Signs of a Delusional Mind
These are the chronicles of the esoteric . . .
praying for victory
Where ever there is football, there are emotions that run high and go deep.
In my family, game time is an intense experience - a span of three hours that can affect the psychological states of at least two people, sending them on a ride of highs and lows. It's a fascinating anthropological exercise to observe how a group of men running around on a field can so determine the mood of the room by their success in trying to get a ball from one end to the other.
What is equally fascinating is the superstition that revolves around athletics. The rituals created from (mis)perceived connections of cause and effect range from the innocently odd to the ridiculous. For example, many athletes put their equipment on in the exact same order for fear that changing it up will affect the outcome of the game.1 At one point, my brother never wore a team shirt on game day because the few times when he did the team played poorly2 - which is not unlike Sidney Crosby, who refused to speak to his mother before a game because on the one occasion he did, he suffered several injuries.
What I find even more interesting is the spirituality that is invested into sports - most distinctly, it seems, in football.3 It is not at all uncommon to see players pointing their finger towards the sky after some sort of accomplishment, be it a touchdown or an impressive interception, or for an athlete to outright thank Jesus for the acheivement.
Our local Christian radio station has a practise of occasionally inviting one of the city's players onto the Thursday morning show. During the last season, I found myself listening to a few interviews. What I discovered was that there seems to be a common mentality frequently espoused by these Christian football players and it struck me while I listened to one particular conversation.
The interview, at least in part (I don't remember it entirely), was with the football club's 'team mother' - a lady who hosted a few out-of-town players in her home, as well as provided snacks, etc. during team practise. She was constantly stating that she would 'pray for the team to win.' This only slightly bothered me at the start, but it stayed in the back of my mind. However, it increasingly began to chafe my thoughts the more I heard it.
As I wrestled with the concept, I came to the conclusion that praying for victory is either a misuse of prayer, or a misunderstanding of it. Or perhaps both.
If prayer is supposed to change our state of mind and align us to a more godly way of thinking, praying for victory is a wrong turn. Instead, it creates borderlines, dividing 'us' from 'them,' and perhaps in extreme cases even demonizes the other. To pray for our team's victory not only presupposes that we are somehow superior and theoretically more deserving of a win than the opposing group, but it also assumes that our need to win is somehow cosmically significant.
Do we actually think Adonai, the Holy One, blessed be He, cares who's gonna win a football match?4
Many people have a 'praying for victory' mentality. I realise it may be unfair to brush wide strokes based on a few interviews with religious athletes, but I feel it's a common notion. We all pray for our success, for our health, for our gain - for our own personal victories. But what happens when the game turns out to be a disaster? Or when there's injury or sickness? Did we simply not pray as hard as the other team (because undoubtedly they're praying too)? Did we not pray often enough?
These kinds of questions might imply a sort of reward-based faith, making our prayers function like magical spells. We often pray to get what we want from Adonai - such as a victory - disregarding what might actually be more important in the long run or life in general. We feel as though our faith to pray should be rewarded by an answer. We cling to verses like Matthew 21:22NRSV.
Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive. and Luke 11:9NRSV.
So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you., justifying ourselves and stamping our foot to the ground.
It's easy to argue we deserve what we ask for because the Bible says that's the way it goes. But this is a very self-centred approach, especially when passages such as those noted above are speaking about having a sincere faith - one dependent upon not only Adonai's power but also upon His will. The apostles learned this in a very real way when they failed at casting out demons because their prayers had become to them like magic. Their faith, Jesus tells them, was too litte5 and their prayers had transformed into talent shows.
Praying for victory neglects the rest of the biblical narrative and pushes aside trust. Instead of trusting that Adonai will sustain us, we pray that He gives us what we think we need - for Him to remove the pain of loss, to heal the injury, to fix the failure. But this disallows Him from working in our lives, and working through the negative. Scriptures show us that even when life goes wrong, Adonai weaves good from the bad. We grow in darkness, fed by the light. And each valley between the mountains is a lesson. Even football players know this: Despite the pain of losing a game - or perhaps because of it - they keep working at improvement. They work harder in fact. They learn from what went wrong so that next time they can acheive the win.
Thus, a more appropriate prayer, would not be for the victory, but for the performance. To pray for strength not only to endure but to also be of good sportsmanlike conduct would be a better use of prayer - to pray that we enjoy the game no matter what the outcome, that we are enriched by our teammates and pushed to better ourselves. We should instead pray that each person on the field represents their beliefs in a genuine, respectable way, whether they're on the winning team or losing team - and that the fans do the same.
1. Many also refuse to wash a particular article of clothing, such as pitcher Steve Kline who reportedly has never washed his hat. Now that would be one stinky, dirty ball cap.
2. My brother has sinced moved past this superstition, however he insists on wearing a team shirt on the day after game day - but this is mostly to proudly show his support no matter what happened.
3. There also appears to be a high number of ordained ministers who play football - especially in the NFL.
4. I'd venture to guess that no, El Shaddai is not terribly concerned with the outcome of a sports game. Like in Joshua 5:13-15, Adonai doesn't take sides - He's his own side. But He is a God of the mundane, so this is not to say He can't be found at a sports game.
5. Matthew 17:14-20.