Should I pray for the England football team?

Joe Henegan | July 11th 2018

I've never prayed for the football team I support, or any team for that matter. Not even the ones I’ve played in. It just feels...trivial. But I think I might be changing my mind.

I've been watching football all my life. I can recall the scores and obscure details of totally inconsequential games from decades ago. So I'm clearly emotionally invested in this particular culture, but why does it feel so petty to pray for the outcome of an individual game?

I'm tempted to frame it as a purely philosophical issue. I wonder if God really cares. He creates galaxies and orchestrates the affairs of global empires, so I say to myself that no serious celestial ruler would be interested in our tiny exhibitions. But the competitors themselves - especially the South Americans - certainly seem to think He does, going by the amount the players and fans gesture towards the heavens.

Perhaps it’s just a practical issue then. If God does care about football matches, how does he distribute his favour? To the teams who pray the most, or could it be the holiest teams? Or does he have a chosen nation? Does he care more about the ‘big’ games? Is it morally permissible to pray that one team might prevail over the other? Should I pray for both teams equally?

But maybe it’s me. Maybe I'm a bit snooty. Getting sentimental about a football match is what other people do. Not me. I like to watch these games as a detached spectator, so I'm not going to debase myself by escalating the result to my holy list of regular prayer points. I pray about the real issues, like poverty or missions or global politics. Those are important things to petition God about.

Overcoming the secular-sacred mindsets

The bible is littered with examples of people who were so sure about God’s priorities and were eventually corrected for their lack of faith.

Like Judas who observed Mary's extravagant anointing of Jesus in John 12 and scoffed and lobbied him to care more about the hypothetical poor. A haughty concern for a vague social issue over the affairs of a real person right in front of him displaying real emotions.

Or Jonah who quarrelled with God when he saw that His priorities were vastly different to his. God rebuked him too: "Should I not have great concern for the city of Ninevah?" Jonah 4 v 11.

Or the older brother in Jesus's parable of the prodigal, who huffed when he saw his father behave in a way that was seemingly indifferent towards the lofty concerns of stewardship, loyalty and commitment.

Or even Peter, swiping at the high priest servant because his framework for God's plan of salvation just didn't include a suffering servant.

God's primary concerns aren’t always mine. His ways are not mine.

The bigger picture

I often find myself a few (or 100) steps behind what God is doing.

You may have noticed that the England team is doing surprisingly well in this year's World Cup, and when I see the hysteria of england fans on tv and social media it feels at times like they are genuinely playing for more than a football competition.

At a time when our domestic politics is forcing a bitter wedge down the middle of the country, our national team offers us some much needed relief. This group of (relatively) unassuming players have surpassed all our expectations and a generation of perennial losers are playing with stature, tactical maturity and a passion that has united a divided nation.

I’ve never seen so much euphoria in my fellow countrymen. A man I’d never even spoken to before grabbed me in the pub and kissed my head when Eric Dier incredulously slotted the winning penalty home against Colombia. Others were smiling at me (yes, real smiles) and shaking their heads in disbelief. People were dancing down the high street.

Someone even painted my local mini roundabout with the national flag (I’m not sure how or when) and I saw a grown man cut out a picture of Gareth Southgate and stick it in his lounge window. This stuff matters to people, the people we call our neighbours.

Seek the peace and prosperity of the city

I'm reminded of the instructions Paul gave in his letter to Timothy, "I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." 1 Timothy 2 v1-4

Paul is adamant that we ought to be invested in the well being of our nation, whether that’s politics, economics or 11 men chasing an inflated piece of leather around a field.

So should I pray for Harry Kane to score a hatrick tonight? Maybe I should, and it might sound something like this...

“Heavenly father, I thank you for football, for the way it brings people together, for the joy it brings into people’s lives. We pray for the good of the nation, that you would use it for the peace and prosperity of our people. Please help us to love our neighbours well, to invest in their lives, to know about their concerns and dreams. And, if it would be good for our nation, for England to win. Amen.”

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Joe Henegan

Joe started working at TGBC as our Marketing Manager in 2017. He lives in South London with his wife and two daughters and is a member at River Church Sutton - part of the Newfrontiers network - where he runs the Alpha course and other outreach events.

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