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Competition/Sports

Below is a guest post from Ryan Kendall:track girl


“There are many thoughts that go through a Christian athlete or coach’s mind during competition. I can remember many times after losses as a coach, I felt about as low as any time in my life. I can also remember the first college game I coached and how nervous I was, not knowing what to expect from my team…from our opponents…even myself. Often times, our focus is on things we can’t control or things that, in the long run, don’t matter.


This was the first year my 6th grade daughter had the opportunity to run track. Now, I’ve coached track for several years so I have a great interest in it, but I was never any good at it. In fact, I only ran track one year. That’s right, it only took me one season to realize my gifts were in other areas. My wife on the other hand, ran track in high school and was good enough to garner a track scholarship to college. With these facts in mind, my hope was that my daughter took more after her mother in this area than she did after me.


Soon after her first race, I was surprised to see how much she took after her mom. She surprised us all with her ability and even more, her drive. Turns out, she’s a very tough runner.


I was able to go to most of her meets and talk with her before her race as well as run back and forth on the field as she ran, offering her encouragement and any other tidbits that might be helpful.


She had a goal time in mind after her second race. She made progress during the season, but by the last meet of the year, she hadn’t achieved it yet. While she was warming up, we talked about the race. We talked about how much she enjoyed this race, how much better she had gotten during the course of the season, and even some strategy for the race.


As the start of her race neared we talked about what a gift her ability to run is. I talked to her about where she got that gift. I reminded her that God had given her the ability to run and it is our calling to glorify God with the gifts he gives us.


As I watched her run, I was reminded about the gifts God has given me. I was challenged by my own words to her. As a coach, I had often focused solely on my team and what I was doing as a coach while my focus needed to be on God’s provision for myself and my team.


As you compete or coach, always remember you are using the gifts and talents God has given you and it is true worship to glorify him with those gifts. Although there are many important questions to ask yourself before and during competition, one very important question to ask is, “Am I bringing glory to God with the gifts he has given me?”


I encourage you to focus on this for yourself and to encourage those athletes you have an impact on to do the same.”

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Competition/Sports, Gospel Centricity

Sports and Idolatry – In Part 1,  Part 2 an Part 3 of “How do you know when sports are an idol?”, I have tried to make this sportsidol-01-300x300connection and equip you to deal with this idolatry. I contend that three ideas are important to embrace when discussing sports and idolatry. They are


1) Assume sports are an idol 


2) Examine our deep emotions around sports – especially our anger 


3) Own the passions of our heart – especially for our own glory


In this post, I want to unpack the third idea – Own the passions of our heart – especially for our own glory.


When I examine the deeper emotions surrounding my sports, one of the things I find when I go beneath even the deep beliefs in my heart is a passionate drive to excel or win. If I probe around about that longing, I discover this longing to excel is really a longing for glory – for greatness and the recognition by others of that greatness.


This is where it gets both interesting and hard. If I am really honest, even as a Christ follower this longing for glory is not very often about God’s glory but instead is very often about my glory. I want what winning and sports’ achievements bring from our culture – the respect, the honor, the admiration, the trophies – or, in other words, the glory, my glory.


It is hard to acknowledge this because to do so shows the self-centeredness of my heart – the orientation of my longings toward me.


It is interesting to think about this orientation in light of God’s original design in Creation and the corruption from the Fall. We were created with glory, the glory of being made in the image of God, to represent God before all of creation. This greatness was bestowed on mankind by God and was intrinsic. We were to express this intrinsic glory as we moved in the fulfillment of the Dominion Mandate – to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth. At this point, the orientation of our hearts’ longings was toward God and his glory.


However, in our pursuit to be “like God” without God, to experience the shalom of the Garden while being morally autonomous, in the Fall we sinned and lost our glory. We now “fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)


One of the results was to turn the orientation of our hearts away from God and toward other things and ultimately toward ourselves. Paul says it this way in Romans 1:25 – “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever to be praised. Amen.” Paul is saying we worship or look to other things, including sports, rather to God for the fulfillment of our heart’s desires.


But he also is saying more. He is saying our hearts got reoriented. No, actually they got broken. Not broken like in being hurt but broken as in not working right. They are drawn away from God and to “idols” to satisfy these deep longings. When I understand this reality, I recognize that possibly the greatest struggle in dealing with the idol of sports is the struggle I have with ME – my self-centeredness, my selfish orientation to my heart’s longings, and in particular my pursuit of my own glory. At the core of diagnosing the idols of my heart in sports is this acknowledgement. My heart is broken – foolishly oriented to other things than God in my pursuit of glory.


