God in the locker room

I have an essay on my web site, which I occasionally tweak or update, called “God on the Playlist.” It’s sort of a statement of my personal faith.

Anyway, there’s one segment of this essay that, as a jumping-off point to something else, deals with athletes mentioning their faith. I thought that, in light of all the hubbub about Tim Tebow, it might be worth excerpting here, so as to save you from reading the whole essay:


… There has been a thread in popular culture that tends toward annoyance with anyone who talks about their faith. For example, any athlete who is open about his or her faith in locker room interviews opens the door for legions of scoffers.
“As if God cared who wins a football game!” they say. “Doesn’t God – if God even exists – have better things to worry about?”
I have a couple of responses to that.
When I first posted this essay, I wrote that I personally did not recall ever seeing an athlete claim that God wanted his or her team to win and the other team to lose. I have seen many athletes praise God for their athletic success – which is not the same thing.
Since that time, there has been at least one high-profile case in which an athlete seemed to imply that he or his team had God’s blessing. But I stand by my original argument that the vast majority of athletes who mention their faith in locker room interviews are saying nothing of the sort.
It is always appropriate, for anyone in any line of work, to thank God at all times and in all situations. If I had a good day at my chosen profession (or, in the case of amateur athletes, my chosen avocation), I would make no apologies for praising God and expressing my gratitude. That does not mean that I am deluded enough to assume that God prefers my sports team to the other team or prefers me to my individual competitors.
Tennis star Michael Chang put it this way, in another story at the CNN web site written by Blake: “Chang won the French Open in 1989 as a 17-year-old underdog. He was booed by a Parisian crowd when he thanked Jesus for his victory at the tournament’s trophy presentation.
“Chang, who now helps runs a Christian Sports League in California, says he thanked Jesus not to gloat, but to show gratitude.
“‘When I go out there and share my faith, I’m not saying God is on my side and he’s not on your side,’ Chang says. ‘The Lord loves everybody, and the Lord is on everyone’s side.’”
In fact, at many NFL games, Christian players from opposing teams meet on the field following the game for a quick celebratory prayer. These huddles are seldom shown on television – because of this same irrational attitude that any expression of personal faith is somehow tantamount to shoving Jesus down people’s throats. (To be fair, I’m sure the network would be even less likely to show such interaction between Muslim players.)
It is self-evident that these huddles, involving opponents praying together, are not based on the idea that God prefers one team to another. They are based on the idea that praise and gratitude are Christian virtues and Biblical commandments.
Objections to faith in locker-room interviews often include either a direct statement or an implication that “God has better things to worry about than a football game.” At first glance, this is quite a reasonable statement. But the extended implications of it disturb me, and I hear it even from Christians who should know better. The Bible makes it clear that God is aware of, and concerned with, not only the great matters of cosmology but with the most intimate details of earthly existence. The Bible explicitly tells us that God knows about each sparrow that falls from the sky and that God knows how many hairs are on your head.
It may be true that the CEO of McDonald’s does not know whether you ordered a large fries or a medium fries, or whether there’s toilet paper in the men’s restroom at your local McDonald’s. The CEO of McDonald’s would drive himself crazy if he had to micromanage each of the thousands of locations the chain operates around the world. But God is not a CEO. God is deity. There’s a difference. God is capable of attending to both the infinite and the intimate.
God has encouraged us to lift up all our concerns in prayer – anything that is important to us. Some of the things we pray about seem petty, and selfish, and beneath God’s purpose. Some of them are. But the funny thing about prayer is that, ideally, it becomes a dialogue. The more we pray, the better we get at it, and over time our priorities change. The dialogue must start with honesty, and I think that’s why God instructs us to bring all our cares and concerns to the holy throne.
Here’s another way of looking at it: a five-year-old may ask her daddy for a candy bar one day, a pony the next. A sixteen-year-old may ask for permission to stay out late. A woman who’s about to be married may ask for advice, some reassurance that she’s doing the right thing. Those are very different requests, with very different levels of importance. When the daughter is a child, the father may have to say “no” and may not have the chance to make the child understand why. But each request is special to the father, and the father will treasure those requests as precious memories.
The God we learn about in the Bible is infinite enough to have created the universe, but also intimate enough to have a relationship with each one of us, and to care about each of our struggles. As we grow in our faith, and our understanding of God’s plan, we may learn to ask God for more important things than our missing car keys. But God welcomes, and listens to, every request, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant.

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