Across the years I have had the opportunity to pray about various subjects in various venues. I have prayed for shrimp boats, restaurants, class rings, marching bands, backpacks, farmers and crops, houses, memorial plaques, and assorted pets.
Then there are times I have prayed at sporting events. I have prayed for no injuries, good sportsmanship, good performance, and lessons from healthy competition. But God, who knows us better than we know ourselves, knew what I really wanted to pray those times was “God, help our team win. Smile on our team tonight.”
When I pastored in Greenville, NC, it was that church’s tradition to feed football teams before a game and have prayer with the players and coaches. For three years 2003, 2004, 2005, we hosted the J.H. Rose High team before they left for Raleigh to win the state championships. My husband said the prayer each time. Then for the fourth year, 2006, he was not available and recruited me. I prayed over the team, then I prayed without ceasing through the entire game. My private prayer during the game was embarrassingly selfish: “God, please don’t let those guys say that they won every year until ‘that woman’ prayed.” The Ramparts brought home the 2006 title. I knew it was not because, or in spite of, any words I prayed. Still I was relieved and grateful.
A couple of years ago, Fran Tarkenton, Hall of Fame quarterback and son of a Pentecostal minister, shared in a Wall Street Journal story, “Before every game, no matter what team I was on at the time, the coach would always ask the most devout player to say a prayer. The prayer was always pretty much the same thing: Let there not be any injuries, let everyone play a good game. No one ever asked to win the game, probably for fear that God would punish us for asking.”
We should take seriously time with God in prayer, but I do not believe God punishes honesty about what is on our minds and in our hearts. I believe it is o.k. to pray about our heart’s desires. We should though make sure our prayers are honest, earnest and in keeping with God’s will for us.
Back during the glory years of the Chicago Bears when Mike Ditka was their coach, William “Refrigerator” Perry was their 338-pound defensive tackle and Jim McMahon was their brash, outspoken quarterback, John Cassis was often their pre-game inspirational speaker.
Cassis claims that one day Ditka was about to deliver a locker room pep talk. Just before he began, he said to Refrigerator Perry, “Fridge, when I finish my talk, I’d like you to close with the Lord’s Prayer.” Then Ditka began his talk.
Meanwhile, John McMahon punched Cassis and whispered, “Look at Perry. He doesn’t know the Lord’s Prayer.” Sure enough, Perry sat with a look of panic on his face, head in his hands, sweating profusely. “That’s impossible,” said Cassis. “Everybody knows the Lord’s Prayer.”
McMahon said, “I’ll bet you $50 Fridge does not know the Lord’s Prayer.” Cassis was not sure about wagering on the Lord’s Prayer, but he took the bet. When Ditka finished his talk, he asked the men to remove their caps. Then he nodded to Perry and bowed his head. After a few awkward moments of silence, Perry said with a shaky voice, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” Cassis felt a tap on his shoulder. It was McMahon. “Here’s the $50,” McMahon whispered. “I had no idea Perry knew the Lord’s Prayer.”