Now the good news of the Gospel is that God not only forgives of all this idolatry, he also gives us a new heart, a heart of flesh that is alive to God, replacing our broken one, the cold, lifeless heart of stone. (See Ezekiel 36: 22-32) He makes it possible for us to experience not only our behavior to be modified in our sports, but for our hearts and the behavior they drive in our sports to be transformed.


This transformation doesn’t happen all at once. It is a process but this transformation process can be actuated in the exposing environment of sports if we move toward confession (acknowledgement of wrongdoing and the deep lies and self-centeredness driving us), repentance (the turning away from wrongdoing, the lies and the self-centeredness at work), and faith (embracing the truth in the place of those lies and moving in God-centeredness) in our sports, all the while asking God to enact this transformation of our hearts that he alone can bring about.


While the disease of sports idolatry is never fully overcome in this life, we can make progress in stemming the spread and actually reducing the impact.


So for the glory of God in redeemed sports, lets agree to 1) assume sports are an idol 2) examine our deep emotions around sports 3) own the passions of our heart. For God has promised –  “Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I have made you, you are my servant…I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” Isaiah 44:21,22  “I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your idols.”  Ezekiel 36:25

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Competition/Sports, Gospel Centricity

Sports and Idolatry – In Part 1 and Part 2 of “How do you know when sports are an idol?”, I have sportsidol-01-300x300tried to make this connection and equip you to deal with this idolatry. I contend that three ideas are important to embrace when discussing sports and idolatry. They are


1) Assume sports are an idol


2) Examine our deep emotions around sports – especially our anger


3) Own the passions of our heart – especially for our own glory


In this post, I want to unpack the second idea – Examine our deep emotions around sports – especially our anger.


We all know it – you can’t hide your heart on the field, the court, or whatever environment you compete in. Sports cut us open and what is in us comes spilling out at the referees, the players on the opposing team and our own team, coaches, even at ourselves. This exposing quality is one of the reasons I love sports.


While this reality is apparent, what is interesting is that I don’t find a lot of people who probe into what is underneath those thoughts and emotions, especially our emotions.


And there is always something underneath our emotions. Emotions are never independent. They are always generated by beliefs.


Let’s take anger. It was Larry Crabb, Christian psychologist, who first alerted me to the fact that anger is the result of a blocked goal. It is my emotional response to the belief that the goal I am pursuing is being blocked. (A goal is something I believe I want or need to have and pursue.) When we don’t get what we want, when our efforts to achieve our goal are stymied, we get angry. The deeper the demand for that goal, and the deeper the resulting anger when it is blocked.


Now take that understanding to the athletic field.


A coach gets really angry at an official’s call. Why? The official blocked the goal of the coach. What is the goal? While I am not sure, what I do know by the emotion is that, whatever the goal, it is important to the coach.


The depth of the emotion, whether expressed or not, is determined by the depth of the goal, the importance of that goal to the person. When I see deep anger, whether in me or others, I know the goal is really important – it is something I really need to have, have to have.


Now let’s tie that emotion to idolatry. Remember our definition of an idol – “If I have that, then I will be happy, valued, significant, etc.” I think I have to have “that” and “that” becomes an idol.


For most of us who play, watch or coach sports, the “that” is winning. (This is not the exclusive “that”, for even “having a good time” can be a “that” – a thing I have to have. Winning is just the “that” I will address now.) Therefore, when we don’t win, when someone gets in the way of our winning (including ourselves), we get angry at whoever or whatever got in the way. Anger reveals the reality of the idolatry in our sports, in this case the idolatry of winning. The deeper the anger, the deeper the idolatry, the more important the idol.


Next time you are watching, playing, coaching and you feel deep emotion, acknowledge it. Don’t run from it. Press into it by asking yourself, “Why am I feeling this?” Look for the beliefs that drive the emotion.


If it is anger, ask yourself, “What is the goal that is being blocked?” “Why is that goal so important that I feel this anger so deeply?”


The beliefs that you find underneath the emotions reveal the possible idols of our hearts. Acknowledge to God the “thats” (like winning) that you find, that were revealed through your emotions like anger. This is confession.


Turn away from, say no to these beliefs that take good things (like winning – a good desire but a bad goal) and make them ultimate things, making them idols in our hearts. This is repentance.


