Let us pray…
We’ve all seen it. And if you have played sports, chances are that you have also done it. Before the game, a prayer that asks God bless you or your team with a win.
Coaches call for prayer and one would not dare ask, “Coach, are not there players on the other team who also know God? Are they not praying? Is our prayer for victory somehow more important than theirs? Is our team higher on God’s pecking order?“
Those questions might have take one from starting to bench-warming. And so, players hold hands. Bow. Close eyes. And pray.
Of course, unless you were one of the truly unique ones who never tasted a defeat, the post-game posed its own theological questions, “Coach, why did God not hear us?“
From a player’s perspective, post-game questions like this would not have been as injurious to playing time. Game’s now over and the stadium is empty. But from a coach’s perspective, an inquisitive member of the losing team can raise questions that confront the meaning of the pre-game ritual.
Does God care about who wins and who loses a sporting event?
Surely, we spend a considerable amount of time on pre-game prayers. We pray to ask the Lord for a performance without injury. In one of sports’ most memorable pre-game prayers, the football teams from the University of Nebraska and Penn State University knelt together tearfully before a game played after 9/11 terrorist attacks. Both a request for safety and comfort are laudable and understandable. Often, however, pre-game prayers are goal-oriented requests for heavenly favor to rack up a “W” for my team, while sending the other guy home with an “L”.
Athletics, as with other contests, are zero-sum propositions. They leave winners and losers in quite different conditions. And in either case, winners and losers can respond to those conditions in ways moral or immoral. While God is impartial to who wins and who loses, he is very partial to our response to the outcome given the choices set before us.
To the Winners..
To winners come a choice to exercise ego-stroking bragging rights. Likewise, winners can demonstrate humility and grace towards a defeated opponent. After Muhammad Ali’s victory over Joe Frazier in The Fight of the Century on March 8, 1971, rumored circulated that Frazier had died. Ali, upon hearing this said, ‘If Joe dies, I’ll never fight again. I’ll quit boxing.Winners can convert their fortunes to a family’s first college attendee or indulge in opulence and reckless spending. Countless athletes have walked through the doorway of winning into shallow relationships and leaving a trail of out-of-wedlock babies. But winning has also opened doors to service, exemplified by Roberto Clemente using his life resources to aid the citizens of Managua, Nicaragua after a devastating earthquake on December 23, 1972. In the final analysis, God is concerned about our relationship with him, whether we win or lose in a sporting event, a business deal, in the political arrangement, or competition for a job position.
A Sovereign Listener…
I have no indisputable Scriptural evidence that God is particularly concerned about the outcome of our games. The Bible does not find God intervening in chariot races as he is seen pushing back the waters of The Red Sea or stopping Saul on the road to Damascus.
My sense is, with the exception of extraordinary circumstances, God does not orchestrate the outcomes of games no more than he dictates which cluster of grapes to select from a grocer display.
How we observe the Lord operating in the affairs of mankind are not chains that constrain him. He is constrained only by his own nature. That is, God does not contradict his essence. Within that context, God is sovereign. He does as he chooses. He blesses whom he wills to bless. As such, God can elect, without the permission from any, to will a certain outcome — even the outcome of a game.
Sounds contradictory? Not in the least bit. What this simply says is, where God deems an extraordinary circumstance merits God’s intervention, he takes actions necessary to accomplish his will.
Having watched ESPN 30-30’s “Survive and Advance“, I am moved to believe that the 1983 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship was an extraordinary circumstance. I believe that the same God who knew cancer would attack and ultimately claim the life of North Carolina State head coach, Jim Valvano, had a special blessing in-store for North Carolina State. The team’s journal from an abysmal regular season, to a must-win Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship, and the ultimate prize included numerous most unlikely events. The final against the University of Houston (a.k.a. Phi Slama Jama) was billed as a foregone coronation for the Guy Lewis’ Cougars and a funeral for the Valvano’s Wolfpack.
Incredible conclusion to the 1983 NCAA Championship Game
Unbelievers might scoff at the idea. But reflecting on this story, in the context of Valvano’s health condition, leads me to believe that God’s hand was on Coach Valvano and his team.
Just my thoughts. What do you think?
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