Have you ever watched a sporting event–a real nail-biter–and prayed for your team to win? Do you wonder if God is concerned about Little League or High School Basketball, or which team wins the Superbowl? And what about the parents and coaches on both teams praying to him–one side has to “lose”–how does God answer such prayers? DOES he answer such prayers?
While the Bible doesn’t give us a specific answer, I think there are some general principles that apply. When teams prepare for a big game, they may talk about their desire to win, they may study their opponents, assess their own strengths and weaknesses, and give themselves pep-talks about winning, but they don’t practice winning– they practice playing their best, improving those areas where they are weakest, and working to bring their best on game day. They don’t pray to win by default or by bad sportsmanship.
The apostle Paul uses athletic analogies for the Christian life– he talks about running the good race, fighting the good fight, and working to be worthy of the prize. But he doesn’t direct Christians to pray that God gives us a victory. Instead, he points out that the greatest victory– that over sin and death– has already been won! We don’t fight the battles wondering if our victory or loss will turn the tide of the war. We fight in the hope of strengthening our fellow warriors and bringing our victorious Savior more glory and honor.
This holds true in other areas as well. In politics, we fight to win, but not in desperation or despair, knowing that if we lose this battle, God is not defeated or even surprised by the outcome. Even in situations of corruption, despotism, and chaos, God can raise up leaders, topple evil powers, and bring renewal and revival. In war, we fight to win, we fight to defend what we know to be right; but even if we lose the battles, we don’t lose faith.
God doesn’t always give us “wins.” He doesn’t guarantee that we will never face setbacks or disappointments. In fact, sometimes we need to “lose.” We need to lose our selfish ambition, our pride, our drive to compare ourselves with others, our envy and greed, and our failure to submit to God’s best plan.
We pray for victory, but more than victory at any cost, we pray for God’s will to be victorious– for his strength to be shown even in and through our own weakness. We pray for victory on God’s terms– which may mean a painful loss today, and grieving for the night, but joy that comes in the morning. Great teams, great nations, great leaders– are not forged in continuous expectation of easy victory. Sometimes we learn more and become greater by learning from our failures.
Let’s not just pray to win– let’s pray to be more than conquerors (Romans 8:37)!