This begins the process of dealing with our idolatry of sports. In Part 4, I want to look at how deep this process of confession and repentance needs to go if we really want to break the tie between idolatry and our sports.

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Competition/Sports, Gospel Centricity

Sports and Idolatry – hopefully you are connecting these two ideas.sportsidol-01-300x300


In Part 1, I said there are three important ideas we need to embrace in order to diagnose the idolatry of sports. They are:


1) Assume sports are an idol 


2) Examine our deep emotions around sports – especially our anger 


3) Own the passions of our heart – especially for our own glory.


In this post, I want to unpack the first idea – Assume sports are an idol.


To begin, let’s go back to the coach, who, when asked if he had a problem with sports as an idol, quickly and emphatically responded, “NO!!” The coach seemed to assume that wasn’t even a possibility by his response. This denial goes far beyond just this coach, however.


Tim Keller counters to such a contention or assumption in Counterfeit Gods –


“I am not asking whether or not you have rival gods. I assume that we all do; they are hidden in every one of us…. In Romans 1:21-25, Paul shows that idolatry is not only one sin among many, but what is fundamentally wrong with the human heart.”


Since the fall, our hearts have been idol factories, seeking something, many things, other than God to fulfill its longings for meaning, love, significance, security, and, what is often left off this list, glory. We were made for glory. We lost glory at the fall (remember Romans 3:23 – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”). We pursue glory in “all the wrong places” to fill that void.


Sports today demonstrate one of the most often used and clearest methods for establishing this lost glory. We strive to become champions, winners, first place, the best, the highest – whether it is in world class arenas for Olympians and Super Bowls or in neighborhood courts for a community league or a pick up game.


However, rather than looking into our sports for the reality of this idolatry because of what is “fundamentally wrong with the human heart,” we say things like, “I am just competitive,” or “I am just playing hard” and deny the reality of our idolatry.


When we won’t even consider the possibility that our sports are an idol, we live out what God says of idolaters in Isaiah 44. In verse 13-20, God uses a carpenter as an example. The carpenter takes what God has provided (wood) and uses part of it for his job, part of it as fuel to warm himself, and part of it to cook his food, all within the purposes of God.


Yet, rather than stopping there, the carpenter then takes the rest and makes “a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me; you are my god.” (verse 17)


Now, the carpenter doesn’t really understand that he is doing something wrong, nor does he contemplate the possibility. “Their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say….’Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?’” (verse 18-20)


In the sports world, we don’t see, we don’t stop to think and ask, we won’t even ask, “Is this thing I play, watch, or coach an idol?”


So will you ask –
“Are my sports an idol?” with the assumption that it probably is an idol? 


Will you allow God to show you how you have taken his provision, sports, and not stopped with the design that God had in mind, but have fashioned it into a place for your glory, not his?


Will you ask God to open your eyes, to give you understanding, to give you the courage to ponder and be honest and ask the question, “Is this thing I play an idol?”


If you will, you have made the first great step to dealing with the idolatry of sports. We will look at the next step in tomorrow post – How do you know when your sports are an idol? Part 3

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Competition/Sports, Gospel Centricity

A fellow sports minister had a recent conversation with a coach where the sports minister asked, “Do you think you have a problem with sports being an idol?” The coach quickly and emphatically replied, “No!”sportsidol-01-300x300


What is interesting about his response is that this coach had recently had several emotional and difficult confrontations surrounding his coaching.

This situation prompted me to ask, “How do you know when sports or a sport is an idol?”

You might be wondering, “What kind of question is that?” thinking that idols are those things in foreign cultures that people visit and bow down to.

While the Bible mentions making objects into idols, God doesn’t limit the definition of idols to just those lifeless statues. Consider the following from Tim Keller (from his book Counterfeit Gods):

“What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give….. An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods

According to Keller, “anything can be an idol.” Even sports.

Just take out the key words to that definition and you’re left with:

  • absorbs my heart and imagination
  • gives my life meaning
  • gives me value
  • makes me feel significant
  •  

Put “sports” before each statement on that list, read them before a group of athletes, and ask “Which of these statements are true for you?” The answers would quickly show the power of sports to become an idol. Ask a whole culture like ours and you would not only see how powerful but how pervasive the idolatry of sports is.

More importantly, ask ourselves, “Which of these statements is true for me?”

