Dear Joey Barton…

joey bartonYesterday, you, Joey Barton, tweeted this comment (which was followed by a barrage of criticism).

I’m not going to criticise you here but I am going to answer your question. Why would people pray? Does God care about the outcomes of a match? As 140 characters does not seem enough to answer such a big questions I thought I’d write this. I’m going to leave aside the question of whether God actually exists or not, and for the purpose of this, assume that he does.

Many sportspeople pray before a match. In the football world, Brazilian legends such as Kaka and Lucio are well-known for it. At the final whistle of the 2002 World Cup final, the victorious Brazilian team all knelt and prayed on the pitch before celebrating. Daniel Sturridge, Kieran Richardson, and Bobby Hassell are all others who show their faith publicly, sometimes during a match. Some former professional footballers have even gone on to become pastors (Graham Daniels, Gavin Peacock).

Why would sports people pray before a game?

We cannot assume that they are praying to win, although this might be the case. However, it is not the case that God grants all the wants or whims of everyone who prays to him. In any case, there may be others on the opposing team who are also praying to win – whose supplications should God listen to? Which team should win?

The Christian God is a relational God. He is not a great ‘Santa’ in the sky who hears our pleas and decides whether to answer them depending on how good we have been recently. He is a God who created humanity out of love and who wants to know us. Therefore we pray to connect with him, just as you talk to a partner or friend in order to connect with them. Sometimes the prayers include asking for things, sometimes they don’t. But in either case, when we pray we relate to Him and are more likely to understand who he is and what he is like – again just as in talking to a friend you understand more about them. So some prayers before games might be praying for a result, a fair game, or a good performance. Other times it might simply be that I will use the talent and character God has given to the glory of God. For it is God who gives all of us gifts and abilities, and it is up to us how we use them.  But win or lose, the person of faith would want to glorify God in how they act and in what they say. Often we learn more about God, and about ourselves, when we lose.

Your second question: Does God care about the outcomes of a football match? Ok, Joey, so those weren’t your exact words but I think that the gist of the question. In one sense the answer is No, and in another it is Yes. No, because God doesn’t support any particular team (although if he did it would be Newcastle). And Yes, because God cares about the smallest details of his creation. There’s a verse in the Bible which tells us not to be anxious about our life because “God has numbered the hairs on your head”. He knows how many there are, therefore he surely knows our needs before we speak them. He is omniscient – all-knowing. So Yes, he knows, and he cares about the outcome of the football match, but the reason he cares is because he cares for the individuals playing. Perhaps by losing one of them would get closer to God, would learn more about themselves, or would drive them to change something about their life. Perhaps a loss would enable them to recognise that the only acceptance that is constant and unchanging is from Him and not from the shouts or jeers of a fickle crowd. Or perhaps by winning there would come the confidence (such as with Kaka or Kieran Richardson) to say a little something about their faith and therefore encourage others who may be struggling.

So there’s just a few answers for you. I hope they help. I speak of someone who has always been fairly rubbish at sport, but who enjoys it. I won trainee-clergy snooker tournament once whilst at college studying how to be a vicar. I should add that on my way to winning that, I fluked the blue and pink in the semi-final to knock out the favourite. It’s a good job my value doesn’t rely on my ability, because if that’s the case I’m stuffed.

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