Palm Sunday is almost upon us and tonight is the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game. You might ask what in the world does Passion Week and Basketball finals have in common. They both say something about prayer in my mind this morning. I know people who’ll pray for all kinds of stuff that doesn’t mean a hill of beans and won’t pray about things that have eternal consequences! There will be people tonight praying for Kentucky or Connecticut to win, but won’t be giving a thought to praying their way through Jesus’ sufferings.
Frankly, I have a hard time understanding why people pray about sports any way, except to pray that no one gets hurt. Being a loyal Gamecock fan hasn’t helped my desire to pray because my prayers have largely gone unanswered! I figure God has better things to do, and our results, except for the past few years, have been more than spotty. So why pray too much about sports? Why not pray for world peace, homelessness, hunger, an elimination of domestic violence, the eradication of racism, family harmony…?
I must admit that I’ve been tempted to pray against some teams that shall remain nameless. But all this is peripheral to Passion Week and Prayer. Jesus prayed as if great drops of blood flowed from his body during Gethsemane’s long hours. The New Testament Greek word used for his efforts in praying is agonizomai whence comes our word agonize. Jesus agonized in prayer while his disciples slept!
Why do we have such a difficult time joining Jesus in such heartfelt prayer? We get worked up over our favorite sports team and fret over all kinds of superfluous things. We innocuously tell people, “We’ll be praying for you,” as if it were a semi-greeting or salutation like “Hello” or “Goodbye.” Agonizing with someone in prayer is far from our usual meaning. Sad!
My solemn promise as Holy Week approaches is not to get bent out of shape and waste spiritual and emotional energy on basketball, baseball, the Masters Golf Tournament, or spring football scrimmages. I want to pray like Jesus over things that matter eternally. I love sports and they matter to me, but, no offense, this week they’re going to take a back seat to more important things.
Three neighbors were talking and discussing the proper position and attitude for prayer. One said, “You should be on your knees with your head bowed in reverence to the Almighty.” The second man spoke up and said, “Remember that you were created in God’s image. The position in which to pray is to stand up looking at the heavens into the face of God and talk to Him as a child to his father.” The third man spoke up and said, “I don’t know much about these other positions, but the finest praying I ever did was hanging upside down in a well.”
Let’s do our best praying in the coming days before Easter! The world needs it! I do hope the best teams win and no one gets hurt in whatever the sport, but my priority over these last days of Lent is going be about bigger things.