  • Sports (or a sport) absorbs my heart and imagination
  • Sports (or a sport) gives my life meaning
  • Sports (or a sport) gives me value
  • Sports (or a sport) makes me feel significant
  •  

Just pause for a moment. Think about what is going on in your heart. How are you reacting to this article? Your reaction is important for you in diagnosing the extent of the problem.

Why? Because, if we are going to diagnose the reality of idols in our hearts, we must:

1) Assume sports is an idol 

2) Examine our deep emotions around sports – especially our anger 

3) Own the passions of our heart – especially for our own glory.

For more on these three points, go to “How Do You Know When Your Sports are an Idol?”  Part 2.

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The “Minnesota Miracle.”  Alabama’s overtime victory over Georgia. Georgia’s overtime win over Oklahoma. New England’s late drive to defeat Jacksonville. The Eagles defense holding off the Falcons on their final drive.   


These are just a few of the recent games that illustrate this idea – “It could have gone either way.”


In each of those games, there were great plays that led to those victories. A great catch here. An acrobatic defensive play there. Without those, the results probably would have been completely different.  


“It could have gone either way.” It is one of the things I love about sports.  


In that reality, we tend to focus on those great plays. Understandably. Those plays draw our attention and admiration for all that it takes to make them a possibility – like hard work, discipline, and teamwork.  


However, I want to shift the focus of our attention. Rather than just those great plays, I want you to consider for a moment the number of little things that led to the necessity of such great plays.  


For instance, If the Saints make their third down conversion in the previous series and score a touchdown, how would that have impacted the Vikings on the final play calling and the Saints on their defense? Would there still have been a “Minnesota Miracle”? If Alabama true freshman Tua Tagovailoa doesn’t take the 16 yard sack on the previous play, would the same play that resulted in the 41-yard score been called? Would Alabama have still won their fifth National Championship under Nick Saban? If certain penalties in a number of these games hadn’t been missed, would the dramatic events have even been a possibility?


What I am hoping to point out is that it is not just the great plays that make a difference. It is also a lot of little things, some seemingly insignificant at the time, that push the games toward such a conclusion.  


I bring this up because, in several of these games, players who made those great plays brought God into the equation.  


Here is Vikings receiver Tyler Diggs on the ‘Minnesota Miracle,’ “I give everything to God,” Stefon Diggs told Fox Sports. He thanked his coaches and teammates for giving him the opportunity, then pointed to God, “God did the rest, He put me here. And I’m just thankful.” Afterwards, Case Keenum, the quarterback who threw the pass, said, “God is so good.”

https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/entertainment/2018/january/god-is-so-good-meet-the-backup-qb-who-led-the-vikings-to-a-stunning-win-and-still-puts-jesus-first


Here is Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on the overtime victory:


In this interview, Tua says, “You know, with God all things are possible! That’s what happened tonight.”


If you watched the Georgia/Oklahoma game, Georgia quarterback, Jake Fromm, said basically the same thing in his interview after the game. So did Eagles quarterback, Nick Foles, after their win over the Falcons.


Now consider these two ideas together: 

The game could have gone either way based on not just big plays but on many “little things,” God being credited for the victory – either implied or specifically stated.


When you listen to these players and consider the teeter-totter way that these games could have gone, how do you factor God’s involvement in the game? Do you see God orchestrating the events for the winners as some of these players imply or do you chalk it up to pure coincidence, just a random series of events?


I bring this up not so much to settle the question of “Does God care who wins?” but to ask you to consider the question more deeply. (The answer is more important than you think.)


As I have considered the question and asked others to do the same, I have found troubling implications to the “No” answer and to the “Yes” answer, ones that either trivialize sports or God.  


I also bring this up because I have found this to be a very personal issue, not just something theoretical to be argued about in bars or on sports talk shows. To illustrate this point, ask the question, “Does God care who wins?” at your next lunch or breakfast. If your experience is like mine, the conversation will quickly get very lively.  


If you are tracking with me and wrestle with this question, maybe even unsure of your answer to the question, “Does God care who wins?” or want to examine more carefully the troubling implications of either of the “No” or “Yes” answer, I would point you to a book I wrote last summer titled Does God Care Who Wins?


Here are a couple of reactions from readers:


“I received the book yesterday and read it cover to cover last night! Thank you so much, I loved it…Appreciated the blend of story-telling, scripture, deep theological truth, specific quotes and stories from athletes and practical implications. Really well done and a really helpful resource that I can see lots of uses for.”  

