Praying over football - right or wrong?

Author: John McKenna


Praying over football - right or wrong?

Lionel Messi does it. So does Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge, along with almost everyone who has watched England take penalties in a World Cup.

But why do we pray over football, and should we?

Surely prayers should be limited to those things that really matter? Football, despite what Bill Shankly famously said, is after all only a game.

This is the attitude I used to have before I was baptised in the Holy Spirit, although even then being a Spurs and England fan it was often difficult to avoid resorting to prayer.

However, after the Holy Spirit renewed and enlivened my faith, I found that prayers just tumbled out of me. Prayers for the biggest things and the smallest things, prayers of request and prayers of thanksgiving.

The renewal of my faith meant I knew my Father loved me deeply and intimately, and being a father myself I could relate to Jesus’ words: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

Likewise I now understood St. Paul’s words: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”(1 Corinthians 10:31)

Logically, given that in any football match there are likely to be praying fans on both sides, to suggest fans’ prayers can affect the outcome of match is ludicrous.

But that doesn’t mean it is wrong to pray: as a fan, we cannot control the outcome of the match…this sense of helplessness is what can drive many believing and non-believing fans to prayer. And there is, I would say, something entirely healthy in realising our own limited nature and then turning to God with the situation.

Instead of the fans, it is the 22 men on the pitch who have control of the outcome.

Pitch prayers

One welcome development in the modern game is that it has been increasingly common to see players praying both before kick-off and when they score.

Lionel Messi, possibly the greatest footballer of all-time and a committed Catholic – he described meeting Pope Francis as “one of the most special days of my life” - always points to the heavens in praise when he scores a goal (of which, as European football’s record goalscorer, there have been many).

Football is what Messi does. In their moments of success he and other Christian goalscorers follow St. Paul’s advice by giving glory to God.

But St. Paul said in whatever we do, give glory to God – yes, give him glory in our successes…but what about giving him glory in our moments of failure?

One of my abiding memories of the 2014 World Cup was when hosts Brazil crashed out of the tournament, losing 7-1 to Germany in the semi-final.

This proud football nation hadn’t just lost a match, they had been humiliated in their own backyard.

And yet, while some of his teammates fell to the ground in tears at the final whistle, Brazil captain David Luiz knelt down, held his two index fingers up and prayed out loud.

This is what faith looks like. Praising God when to all those around you it looks as though He has abandoned you. Knowing that in those moments of weakness and defeat all is not lost, because we believe in a God of resurrection.

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