“Shaken”- Tim Tebow
I was in college, getting ready to face Miami, when for the first time I wanted to do something different with my eye black. I was in the training room getting ready to pick up my eye-black strips, when I wondered if I could do something with them that would inspire someone else. I had seen a few players, like Reggie Bush, who had written their area code on their eye blacks.
The first verse that came to mind was Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” It’s a great verse for football and great verse for life and faith. While this has long been one of my favorites, it’s important to note the context in order to fully grasp the meaning of the verse.
In the text leading up to verse 13, Paul, the man who wrote the book of Philippians, says, “I have learned to be content in any circumstance. I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment” (Philippians 4:11-12) These verses explain that Paul was referring to being content when he followed with “I am able to do all things.” He’s saying, “I can handle the good. I can handle the bad. I can handle whatever the world can throw at me because my relationship with Jesus is rock solid. He’ll see me through the storms.” He knew not just how to survive but how to thrive in riches and poverty, good times and bad.
That game, a few people noticed it. I kept putting it on my eye black every week for the rest of the regular season. I remember running out of the tunnel right before we Gators faced Alabama in the 2008 SEC Championship. In my heart I felt God calling me to change the verse, but I wasn’t sure to which one. After a few days, the one that kept coming to mind was John 3:16, the essence of God’s heart for us: “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
When I told my parents about it, Mom was thrilled. Dad, however, was a bit cautious. “You know how Coach likes his routine, Timmy. Don’t mess with that,” he warned. He was right in that Coach Meyer was a pretty superstitious guy. If we won with our socks pulled up, he’d make a mental note and we’d have to keep them up for the next game. While he hesitated when I first broached the topic, Coach Meyer ultimately gave me his blessing.
On January 8, 2009, during the National Championship game, I wore “John 3:16” on my eye black. After we defeated Oklahoma, Coach, my parents, and I ate dinner together at a restaurant in Gainesville. As we chowed down, his phone rang. Coach Meyer’s responses to whoever was on the other end were curt.
“Okay, then.” Pause.
“Well,” he said as he turned to us, nodding, his face stretched in a bit of a smile. “I was just told that ninety-four million people Googled ‘John 3:16’ during the game!”
Talk about humbling. God is so big that He used something so small, a tiny biblical reference painted under my eyes, to impact people to search His Word.
I wore different verses my senior year. I felt honored when fans started a group on Facebook that rallied the Gator Nation to wear eye blacks during my last home game in the Swamp—many of them with their favorite Bible verse on it. I decided to play in the Senior Bowl, which was my last opportunity to wear a verse under my eyes. In fact, I learned that the NCAA made a new rule banning players from personalizing their eye blacks the next season. Most of the verses I chose made it to the top spot on Google Trends, which told me that many people wanted to know what these verses said.
Exactly three years after wearing “John 3:16” for the first time, I was playing for the Broncos. NFL rules forbade me from wearing personalized messages on my eye blacks, but still, without any help from me, the John 3:16 theme continued. In one of the most memorable games in my career, we beat the heavily favored Steelers 29-33.
Our team’s PR guy flagged me down just before my postgame press conference. “Hey, Timmy,” Patrick blurted out, his face flushed. “Do you have any idea what happened?”
Uh, we just beat the Steelers?” I started to say something sarcastic, in a joking manner, but dialed it back when I noticed how serious he looked, like he was about to say something really important.
“Do you know that it was exactly three years since you wore ‘John 3:16’? And during this game, you threw for 316 yards. Your yards per completion were 31.6. The time of possession was 31:06. The ratings for the night were 31.6 million. And during the game ninety million people Googled ‘John 3:16!’
Wow. To think that all those years ago, all I had wanted was just to do something different with eye black. I felt so small in that moment. I didn’t know it was exactly three years later. And I didn’t know what God was doing or that He was even doing anything at all. I was focused on doing what I needed to do to win a playoff game. And as far as the eye black went, it had become habitual, something I did without much thought, like brushing my teeth. It’s not like I asked God to do something huge with it.
I was reminded that God is a big God. And He is always at work—with or without me. Just goes to show you that we never know what God can do with the small choices we make, with the stands we take, or with something positive we do even unintentionally.
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