The Sport of Praise
Prayer is back in the news, but it is only marginally related to the class room. Prayer is now before us as the focus of NCAA football celebrations.
You see in response to a growing trend of players removing their helmets to pose for television, taunt and bait opponents, and run through elaborate dance routines after touchdowns or other significant game impacting acts, the NCAA included within the unsportsmanlike conduct rule any delaying, excessive, or prolonged act by which players attempt to focus attention on themselves. A video tape was developed to show examples of such conduct, and kneeling in prayer after a touchdown was one of the 150 examples used. Inclusion of kneeling in prayer as a punishable offense received quite a bit of discussion, but in the end it was retained as the rule clearly had more to do with delay of game than religious expression. But not so, in the eyes of Coach Sam Rutigliano of Liberty University. Coach Rutigliano and Liberty University have filed a lawsuit against the NCAA challenging enforcement of the ruling and citing the 1964 Civil Rights Act as grounds.
I've long ago grown bored with players doing anything to draw attention to themselves and away from the game--and this includes basketball where there is no helmet to remove. And I am always amazed when a player expects God's favor to extend to athletic events where participants may just as well disdain Him as serve Him. One has only to consider the spectacle of a boxer rejoicing after bludgeoning an opponent into submission--even if we suppose that the opponent is not a Believer, would God desire praise for allowing such physical abuse. But back to football, suppose one gives thanks after each point yet plays on the losing team? Would it have been better not to praise God? Suppose both teams pray and praise God throughout, how would God determine the victor? Would there be a praise-off?
I've observed that Barry Sanders of the NFL Detroit Lions never engages in any outward conduct after scoring a touchdown. I've also never observed Darrell Green of the Washington, D.C. NFL team ever engaging in any conduct to draw attention to himself (we'll avoid the team name for the obvious reason). To me it seems such acts are obviously carried out for the players' benefit of association rather than to give thanks or lift up the name of Jesus. It is almost as though the player has decided to exalt himself or herself--"there may eventually be defeat, but this is my moment in the spotlight and I will have it".
Prayer and praise are mighty instruments given us that we might come to God and be equipped with His counsel, and that our spirit might grow strong by recalling the great things God has already done. And both prayer and praise within the congregation of Believers have much impact. The Psalms record scores of times David praised the Lord among the congregation of Believers. In fact Psalms 40:9 reads as though one is required to tell other Believers of God's blessings that they too might be strengthened and encouraged.
Jehosaphat sought God's help before all the people when he found that the tribes of Ammon and Moab marched against a defenseless Judah (II Chronicles 20). And we know that the praise (shout) of the children Israel at Jericho brought down the walls of the enemy (Joshua 5:1-5). But there is no such enemy at a sporting event, and encouraging others that God "will also help you score" would take the sport out of the game, if it were true.
Prayer and praise are not sport. As said in previous issues (vol.7 No.3) prayer is our tool for accomplishing God's purpose. We must not give it up and we must treat it with respect.