As we go deeper into the Stanley Cup playoffs, here’s a question that Christian athletes (as well as Leaf and Sens fans!) have to face: Is it O.K. to pray for your team to win?
My answer is that it’s a great idea for athletes to pray to win—as long as they keep in mind what winning really means.
When we talk about winning, we usually mean coming in first. We see winners as those wind up in first place and walk away with the Stanley Cup, a gold medal or a championship ring.
While this kind of winning is exciting, it’s not enduring. Today’s winners are soon forgotten. Do you remember who won the Stanley Cup five years ago? Or who won the World Series two years ago? When winning is defined as coming in first, it doesn’t last.
But there is a kind of victory that endures. There is a kind of winning worth praying about. Here are three ways Christian athletes can pray to win.
First, they can pray to win in giving their best effort. 1 Corinthians 9:25 observes that “everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.” It’s a personal victory when an athlete gives his or her best effort in both practice and competition.
Second, they can pray to win against the temptation to cheat. 2 Timothy 2:5 reminds us that “if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.” It’s a moral victory to play fair.
Finally, they can pray to win in bringing glory to Christ. Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” So shooting a puck or throwing a fastball can be done with a desire to bring honour to Jesus’ name. Christian athletes can compete with a passion to please Jesus and to bring Him praise. I admire athletes like Oral Hershiser, Reggie White or Tim Tebow who have aspired to honour Christ in the way they played.
Winning is not ultimately about coming in first; it’s about putting Christ first. When athletes have this attitude, they simply can’t lose.