Collegiate Soccer Coach


“I finished “Does God Care Who Wins?” on the plane Sunday… could not put it down…..Seriously, you did an amazing job addressing a question asked by millions but not answered my many, and if so, not with the thought and care you did….Going to be passing this book along to family and friends for the rest of my life… so glad God had you write this.”

Businessman and Serious Golfer


“I have been an athlete and a NAIA collegiate volleyball coach who regularly and intentionally led a counter-cultural, positive, collegiate Christian sports team for 13 years. I have naively answered that question “Does God Care Who Wins?” with this answer: ‘God doesn’t care who wins. He cares about the athletes, coaches, referees and spectators at the game. He cares how we experience the game and the relationships we continue to build with those we play with, but he doesn’t impact the outcome of a game.’ 
I held that general view (with minor alterations over the years) until I read Bob’s book.  I must acknowledge that the insights Bob shared about our God, and how He cares about us, and he therefore cares about what we care about, dramatically changed my own answer to the question raised in his book title.  What a paradigm shift!”

College Professor – Health & Exercise Science


I ask you again to consider the questions, “If the game could have gone either way, what role does God play in the outcome?  Does he actually care who wins?” 



For more – Does God Care Who Wins? Is available on Amazon – http://amzn.to/2zTvb68

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I recently ran across a satirical look at sports in the United States titled Inside America’s Largest Religious Revival You Know Nothing About. The author, Heather Smith, makes the following claim:

“This new religious revival has remained under the radar in large part because its adherents do not claim any religious attachment to this social institution, but by every measure of behaviors typically associated with religion, it is deceitful to label it as anything less.”

Following this claim, the author then creatively but very poignantly points out the following marks of the sports culture to prove her point:

  • Devotion – “These disciples are willing to sacrifice almost limitlessly where their dedication to this faith is concerned.”

  • Impartation – “One reason for the brilliant success of Athletica in handing down its tenets from generation to generation is the belief that children should be initiated into the fullness of its ways as soon as possible.”

  • Dedication –“In the more devout Athletica households, diet and other bodily disciplines are also part of the ascetic training…Those most dedicated to this life will carefully regulate their sleep to ensure supreme attunement and awareness in the practice of Athletica.”

  • Centrality – “Unquestionably, the ongoing success of Athletica is rooted in its centrality to the lives of its devotees.

 

Heather concludes her article with the following – This depth of enculturation is most certainly the key to the trenchant, growing success of Athletica, which—by all reasonable evidence—has already replaced its rival religions in most American homes.

While you may not completely go along with her tongue-in-cheek comparison of sports and religion, you have to acknowledge the underlying idea behind the article – WE WORSHIP SPORTS!

To highlight this reality even further, take a look at this 90 second video from Skit Guys.



We care about this idolatry at CEDE Partners. We don’t want to get rid of sports. We want to redeem them.

One of the key steps in that process of redemption is the acknowledgement of that idolatry. While no one likes to admit it, the truth is that everyone who plays or watches sports is prone to this idolatry. It is a part of our DNA.

Think again if you read the article by Heather Smith or watched the video by the Skit Guys. How did you feel as you did so? Did it make you feel a little uncomfortable? If so, would you wonder why? Maybe it was because it struck a little too “close to home” or too deep in our hearts.

If that discomfort is the case, acknowledge that to God and ask him to reveal the source. Ask him to show you where you might be making sports and idol and repent wherever and whenever he shows you that idolatry.

He delights to move us away from the unsatisfying pursuits of our hearts to the only one worthy of worship and who alone can satisfy our longing hearts. After all, he is in the business of redemption – both people and the idols of our culture like sports.

For further insights into these ideas, take a look at these blogs:

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“Of course, we pray for victory.”

 

This response came in answer to a series of questions from Christianity Today to the Houston Astros Spanish-speaking Chaplain, Juan Jesus Alaniz. The article ran during the 2017 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers that the Astros eventually won in the 7th game.

 

After that particular comment, the interviewer asked Juan directly, “So you pray that they’ll win?” He responded, “Oh yeah. We’re more than conquerors in Christ Jesus.”

 

“Should we pray to win?” Just as with Juan, this is a common question asked of Sports Chaplains, athletes and coaches who declare themselves Christians, or anyone who is in Sports Ministry in general. I want to take a stab at this question and, in doing so, reflect on what can happen if we don’t pray and what can happen if we do.

