The Bible’s Viewpoint
Prayer in Sports—Does God Listen?
THE air tingles with excitement as thousands of fans pour into the stadium, bellowing support for their favorite team. The players have just finished their warm-up exercises, and the whistle to start the game is about to blow. At one side of the field, the players are crouched together, and in the middle kneels the captain, who prays: “God, please bless our team, grant us victory over our opponent, and protect us from injury. Amen.” The huddle breaks up with a loud shout, the players take their positions on the field, the whistle blows, and the organized mayhem of American football begins.
Individual and team prayer prior to, during, and after participation in various sports has become a common scene. But does God listen? Or as some contend, does this make a mockery of prayer?
“Smash Thy Neighbor”
Throughout the world, virtually every sport is marred with violence—on the field and in the stands. One former professional football player in the United States wrote: “It is arguable that body shattering is the very point of football, as killing and maiming are of war.” He comments further: “Competitive, organized injuring is integral to our way of life, and football is one of the more intelligible mirrors . . . showing us how exciting and rewarding it is to Smash Thy Neighbor.”
Smash thy neighbor? Jesus said to love your neighbor. (Matthew 22:39) It is impossible to imagine the God of love being present and blessing one of today’s sporting events, with its emphasis on win-at-all costs.—1 John 4:16.
Does God Attend Sports Events?
One factor encouraging prayer in sports is the religious teaching that God is omnipresent, that God, at all times, is actually present in all existing places and things. For example, in the book God Goes to Football Games, clergyman and former sports team chaplain L. H. Hollingsworth says: “Every formal belief we hold about God includes the idea of His omni-presence; the idea, if you please, that He is certainly present in what we call our secular experience . . . That is to say, God goes to church, and God goes to football games.”
However, the Bible does not teach that God is omnipresent. The Christian apostle Paul wrote: “Christ entered . . . into heaven itself, now to appear before the person of God for us.” (Hebrews 9:24) There are two vital points this text helps us appreciate: that God is a spirit person and that he has an established place of dwelling, heaven. (1 Kings 8:49; John 4:24) So he could not be at any other place at the same time.
God Hears His Friends
Well, if God does not attend sports events, does he at least listen to the prayers? For prayers to reach the hearing ears of this God of heaven, before whom Jesus appeared, the one praying must have knowledge, knowledge of God’s purposes, his personality, his qualities, his ways, and his name. (James 4:3) Emphasizing the need to know God, Jesus prayed: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God.”—John 17:3.
To get to know someone requires communication. God communicates to man through the Bible, and the Bible is the means by which we get to know the God of heaven. It tells us his name, Jehovah. (Psalm 83:18) The Bible also says that God loved the world so much that he sent his only-begotten Son, Jesus, here to earth so man would have the opportunity for everlasting life. (John 3:16) As we read and study the Bible, Jehovah becomes real to us, and we are drawn to him through Jesus. (John 6:44, 65; James 4:8) Because Jehovah is real, we can develop a close personal relationship with him.
Friendship with God, however, involves two-way communication. This requires talking to Jehovah through prayer. The Bible says that God is a “Hearer of prayer” and that “he is not far off from each one of us.” (Psalm 65:2; Acts 17:27) However, this does not mean that God listens to all prayers. (Isaiah 1:15-17) Whose prayers is God willing to hear?
The psalmist David said: “The intimacy with Jehovah belongs to those fearful of him.” (Psalm 25:14) In the original Hebrew, the root of “intimacy” (sohd) means “to make tight.” Hence, this verse conveys the idea of being granted admission into the inner circle of Jehovah or into a covenant of friendship with him. Only those worshipers who show proper respect are admitted. Thus, our intimate friendship with God causes us to fear breaching that relationship by doing anything that would displease him, such as treating prayer as a good-luck charm to ensure a sports victory.
Jehovah listens to prayers of honesthearted persons seeking friendship with him, and he is not partial. He does not play favorites or honor one national group, race, or even sports team, over another. (Psalm 65:2; Acts 10:34, 35) If God did hear the prayers of sports contestants and both teams prayed to him for victory, which one should he bless? Or if a player was seriously injured during a game, would God be to blame?
Therefore, we must pray for right matters. The apostle John explains it this way: “No matter what it is that we ask according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14) Jehovah listens to prayers that are in accord with his will. We need to know his will and purposes so our prayers will be in harmony with these.
God’s will and purposes and his glorious name are not associated with today’s competitive and violent sports events. God is not partial. Thus, when prayers are offered at these events, is God listening? Absolutely not!