The NBA season is about to start. I live in Portland. I grew up a Trail Blazers fan. And I’m just gonna lay it out there for you: I REALLY want the Blazers to WIN!!!
Which leads me to ask a question: Is it okay to pray for the Portland Trail Blazers?
Now, I don’t mean a nice, “appropriate” prayer about sports. I’m not asking, “Is it okay to pray that no one playing in this sporting event gets injured?” No. When it comes to my Portland Trail Blazers, I want it all! So what I’m really asking is, “Is it okay to pray that the Portland Trail Blazers utterly destroy every other team in the NBA and win the championship because that’s what I REALLY WANT and I would be SOOOOOOO excited about that!”
I love this team. They are good guys, they don’t talk a lot of trash, and they are fun to watch.
And, frankly, they need all the prayers they can get.
But the question is silly on many levels. After all, I don’t think God is in the business of manipulating events, especially sporting events, based on my prayers. I mean, I’m sure there are people in California, New York, Utah, who are praying for their teams just as much as I’d be praying for mine. But we all know that those teams are utter abominations unto the Lord…
And besides that, shouldn’t I be praying for starving children in Africa and for world peace?
Prayer is a time that we can be honest about ourselves and our emotions with someone who loves us no matter what.
This leads me to a book in the Bible called the Psalms. It’s a book full of prayers. There are some really beautiful prayers in the Psalms. Prayers about the majesty and glory of God. Prayers that God has been faithful to us even when we haven’t been faithful to God. Prayers of deliverance. And prayers about the beauty of the earth.
But there are also some pretty ugly prayers in the Psalms. One psalm was written just after Israel was conquered by the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians were brutal. Like, utter destruction, no mercy, killing nearly everything and everyone in sight – even children and babies. You may have heard about the lost tribes of Israel. They were lost because of the Assyrians.
There’s a psalm that prays for revenge against the Assyrians. The psalm gets ugly – praying for God to smash Assyrian children against rocks. Ouch. This prayer is raw. It’s honest. It’s painful. And it makes me really uncomfortable.
But life isn’t always comfortable, is it? Sometimes life is raw and painful. There are many moments when I’m not as forgiving as I’d like to be. There are times when I hold on to bitterness and resentment, in part because I’m not very good at moving through those emotions. There are times when I get stuck in them.
One way to move through those uncomfortable feelings is to be honest about them. And that’s what prayer is about. Prayer isn’t so much about changing God; it’s about changing us. For example, if we bottle up those emotions, they tend to bubble over and explode. Prayer works as an outlet so that those emotions don’t explode.
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But there’s another problem: rarely in our culture are we ever allowed to honestly talk about those emotions. The church may be the worst at encouraging this honesty because it emphasizes forgiveness so much. Don’t get me wrong, forgiveness is a good thing, but it isn’t easy. To get there we have to move through those scandalous, raw, and painful emotions. And in my experience, the only way to move through them is to be honest about them.
And that’s where prayer comes in. Prayer is a time that we can be honest about ourselves and our emotions with someone who loves us no matter what.
I have a friend named James Alison. He’s a gay Catholic priest. He’s one of my spiritual heroes. He says that we should pray our “smelly, dirty prayers.” Ha! I laugh every time he says that. In his book Jesus the Forgiving Victim he talks about prayer. He says that if children want a new bike for their birthday, let them pray for a new bike. Some times parents tell their children they shouldn’t pray for a bike. They should pray for world peace! But for a child, that’s not an honest prayer. It’s more likely to be a resentful prayer. So, allow children to pray honestly, and soon God will help their hearts grow bigger. Soon the prayer for world peace might be genuine.
I think the same principle applies for adults. If you want to pray for the Blazers, go ahead. (Please do. They are going to need it!)
If, like the Psalms, deep down you have animosity towards someone, pray about it. Because God doesn’t just leave our smelly, dirty prayers alone. Over time, when we are honest in prayer, God begins to transform our lives so that our emotions begin to change as we begin to work through them. Our prayers might get less smelly and dirty over time and our hearts might begin to expand so that we also begin to genuinely pray for world peace.
But first things first. The Blazer game is about to start. I’m off to pray. 😊