Praying to win the game

There’s a lot of things that are wierd about following Jesus.  Especially from the outside.

Close to the top of the list of weird things about Christianity?  Prayer.

Many of us (myself include) suggest that prayer isn’t just an act of communication.  The extra-super-wierd part is the suggestion that God might actually change the world based on what we are praying.

A popular way of criticizing this is to suggest that praying this way turns God into Santa Claus.    People familiar with the way we Christians do things can notice that we have prayer lists, prayer chains, prayer emails, prayer requests…  These practices lead to the further question, “What, reality is like a popularity contest?  If you can just get enough people to pray for your thing it’ll happen?”  Even if we avoid this, and if we just act like a “prayer warrior” and pray long and hard for a thing, the retort can become, “Oh, so God’s got some kind of price tag.  If you just earn enough prayer points by praying long and hard enough for a thing, then it becomes yours.”

I had this thought today about what this kind of prayer is actually about.  The I understand that some of the specific practices and methods are open to debate, we don’t want to say “Well, we shouldn’t ask for anything in prayer” because scripture seems pretty clear that we should.

I’d like to meet the Santa Claus idea about half way, and consider Christmas lists.  I made them when I was a kid.  Sometimes I’d scrawl them out in my attorcious handwriting.   Other times I’d go through catalogs and circle all the cool stuff.  Eventually I started color-coding these; one color meant I kind-of wanted it.  Another color meant I definitely wanted it.

I would like to hope that if you were to randomly scramble all my years of Christmas lists, that I would be able to infer with pretty good accuracy the order they came in.  I hope I was asking for more mature things when I was older and less mature things when I was younger.

I hope the same for our prayer lives.  I hope that the things we are praying for now are more mature than the things we were praying for in years past.   Calling these things to mind, being intent and intense about them, is a way to burn them into our brains, a little bit.

But more than this, being intent and intense requires that we think about what it would mean for these things to happen.

A person, for example, might pray that his football team wins.  I would like to hope that as they focus on this idea, they might come to realize that this really means that they are praying for the other team to lose.  Perhaps, after a season, they might begin not praying for this, anymore.

I would submit that God might even sometimes answer such an immature prayer; just as I might fufill a Christmas list that asked for something I didn’t think my kids needed.

I might do this because I want my kids to know that I do read their list.  I might do this because my words won’t be very convincing that it won’t be as good as they thought it was.  I might do it to teach them that happiness doesn’t come from stuff.

And so perhaps a team would otherwise have lost a football game.  I’d suggest that God might turn this around.  He might wish to teach the praying quarterback that He does listen to prayers.  He might do this to teach the praying quartback that this victory comes at a price (perhaps he sees the disapointment in his opponents eyes.)  He might do this to teach the quarterback that even after he wins, the quarterback still feels incomplete and needs God.

It’s a long journey.  Probably the things I’m praying for now will seem silly compared to what I’m praying for a few years from now.  (Hopefully they will!  What a terrible thing it would be to stop growing!)  There are things even now that aren’t much above winning the football game that feel important.  It’s so cool that God grows us past this stuff.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

3 thoughts on “Praying to win the game”

  1. good thoughts Jeff!
    I used to get so irritated when I was an Asst. Coach on a football team and the head coach would pray for victory.
    It still irritates me when someone prays for God to intervene in a game.


  2. interesting…

    i believe the most difficult aspect of prayer (other than doing it) is that it’s a little bit about us. What makes that a tricky thing is that a healthy relationship with God begins with understanding that it’s not about you.

    Jumping into prayer with a “list” of desires that God ought to fulfill is wrong – overstated, but wrong.

    Prayer IS more than communication – like you’ve pointed out – it’s fellowship. If God desires our attention, our affection, our obedience, our love, our hearts, our lives, it begins with supplication and an audience with the King.

    What we get out of it that’s somewhat mystical is that a humble heart seeking and thirsting for righteousness (not in others or the world, but in themself) will be filled.

    In fact i just encoured a friend to speak what’s on their mind before God – warts and all – so that the Spirit could correct them. A person begins to see their folly in the presence of God.

    The point of prayer is for US to be changed, not for God to be influenced. You can’t fool the God who sees the end from the beginning. If God moves according to your prayer, it might actually be you moving into God’s will.

    From our perspective, it’s hard to know the difference.


  3. Thanks guys. David, I hope that married life is treating you well.
    I don’t have a lot to say about your comments– I am in agreeance with you both.


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