For many Americans, the “most wonderful time of the year” has nothing to do with Christmas, but everything to do with the NFL playoffs.
From now until Super Bowl Sunday, our weekends are going to be marked by must-see match-ups between the league’s best teams and unending analysis from the sport’s best commentators. As Terrell Owens once famously quipped, “Get your popcorn ready.”
“Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
While there are some great games slated for the 2017 playoffs, one of the best rivalries didn’t materialize this year: the Baltimore Ravens versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many experts agree the Ravens/Steelers rivalry is perhaps the best in all of sports.
When these teams take the field, there is an undeniable intensity — evidenced by heavy hits, crushing tackles, emotional outbursts.
But at the conclusion of the contest, who would have ever imagined that players from both teams would assemble at the 50-yard line … for prayer? Just a few minutes earlier, these warriors were smashing one another, yet now they are kneeling together with linked arms and bowed heads. Have you ever stopped to consider what these gridiron greats might be praying about at the conclusion of most NFL games? Why does prayer continue to have such a powerful influence in American sports, from the pros to the pee-wee leagues?
The first thing we ought to understand is that when athletes unite for prayer, pre-game or post-game, winning is not normally the focus. At almost every level, coaches and athletes recognize there is something very self-serving about petitioning God for wins and losses. So if those professional, collegiate, and high school athletes aren’t typically praying for God to grant them a win, what are they praying about?
1.) Athletes pray they will perform with excellence.
The Bible teaches in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” It doesn’t matter if you are a lawyer, a stay-at-home mom or a professional football player. Scripture encourages us to honor God in every activity of life. Yes, even football players can bring God glory by their exploits on the field, since He is the One who granted their athletic abilities. Many athletes pray God will strengthen them with this mindset prior to a game, and then seek to glorify Him through their performance.
2.) Athletes pray to stay free from major injuries.
Concussions. ACL tears. Broken bones. Football, perhaps more than any other sport, is a game of injuries. While many injuries are minor, some can be very serious — even permanent. Most football fans know the story of Darryl Stingley, a New England Patriots wide receiver who became a quadriplegic after suffering a spinal cord injury back in 1978. As he ran confidently onto the field that day, Stingley didn’t anticipate being carried off it. When players lock their arms in prayer following a football game, you can be certain their prayers include heartfelt thanksgiving to God for protecting them from debilitating injuries.
3.) Athletes pray for referees to call a fair game.
Over the past decade, most major sports have embraced the newest replay technologies to assist officials. While technology is great, the human element is still present and every football player knows the old adage is true: “To err is human…” Players can live with losses as long as the rules are equally applied, but nothing is more disheartening than a biased referee. When players pray, many ask God to grant wisdom and honesty to the officials. God always wants truth and accuracy to prevail (Prov. 16:11), and that includes during football games.
4.) Athletes pray they will maintain a positive Christian testimony amid fierce competition.
The late, great Reggie White was known for his strength in sacking opposing quarterbacks. But even though White had a monstrous competitive streak, he also had a burning desire to represent Jesus Christ. In today’s NFL, there are many like Reggie White —committed Christians who want to succeed on the field while keeping their devotion to God intact. Players desire to please coaches and fans, but it is God they want to please most of all. So they pray to shine brightly for Jesus (Matt. 5:14-16) especially when the stadium lights go on.
Prayer has been an integral part of the American sports landscape for years, and it will only continue, as athletes young and old realize that while fans are watching every game, there is one Divine Spectator who sustains it all by His amazing grace. Muscles that flex, hands that catch, feet that run — these are all gifts from a good God, who has given athletics as just another means for humans to glorify their Creator. So when you turn on the television this weekend to the NFL playoffs, and you see a group of players huddled in prayer, know they are praying about more than just a path to the Super Bowl. Many of them are praying for God to be honored with their lives, both on and off the field.
As for me, I’m just praying for my Baltimore Ravens to make the playoffs next season. Buckle up those chin-straps, Pittsburgh.
Ryan Day is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where he has served for 17 years. He is a regular contributor to LifeZette.