God watches football and weeps. All that energy in the stands as men set an example to the church in the way they passionately lament and rage and love and endure and enjoy and get their feelings out there in words that might not perhaps make it in the Psalms…
Football is generally determined by the direction the stands face. Inwards. The care and the passion and the prayers are all focused inwards. Except sometimes. Sometimes something happens that draws some of that passion and energy and turns it outwards. Suddenly the yelling and the rage and the lament is not directed at the sponsored pigs bladder or the teenage superhero who will always disappoint but at the nameless, faceless entity called… God.
Remember the metatarsals? I think it was the 2006 World Cup when The Sun urged us to pray for Beckham’s foot. A frivolous prayer. And now we are urged to pray for Fabrice Muamba. Suddenly people who never give a thought to praying anything beyond wining the FA Cup are not frightened to pray. Out loud. To wear t-shirts and leave flowers.
What does God do with these prayers? I think he welcomes them. He’s not like some tardy old wealthy uncle who gets upset when people only talk to him because they want to borrow money. Or a miracle. He welcomes them.
Does that mean he answers them? Erm… if you mean does he say Yes and make Fabrice Muamba better? Erm… if only prayer was like a magical incantation, a formula. Maybe God asks a question back. That’s the thing with prayer, it’s a conversation not a monologue. It’s Facebook Chat not a status update. Maybe God says, thank you for your prayer; now tell me about yourself and how you are going respond whether or not your prayer is ‘answered’. If you want me to intervene in his life, can I intervene in yours?
Maybe God hears these prayers and weeps. Not because he doesn’t want to hear them – he does – but because he wishes he heard more. And maybe because he wishes the energy that is devoted to praying for single, well-known individuals could be devoted to praying for communities or even countries. Like the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, from where Fabrice Muamba fled as a refugee aged 11. Or maybe these prayers acted as a catalyst for action against heart disease and the millions of football fans with terrible diets saw a glimpse of what can happen to even healthy people and changed their ways.
Prayer has strings attached. Prayer comes with our own responsibilities. May we be people who begin to help the football stands face outwards, to be people who pray and act for individuals and communities and countries. And may we be people who welcome the fact that our God is suddenly hearing a whole load more prayers than he used and that he does not turn them away.
As we pray that, we also pray for Fabrice Muamba, his family, friends and colleagues. And for the victims of the shootings in France… the bus crash in Belgium… the street homeless in London… the lonely old lady next door…
May our actions be prayers that rise like incense.