Sports is HUGE with kids, so no doubt, kids are interested in the success of Tim Tebow and all the talk about the “miracles” associated with his success, including yesterday’s stunning overtime victory in the NFL playoffs. In case you’re not up-to-date on the whole Tebow phenomenon, here’s a quick summary. For kids, the question that the whole Tim Tebow experience raises is whether or not God answers our prayers when it comes to things such as sports. When Tebow wins, the media has a field day couching his victories in religious terms, invoking words and phrases such as miracle, prayer, divine intervention, and so on. (The fact that he writes John 3:16 on the patches below his eyes and threw for 316 yards yesterday was not lost on anyone!)
Do I think athletes should pray? Absolutely. However, prayer is not something that affects God or alters his mind. Prayer affects us. Prayer can help an athlete play to the best of his or her ability. That doesn’t change the fact that athletes on another team may have superior ability. Tim Tebow draws strength and inspiration to play football to the best of his ability and the fact is, the man is a superb athlete. His prayer often enables him to play to the fullest and that effort often pays because his fullest is pretty darn good. That does not mean that his prayer caused God to favor him in yesterday’s game or any other game. No doubt, some players on the Steelers prayed just as fervently. God does not decide who wins or loses based on prayers. He inspires us to discover and use our gifts. The outcome is determined by a combination of execution and chance. That’s life.
Prayer is lifting our minds and hearts to God. When we pray, we do not do so in order to change God’s mind. Prayer changes us. When we ask God for things, it is our way of sharing with him our desires and then listening to God as he helps us order those desires according to his will. If it is extremely important to us that a certain team win a certain game, then we should pray to God about it, not because that prayer will influence God to decide the outcome of the game in our favor, but to share with God a strong desire we have in hopes that, whatever happens, we may discover his will.
At the same time, I have no doubt that the power of prayer affects how people respond to situations. A sick person can heal faster because the power of prayer is strengthening them. A team can play at their highest level because the power of prayer is energizing them. But thinking that God chooses who wins and who loses based on those prayers is to trivialize both prayer and God.