Premier League player Gavin Peacock found fulfilling all his dreams still left him unsatisfied.
For professional players, worshiping their chosen sport is almost a prerequisite for success.
Gavin Peacock knew about that from a young age. His father was a professional soccer player for Charlton Athletic from 1962 to 1978 and served as an inspiration, teacher, and role model for Gavin.
The English former professional soccer player recalls how he grew up around the smell of the dressing room, the sweat of the training ground, and the stadium on a Saturday.
"Naturally my childhood was filled with dreams of following in my dad's footsteps," he tells Christianity Today.
"I was a kid who intensely wanted to achieve in the classroom and on the field.
"My father taught me the necessary self-control, discipline, and skills to succeed in education and in the professional sports arena."
Never could he have predicted he would one day be giving it all up to move to Canada with his wife and children.
Gavin's success started when, as a 16-year-old, he left school and signed a professional contract with Premier League Queens Park Rangers— his dream.
And yet he says he was not really happy.
"I was an insecure young man in the cutthroat world of professional sport," he says.
"Soccer was my god. If I played well on Saturday I was high, if I played poorly I was low. My sense of well-being depended entirely on my performance.
"I soon realized that achieving the goal wasn't all it was cracked up to be."
Gavin did not grow up in a Christian home, he explains, and never heard the gospel message (good news about Jesus).
me happy”"Sunday school gave way to Sunday soccer. I thought God existed to make me happy and that if I were a good person I'd go to heaven."
His thinking started to change when he was invited to a Bible study and experienced something he did not expect.
"I walked into a room full of young people as the one with money, career, and fame," Gavin recalls.
"I even rolled up in the car I had bought, a 1980s icon, the Ford Escort XR3i. I was the in crowd, and they were not.
"Yet when they spoke about Jesus, they displayed a life and joy that I did not have. They talked about sin as if it had consequence and about God as if they knew Him."
Gavin continued going to the Bible study. He was taught about Jesus, how He was sent to earth to die on the cross and pay the price for the things we would do wrong in our lives. He was taught about how much God loved him and wanted good things for him.
"I realized that my biggest problem wasn't whether I met the disapproval of a 20,000-strong crowd on Saturday," he says; "my biggest problem was my sin and the disapproval of Almighty God.
"I realized that the biggest obstacle to happiness was that soccer was king instead of Jesus, who provided a perfect righteousness (perfect standing before God) for me.
"My heart still burned for soccer, but it burned for Christ more."
The scrutiny that came after his conversion, Gavin says, was intense. He recalls "thrilling and testing days" filled with highs and lows, cup finals and promotions, defeat and relegation.
"On one level the uncertainty and drama [in professional sport] spur men on to play their best— on another level they cause deep insecurity," he says.
"That used to be me as a young man, but as a Christian I now feared the Lord more than the crowd. Soccer wasn't my idol anymore."
And so at 35 years old, with a chronic knee injury, Gavin was able to retire in peace.
"Giving up a good thing or having it taken away reveals how much you love the Lord," he says.
"Through the pain of our losses He shows us that He is always with us and asks us if He is enough.
"And so it was when I ended my 18-year career in July 2002. It was a privilege to play for QPR, Chelsea, and Newcastle United, but the schoolboy dream was over."
After a brief broadcasting career at the BBC Gavin says he knew he was going to give up his soccer career, for his second dream career, serving God.
In 2008, he left England for Canada and within weeks he "went from speaking on TV about David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo to writing papers at a Bible College".
"Remarkably, I am still here as a pastor at Calvary Grace Church in Calgary and international director for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood."
In conclusion, Gavin says: "Turning from sin and trusting in Christ for salvation isn't just a one-time initial event— it is the substance of the Christian life."•