When I went to high school, two things were always done before a football game: prayer and the National Anthem.
Even the two or three atheists at our school looked forward to hearing the prayer, because unlike the National Anthem, the prayers were unpredictable and hard to control (kind of like God). Sometimes the prayer would be sweet and sentimental, thanking the Almighty for the nice weather and all the families represented and for apple pie and the American way.
Sometimes they would be creative, such as a prayer I heard that said, "Lord, you know that life can be as tough as nails." Most often, they would ask for safety for the players and for good sportsmanship in the stands and on the fields. There was one unwritten rule: nobody ever prayed for their team to win. That is, until I went to homecoming at Mississippi College.
Mississippi College is a Baptist private school that plays Division III football. Their mascot is the Choctaws, and their alumni include many Baptist preachers like myself. So it is quite an honor to be asked to say the prayer before the game. And since it’s a private school, no judge can tell them not to pray. But even the Baptist preachers were surprised one year.
I don’t remember who gave this prayer. But I remember what he said. With a passionate, deep voice, the preacher petitioned, "Oh Lord, would you please protect our gentle Choctaws against those mean _____ [insert name of mascot of other team]. Help our Choctaws to prevail on the field victorious. In Jesus’ name, amen."
There was a rumble in the crowd after that prayer. Some people laughed; a few uttered "amen." The visitor’s stands were silent. I think they were in shock.
I don’t remember who we were playing against. It may have been Millsaps, the Methodist school. If so, I’m sure they were lifting up competing prayers in response.
Which reminds me — I don’t think God really cares who wins football games. But He does care that we pray to Him. And He does care about how we play the game.
(Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Read this column each Friday in the Herald. Visit my blog at www.bobrogers.me.)