I graduated from Notre Dame Law School in 1984. As an alumnus, I am very interested in the Fighting Irish sports teams. Lou Holtz, who coached at Notre Dame from 1986-1996, once said: “Now I know you’re going to say God doesn’t care who wins. I say that’s true, but I believe His Mother does. I firmly believe that this school has been blessed. When men ask why this school is great, they’ll need only to look at the Lady on the Dome.”
Although I graduated from Notre Dame, I’m not Catholic, so I don’t share Coach Holtz’ view of Mary’s power (or her interest in football). But there are plenty of Christians – Catholics and Protestants alike – who may be tempted to pray for “their” team to win. I agree with the first part of Coach Holtz’ statement: God doesn’t care who wins. But is it okay for us to pray that our team will win?
The Bible Doesn’t Explicitly Prohibit Praying for Your Team to Win
The first consideration when asking whether anything is “okay” is to see whether Scripture prohibits it. Scripture clearly prohibits certain types of behaviors and attitudes. Is praying for your team to win in the category of prohibited behavior? No. Being a sports fan and a pastor, I can state that there is no mention of praying for sporting events in the Bible.
The Bible Doesn’t Explicitly Permit Praying for Your Team to Win
Of course, the fact that Scripture doesn’t mention praying for sporting events also means that there is no clear permission for us to do it. This brings up a basic issue of biblical interpretation. Some people believe that anything that is not expressly prohibited in Scripture is permissible. Others believe that anything that is not expressly allowed is “out-of-bounds.” (Obviously, this matter extends well beyond the question of praying for sporting events.)
So, the answer to whether it is “okay” to pray for your team to win will depend on which view of Scriptural interpretation you adopt. (Of course, if you’re not a Christian, you probably don’t accept the authority of the Bible. In that case, this whole discussion is irrelevant to you.).
Biblical Discussions of Prayer Seem to Focus on “Weightier” Matters than Sporting Events
There is one other consideration. While the Bible doesn’t specifically address praying for your team to win, it does discuss prayer – quite a bit. And what it says about prayer seems to be focused on “weightier” matters of life than sporting events. For example:
- “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:11-12, NASB)
- “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:14, NASB)
- “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work among you will complete it by the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:3-6, NASB)
- “When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported everything that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard this, they raised their voices to God with one mind and said… And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant it to Your bond-servants to speak Your word with confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus” (Acts 4:23-24a, 29-30, NASB).
So, while there may be no explicit direction in Scripture, there is clearly an indication that prayer usually involves more “important” things than sporting events.
A Different Perspective
Since I am a part of the “if it’s not prohibited it’s okay” school of thought, I find no problem with praying for your team to win. But perhaps we should look at this from a different perspective.
Prayer is not about “Getting What We Want”
First, prayer is not always (or even primarily) about “getting what we want.” Prayer is an ongoing conversation with God, in which we allow Him the opportunity to form us in the image of Jesus. I wrote a number of articles on prayer in late April and early May, which you can find in my archives. For example:
Prayer Is a Conversation, not a Monologue
As I mentioned earlier, prayer is a conversation. “Conversation” implies that we listen as well as speak. We probably all understand that, even though I think that we all could use a little more work on the “listening” part. But if we understand that prayer is a conversation, then God has also committed to listen to us when we pray. That means that he listens, even if he’s not inclined to respond positively to our prayer.
God Is Interested in Everything in Our Lives
Acknowledging that prayer is a conversation with God reminds us that God is interested in us. That means that he wants to hear from us! That makes sense, when we think of it, even though we might not recognize it at first. After all, God created us to be in relationship with him. That relationship is the reason that we pray. We converse with God because we care about him, and we believe that he cares about us.
As I said, that makes sense. After all, we expect that we’ll have conversations with other people in our lives – spouse, children, friends. If we have a relationship with our heavenly Father, it’s only natural that we would talk with him – and that he would be interested in us. So of course God is interested in listening to us – even about the sports teams we support!
But we can’t lose sight of the fact that listening doesn’t mean that he grants our requests! Instead, perhaps God wants to hear about what’s important to us because he wants us to know what’s important to him. Praying – even praying for your team to win – is an opportunity for God to refocus our attention on Kingdom priorities.
I believe that God does welcome our prayers, even when we’re praying for our team to win. But I also believe that it saddens him if that’s all that we’re praying about! It doesn’t have to just be about sports. It has to be a bit disappointing for God when our conversations with him are dominated by what we want. As we’re praying, we should take time to listen. God may want to remind us to seek first his Kingdom!
There’s nothing wrong with praying for your team to win – but I wouldn’t expect God to grant your request. After all, there are undoubtedly people praying for the other team too!