Jim Nantz pushes through the screaming crowd to ask, “How did it feel when you hit the game-winning shot?”
The beaming player answers, sort of: “I just want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. God was in control. God was not going to let us lose. We owe it all to God. Yeah God!”
Don’t you wish Jim would respond, “Let me get this straight. You think that in the moment you let go of the ball, God said, ‘I’m through letting the best team win. I’ll take it from here.’ Explain this to me, college educated theologian. If you think God fixes basketball games, why do you suppose God doesn’t fix the mess in the Central African Republic?”
Brent Musburger could interject, “If you really believe that God is the reason you win, why doesn’t your team skip practice to fast and pray? Better yet, why don’t you spend the time caring for poor children? Given your theological perspective, why wasn’t Mother Teresa a deadly three-point shooter?”
Wouldn’t you love to hear Dick Vitale shout, “Listen, diaper dandy, you played Awesome with a capital A, but if you think God is the PT prime time performer for your team, how do you think that makes the other team feel? What does God have against them, baby? Unbelievable.”
If God picks the winners, why does God want Mercer, my school, to ever lose? How often would Mark Fox, the Georgia coach, have to go to church to win as many games as John Calipari, the Kentucky coach? If God is picking games why do the Blue Devils keep winning and St. John’s keeps losing? Why should Las Vegas ever beat St. Mary’s? If God is in control, why doesn’t Notre Dame win more often? What are Baptists to make of Brigham Young having a good team? Where in the Bible can we find anything to suggest that God is more interested in the Final Four than the hungry?
We should challenge silly ideas about prayer. God is not a genie and prayer is not rubbing the lamp. God does not need to be told what needs to be done or that God needs to get to work on it as quickly as possible.
From God’s point of view it must be amusing and sad to listen to prayers for contradictory wishes. People pray vehemently on opposite sides of wars as well as basketball games. Some pray for God to rig the lottery. Some pray for our hair to grow back.
If we pray believing we will receive anything we ask for, then we will find it hard to keep praying when we do not. We may find it easiernot to pray. Many of us have been praying all of our lives and still feel like beginners.
Every once in a while you promise to pray more. You decide to pray for ten minutes. You find a quiet place: “God, it’s been a while since I’ve prayed. I know I don’t pray enough, but I’m praying now.”
You think, “This isn’t a good prayer. I have to pick up the pace. I need to praise God or something.”
“God, I praise you for being so praiseworthy.”
“Well, that sounds redundant.”
“God, I thank you for everything I should thank you for.”
“That’s stupid. Maybe I should confess. That doesn’t seem like fun. What’s in the freezer? Do we still have any Cherry Garcia? I don’t need ice cream. I should get up early and go to the gym. Maybe I can pray on the treadmill.”
Prayer can feel like talking to ourselves. Without thinking about it, we stop praying for a while, and we don’t miss it much.
We need to keep praying because we need God. We need to pray even when we don’t know what to pray, when we have bad memories that won’t go away, when our addictions seem more powerful than we are, when our child is troubled and we don’t know how to help, and when we can’t pray like we wish we could.
You and I may feel like our prayers are silly, but if our prayers are sincere, then they are not foolish at all. So we pray in the shower, at breakfast, on the way to work, at work, at school, at home, and before we go to sleep. We pray for justice, honesty, and compassion. We pray because when we pray God is there turning hatred to love, doubt to faith, and despair to hope.
When we pray, God does not always answer our prayers the way we want, but God comes, and deep in our souls, that is what we are praying for.