We have all seen Tim Tebow take a knee when he scores a touchdown. This is an excellent form of witnessing and it is quite encouraging to believers who routinely see athletes glorify themselves. However, an athlete integrating his prayer life in competition can go much deeper than visibly praying after a goal, win or with his teammates at the conclusion of a match.
Paul says in Thessalonians that we are to “pray continually.” What does this look like for an athlete, coach, or a team as a whole? This is something I wrestled with as a college athlete and it is something I am trying to perfect as a coach today. It is very easy to try to “Christianize” our athletic endeavors by having a legalistic approach to sport through developing a list of “dos” and “don’ts.” Only trying to “act like a Christian” during competition limits one’s opportunity to fully worship the Lord and commune with Him.
We are called as believers to love the Lord with all of our heart, with all of our soul and with all of our strength. We are to love/worship God with all that we have and in everything we do. So as athletes, we are called to strive for perfection and strive for excellence while attempting to worship God through the sport we are playing. Many believers have a limited understanding of worship. It does not merely happen in church, chapel or any sort of organized worship service. By attempting to honor the Lord with every thought, action and word we speak, we are offering whatever we happen to be doing at that moment to the Lord as a form of worship. This certainly applies to sports. Playing a sport with a praying spirit and not simply adding the act of prayer to sports is a fuller way of glorifying God in athletic competition.
So what does a praying spirit look like in athletic competition? Proverbs 3:6 says “in all your ways acknowledge him (NIV says “submit to him”), and he will make your paths straight.” Eric Liddell in the movie “Chariots of Fire” said, ”When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” So, every step, every kick, tackle, goal, homerun or whatever it is should be intended to please the Lord. This is quite a challenge for a Christian athlete as we all have seen sports bring out the best and the worst in human nature. However we should be seeking the Lord before, during and after the competition, asking Jesus to help us honor the Father with every detail, thought and emotion while we compete.
An athlete praying after a goal/touchdown, or a team praying before/after a game are all ways to be visibly in prayer and these are all good things. However, imagine if an individual athlete or collective team attempted to honor God in all aspects of the game by trying to surrender every thought and action to him. This, in my opinion, is a deeper approach to prayer in sport.