March Madness is upon us, and for most people in Kentucky that doesn't mean the lead-up to Easter; it means basketball.
Every basketball game has a winner and a loser, regardless of the virtue of the players or the coach. A winning season would look very different if the results were based on acts of kindness rather than on how many opponents were defeated. But, sports does not work that way.
Does theology address this kind of winning? Does God take sides in a ball game? Is it right to pray to win? Does goodness ever have anything to do with winning?
That's the Question of Faith we posed to our Kentucky.com Faith Blog Network participants.
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The Rev. Kory Wilcoxson, Crestwood Christian Church, Lexington: While it is not wrong to pray to win, I would rather pray that God would help me do my best.
Praying to win is one of those "or else" prayers that I imagine God doesn't like much. If I do my best, I hopefully have brought honor to God, win or lose. After all, if we really want to follow Jesus' teaching, we would pray to lose every game because the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
How do you think that strategy would go over in Rupp Arena?
The Rev. Myron Williams, Southland Christian Church: God concerns himself with people who bring him glory and honor, whether through sports or something else. Winning means making Jesus famous, not the final score of a game.
Is is all right to pray before sporting events? Sure. To pray for a win? God does not manipulate the officials or the players for one side or another. Praying to bring honor to God through skills and sportsmanship is wise and honorable, for players, coaches, officials and fans.
While winning sometimes consumes us, in the grand scheme of life and time, making an eternal impact on people for the sake of Christ is far more important.
The Rev. Bob Evely, Grace Evangel Fellowship, Wilmore: Much as I would like to see Kentucky win the championship, I do not think God takes sides.
If God wants Kentucky to win, he would want everyone else to lose. While God cares about all of his creation, I don't believe he has preferences in our leisurely activities.
Actually, I think that God probably cares more about our making UK, or any sports team, an idol. If sports or other leisurely pursuits so occupy us that it detracts from our relationship with God, and the more important things in our world, then our leisurely pursuits become counterproductive, distracting us from the more important things God would have occupy our time and resources.
The Rev. Joseph N. Greenfield, Help Me to Live Again Ministries, Wilmore: Does God choose sides? Absolutely. There's God's way, and there's everyone else's way. You are either with him or against him, teammate or opponent. Play according to his ways, and you'll be a winner every time.
OK to pray to win? Absolutely. I wouldn't have it any other way, and neither did Jesus. Read it again: "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:10).
Does goodness have anything to do with winning? Absolutely. What does the Bible say? "The Lord bestows favor and honor, and no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless" (Psalms 84:11). Try this one: "Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing" (Psalms 34:11).
The Rev. Roger Bruner, Mill Street Church of Christ, London: Does God take sides in a ball game? No. God's "business" or concern is seen from Psalms 74:12: "But you, O God, are my king from of old; you bring salvation upon the earth." Is it right to pray to win? Prayer is not for this purpose. Does goodness have anything to do with winning? Only in life.
Sharon Donohue, who writes under the name Angela Merici O'Donoghue at TheBibleClicks.com: Does the Lord wear Wildcat blue or favor those who do? There's an interesting story in Scripture that may offer us a few insights. A cat named Joshua had been appointed to lead a nation who was biting at the bit to claim their prize. They felt like they had been in the wilderness a long time, and indeed, they had. On the way to the Final Four, Joshua looked up and saw a man appear before him, sword drawn. Unflinching, Joshua stepped forward and said, "Are you one of us or one of our enemies?"
"Neither," he replied, "I am the captain of the host of the Lord and I have just arrived." At this, Joshua fell prostrate. Something about that man's presence signaled that Joshua was on holy turf.
Can we really make a good case from history that God takes sides? I don't know, but I will tell you this: Joshua clinched a spot in the Final Four, defeating No. 1-ranked Jericho, and kept right on going, leading the nation into the promised land.
The Rev. Jim Sichko, St. Mark Roman Catholic Church, Richmond: Recently, my two older brothers took me to a professional boxing match in Las Vegas. I wore my clerical collar and black suit. As one of the boxers entered the ring, through the ropes, he began dancing around, shadowboxing, etc. Immediately he caught a glimpse of me ringside and looked at me, shuffle boxed and then made the sign of the cross, kissed his gloves and went on. My brother asked me, "Will that help him?" "Yes," I replied, "if he can box."
Like everything else, prayer has certain ground rules. We need faith. There is hardly much point in praying if we are at the same time programming what to do when our prayers are denied. It is not our prayers that God hears but our confidence.
We have to give God a helping hand. When we are praying to move that memorable mountain spoken of in Matthew 17:20, we have to remember also to bring a shovel. The ideal is to pray as though everything depends on God and work as though everything depends on us.
It is not real for me to expect that I will get everything I pray for. Nothing in life works that way. God always answers my prayers, but sometimes, God's answer will be "no."
Prayer has to be on the up and up. When we pray, we should not use qualifying clauses. Leave the ifs, ands and buts at home.
No offense to the Wildcats or any other team (I am a Wildcat and Calipari fan), but God has much larger issues to tackle than who wins March Madness.
The Rev. David Head, Rosemont Baptist Church, Lexington: God creates human life with all sorts of enjoyable moments that we can share, even with 24,000 of our closest friends. But God does not take a side in athletic competition. He only has one side: his.
I think God may be more concerned with what is going on inside the participants in a game than in the game itself. The attitudes, actions, thoughts, words, relationships and interactions is of more interest to him. What happens inside and through us speaks volumes about the state of our soul, and whether we have discovered the most important thing of all: a relationship with God through Jesus.