news of Qatar’s selection as host to FIFA emerged, I visited the website of another evangelical church located in Doha to discover how I might pray for Christians there as the world descended on them. The splashpage of their website bears a warning to visitors that the views promoted by the site are of a “Christian nature”, and viewers are cautioned to enter with discretion. I assure you that the audiences gathered to cheer these believers on in their walk in Christ are not enthusiasts following a game but the host of saints from the beginning of time (Hebrews 14:1) and the myriad upon myriad of angels who guard their ways and strengthen their steps.
The same spiritual battlefields take place in Afghanistan as followers of Jesus meet in secret to worship God and encourage each other; in India’s evangelical church under the heavy hand of a government pursuing the establishment of a Hindu nation; in China’s underground churches where believers hungry for the teaching of God’s Word gather after dark in homes hidden among many alleyways; or in Nigeria’s northern provinces where church services are threatened with gun violence and bombings from their Islamic neighbours. As we tune into FIFA these next few weeks, let’s not neglect to tune in to the greatest wavelength of all – the wavelength of prayer for God’s people, for their courage under fire, and for the clarity of their purpose – that their chief end is not to score goals but to win souls, and their greatest asset isn’t some soccer rock star but the Holy Spirit moving among them with power.