There I was in a musty church fellowship hall holding hands with a team of High School football players. The coach was the spiritual leader appointed to offer their hearts to God before they rode to the stadium for the playoff game.
“God, we trust in your word, and we have written it on our hearts. We claim your promise in Phillipians that ‘we can do all things through him who gives us strength.’ As your chosen people we claim that promise. You know where we are going tonight, and we ask for your blessing on this game. We ask that you help us to lean on your strength because we know that through the power of your spirit we can do all things. We can preach in your name, we can withstand temptation, and tonight we can beat our opponents. Give us your strength tonight. Lead us to victory, and we will give you the Glory. Amen.”
That was pretty much it. They were all wrapped up in the emotion of the coming game, and gave many murmurs and ‘Amen’s to the rousing prayer. But something didn’t feel quite right to me. Did God want my friends on the football team to win? Would he help them? What if the other team had more Christians?
In the same way, I am sure that God hears a lot about the super bowl every year. I know that each side asks him to give a victory. The question is, does God make that call? And more to the point, how hands-on is God?
What bothers me about prayers like these it that it makes God seem like a grand puppet-master directing every detail of world events to fit his or his followers’ wishes. Though that simple explanation (that God controls every detail of every moment) is tidy and easy to understand, the reality is far more messy.
What causes the mess is the fact that God has given us the gift of free will. That means that we can choose to follow God’s plan or not. If that weren’t enough, when Jesus left the earth after the resurrection he takes the whole plan and places it in the hands of the disciples. This is not a flowchart-friendly, actionable plan. This is to be enacted by empowering people to choose to do what God has called them to do.
If they don’t? Well, they don’t. That part of the plan fails. That can make it seem like God is hands off, but the opposite is the case. When you look at the scriptures, you get the sense of a masterful playwright/director who is constantly coaching the actors, rewriting scripts while he is working on bringing the whole thing around to the ending in his mind.
God is constantly calling, constantly empowering, constantly convicting, constantly working through us to both understand and follow his will.
What does all of this say about the outcome of the big game? It’s a messy answer. The things we know for sure about God’s will are that he seeks justice, love, compassion, honesty, integrity, etc. We know that he wants to make earth look more like heaven. All of these things are much more massive goals and directions than a football game. And, even if this game was a key piece of his grand design, he chooses to work through his people who can ultimately choose to follow themselves instead of him.
Why even talk about this? Because if we can stop thinking of God as a genie in a bottle and think of him as the organizer of a massive movement to change the world, maybe we will be more conscious of how our actions follow his plan. Maybe we will use our prayers to help us discern his direction, and maybe will will live a life that seeks to be used to do his will rather that use him to do our own.