I’m always glad when I see teams gather for prayer before games. Circled up, on a knee, heads bowed, asking the Lord for strength and protection. Sometimes the prayer is a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Sometimes, it’s led extemporaneously by a player. I always appreciate when a team acknowledges that, at least for a moment, it’s not all about the game.
At the same time, I often wonder how sincere such acts of prayer are. Whether or not God is overly concerned with who wins a particular game, the prayer before the game is something I’m sure he’s concerned with.
Proverbs 28:9–“He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, even his prayer is an abomination.”
If we aren’t interested in walking with God, in obeying what his word says, prayer is an insult to him. This isn’t to say that the genuine prayer of a repentant person is an insult. Not at all. But, clearly, the prayer of a person or team uninterested in God’s involvement (other than winning games) in their lives is misguided, at best.
How, then, can we begin to add meaning to the prayers before the game (or practice, or workout, or whatever)?
- Let someone who knows Jesus lead the prayer. You don’t have to be a preacher to lead in prayer. You just need to know the Savior. The humble prayer of someone in relationship with Jesus is welcomed in heaven. If you’re a player and your team doesn’t pray at all, you don’t have to drag anyone with you. Just bow and pray by yourself. Go to Jesus on behalf of your teammates.
- Pray the Scripture. No, not Philippians 4:13, which isn’t about sports, but about contentment. Pray things over your team that they desperately need–like the gospel of Jesus. In your prayers, thank God for his love and grace, ask him for wisdom and camaraderie, praise him for the ability to play the game. In other words, take the focus off what you want (a win) and put it on Jesus.
- Walk with God and don’t worry if your team prays or doesn’t pray before the game. Refuse to approach prayer as a good luck charm for your team. If that’s what your team is doing, it’s probably best to end the pregame prayers. Remember, just because a team or an individual prays…that doesn’t mean “God is on their side.” It might mean nothing at all. So, just walk with Jesus. Ask him to shape you into his likeness. Then, go be the coach or teammate that comes from an ongoing life spent in the presence of the Savior. Your team needs that far more than a pregame prayer, anyway.
Lord Jesus, show me whether my prayers are from a heart set on you or on me. I want to be the coach/teammate who’s more concerned with walking with you than whether my team prays or not. Amen.