At a time when Americans are leaving organized religion in large numbers, according to a 2008 Pew Research poll, Tebow is leading his own personal counterinsurgency.
“Every Sunday we have a service for our players and their families,” says Meyer, who remembers when “three or four kids would show up. Now the room’s full.”
Since Tebow’s arrival on campus, and in large part because of him, Florida has launched a series of community-service initiatives. Even as the football program has suffered an embarrassing string of arrests, the number of hours players devote to charitable causes has dramatically increased. “Our community service hours are completely off the charts,” says Meyer, who describes his quarterback’s influence on the team as “phenomenal.”
Only slightly less remarkable was the decision by Meyer and his family last summer to take a Tebow-inspired missionary trip to the Dominican Republic. It had begun to prey on Meyer’s conscience that he luxuriated on a cruise ship or sat on a beach while his starting quarterback spent his vacation working in a Filipino slum. Thus did the Meyer clan sign on for six days of servitude in the Dominican—and end up loving it. “Tim has done a lot of things to open my eyes,” says the coach, “and that’s one of them.”
Even Meyer would admit, however, that the Tebow Effect can be disruptive. Various Gators assistants were approaching DefCon 1 in the hours before last January’s BCS title game against Oklahoma: Fifteen or so players were not in their rooms at the team hotel and couldn’t be found. It turned out they’d been summoned to Tebow’s room, where the quarterback admitted that the immense pressure of the looming title game had begun to distract him, wear him down. Thumbing through his Bible (the one with “timmy” inscribed on the cover), he’d chanced upon a passage in Matthew that gave him a measure of calm and that he wanted to share with them: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
I thank God for athletes like Tim Tebow. If you are a follower of Jesus, you can’t help but like this young man. Isn’t it amazing how God can take the abilities of christian athletes who perform in a pride-infested arena, where the game of football has a god-like status, and use them to capture the attention of a needy world. Let’s pray for the fame of God to continue to spread through the life of Tim!