Just by walking onto the cricket pitch, Marnus Labuschagne is sharing his faith. The 23-year-old, who plays for Queensland as well as the Brisbane Heat, always has Bible verses written on his shoes.
And on the bottom of his bat, the number 40:31, a reference to his favourite verse from Isaiah. ‘But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’
It’s an appropriate verse for a sportsman to carry with him. When he caught up with Vision’s Matt and Alex, they asked him about balancing his faith and his passion for cricket. Though he’s faced some challenges along the way, he sees God’s hand opening doors for him all the time, and giving him surprising opportunities to spread the Word.
Born in South Africa, Marnus moved to Australia at age 10. It was actually his mother, ‘a good Christian lady’, who inspired him to have verses printed on his shoes, to reflect the way we walk in the blessings we’re given.
Marnus was raised in the church, and he says he’s always had a very strong relationship with God. As a young boy, he remembers lying in bed unable to get to sleep until he’d prayed. ‘I think that continued relationship with Christ over the years has just gotten stronger and stronger. I can’t really remember a time where I didn’t believe in God.’
Matt asked Marnus whether he prays to win a match, or just to play well. He admits that there are times when he prays for both, especially when victory feels just within reach. ‘But mainly just that I could perform at my best, and that all the glory will go to Him, for whatever happens in the day, win or lose.’
Marnus says that playing elite cricket as a Christian can be challenging. He especially struggled with the cultural expectation of sex before marriage. ‘The environment you’re surrounded with isn’t really ideal at times,’ he said, ‘and you tend to be away from home a lot.’
But he’s also had plenty of positive experiences. ‘Over the years, since I’ve been part of the squad, there’s been some amazing growth inside Queensland cricket with Christianity, and just how people perceive it. I think people sometimes think Christianity is too religion-based, and not relationship-based.’
More recently, that perception has been beginning to change, and God has given Marnus some great opportunities to contribute to that. ‘On my debut for the Brisbane Heat, Joe Burns was our captain for that day. He thought a cool way to involve me in the game that day was to say a team prayer before we went out to field.’
If cricket’s everything and anything, then you’re putting that ahead of God, and I don’t think that’s as a Christian where I want to be, and where we should be.
Though there are no longer chaplains in Queensland cricket, Marnus gets support and inspiration from like-minded Christian cricketers. ‘We’ve got a WhatsApp group called Front Foot Faith, and we’ve probably got about 20 or 30 professional cricketers around the world.’
Along with fellow Queenslanders Peter George and James Bazley, and even some players from the West Indies, Marnus also gets to talk to some of his heroes from South Africa, like Vernon Philander and Temba Bavuma. ‘We’re really growing on that front,’ he said, ‘and it’s really cool to try and connect with other Christians around the cricket world.’
Matt asked Marnus if he hoped to play for Australia one day. ‘I think that’s every kid’s dream,’ he said. ‘If that’s not your dream, I don’t really know why you’re playing first class cricket.’
But he knows that ambition can be dangerous if it gets in the way of what’s really important. The friends he grew up with in his church really helped him hold onto his convictions in the face of peer pressure and tough competition. ‘When I was younger, I found that was the key for me: to have a strong friendship group outside of cricket.’
It’s easy to put all your time and effort into something you’re passionate about, especially something as difficult and demanding as sport. But at the end of the day, if cricket’s gone, and you haven’t built relationships with people outside of cricket, it’s going to be a really tough time.’
It’s also important to him that cricket doesn’t become the centre of his life. ‘If cricket’s everything and anything, then you’re putting that ahead of God, and I don’t think that’s as a Christian where I want to be, and where we should be.’
The Bible verses on his shoes and cricket bat show that Marnus Labuschagne is committed to walking with the Lord. He understands that his talent is a blessing, and his relationship with God should always come first. With that kind of attitude, we think he’ll go a long way.