 

What if we don’t pray for wins?

Any athlete or coach is competing because he or she wants to win. That person may or may not want to win at all costs, but the heart desire of competitors is to be honored for their skill. This reality is shown by our longing for trophies like the one that went to the Astros.

 

With this in mind, if we don’t pray for the win, I would question how well we are acknowledging the desires of our heart. I would wonder just how honest we are being with ourselves or with God about what we really want.

 

If we do acknowledge this desire to win but don’t pray, we may be closing the door on the possibility through this prayer for God’s transforming power to change our hearts. This is significant. The Story of Redemption tells us we were made for glory and honor but lost that glory when we turned from God. Since that day, our hearts have been searching for glory, apart from God, seen so clearly in the realm of sports and our thirst for championships. Even when a person turns to God in response to his offer to redeem and restore them to glory in Christ, we still struggle with establishing this glory on our own.

 

Our prayer for winning may be an expression of that struggle. We may find through our prayer just how badly we want to win. Our prayer may actually expose the self-centered nature of our desire to win and of our request. This realization could open us to our need for turning away from that self-centeredness to God and the pursuit of his will rather than our own.

 

If we don’t pray, we may miss the opportunity for this needed transformation.

 

This exposing nature of prayer is one of the reasons the Scriptures has verses like the following:

 

“Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication,

let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6

Notice, the writer speaks about WHAT to pray. “In everything” includes the game that is about to be played.

 

He also speaks about HOW to pray. “By prayer and supplication” implies a worshipful asking. Worshipful would include coming to God believing he hears our prayers and cares about our prayers. Asking would, in that faith, offer what is on our hearts to him, including our desire to win.

 

If you don’t pray, let me ask you, “Why don’t you pray to win?”

 

I have asked others this question and their answers typically boil down to two:

  • “God doesn’t care who wins anyway so why pray.”
  • “It is too risky to open up that desire. God may deny, even squash it.”

 

If you resonate with the first answer, I would ask to think about how you know he doesn’t care and point you to a larger treatise of this subject in Chapter 2 of the book Does God Care Who Wins?

 

If you resonate with the second answer, I would ask you to consider your view of God in light of the above verse and the one immediately following it:

 

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,

will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

 

When the writer mentions the “peace of God” and guarding your “hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” he wants us to see the heart of God for prayer. Prayer is designed to bring us face to face with God, with the result being peace and deepened connection, not fear and distance. Not praying about winning removes us from that audience and the transformational nature of it.

 

What if we do pray for wins?

If we pray for the win and win, we ought to be free to embrace the win but careful not to let it establish something about our identity. God doesn’t answer the winners’ prayers because they are more deserving of the affirmative answer than the other team’s prayer. God answers these prayers because the wins and the losses are a part of his will, his kingdom coming to “earth as it is heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

 

With this in mind, winners are free to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over all of creation, including the game, and accept His will with grace and humility embracing and enjoying the glory that comes from winning. At the same time, they should also acknowledge the win as undeserved and just a taste, an echo, of the real glory promised us in Christ, received at the consummation of all things. (Colossians 1:27 – Christ in you the hope of glory.)

 

This perspective is important because of the temptation for the winners to let the win establish something about their identity or the quality of their prayers. If we are honest, we can admit an awareness of that temptation and even our succumbing to it by thinking we prayed better or are better when we win. This reality lies deep in our hearts even though it is wrong and is a great distortion of the gospel of Jesus Christ (For a further exposition of this idea, see Chapter 3 of the book Does God Care Who Wins?)

 

The opposite side of this reality is just as prevalent. If we pray and lose, we can easily think God didn’t answer our prayer because there is something wrong with our prayer. Or worse, there is something wrong with us! Both of these ideas of deserved defeat are just as much a distortion of the gospel and God’s ways for his children as the distortion of deserved victory.  

 

If we pray and lose, we are instead called to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over all creation, including our game, and trust that God had a higher, better purpose in answering our prayer the way he did. We can accept God’s will with grace and humility, allowing the disappointment to be real and owned. We can acknowledge and allow that disappointment to move us toward longing for the undeserved glory that will one day be ours in Christ at the consummation.

 

Should we pray to win? Absolutely.

 

How we pray to win matters. We should pray with an open, humble heart, willing to submit to God’s work of transformation of our hearts and our prayers and God’s good, acceptable and perfect will for us whether we win or lose.  

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