The following email was sent to me in response to a post I wrote addressing the issue of praying for success in sports. My short answer was, yes, athletes should pray for success if that’s what they are currently valuing the most. You can read the whole article here. The following exchange of emails shows the reader’s initial pushback and my response.
Email to me:
I have my own personal reasons for not praying, but would never criticize someone who did, at least in a non-zero-sum situation. When you pray for someone’s health or welfare, I understand it.
What I can’t seem to wrap my head around is… In a zero-sum situation, for every winner, comes a loser. Isn’t an athlete praying for a win the same as praying for the other team to lose? Isn’t my niece, asking for prayers to get her that specific job, the same as asking me to pray for the other applicants to not get the job?
You offered up some examples in your article, but I don’t find them to be applicable to the question at hand. An electrician praying they do their job correctly and up to code, and an accountant praying that their numbers accurately reflect their client’s business, are not zero-sum situations. No one gets hurt by their prayers being granted.
But in zero-sum situations for employment or competitive sporting, prayers, if granted, will almost certainly hurt someone else in the process. I presently find prayer and requests for prayer in those situations to be selfish, arrogant and abhorrent.
Is there anything you can share with me that might help me view it in a different manner?
Even though I don’t pray, most of my closest family members do. I’d like to gain insight into the appropriateness of prayer in zero-sum situations.
I sincerely thank you for your time and consideration.
I think what you are asking can be summed up in this statement that you made: “But in zero-sum situations for employment or competitive sporting, prayers, if granted, will almost certainly hurt someone else in the process. I presently find prayer and requests for prayer in those situations to be selfish, arrogant and abhorrent.”
Couple things come to mind after I read that. Keep in mind, I am addressing this from a Christian worldview so I understand you may disagree with some of what follows…
1. You are absolutely right (hopefully you don’t disagree with that!). If my prayers for success in sports, or for a friend’s employment are granted, somebody else has to “lose.” The prayer that I always cringe at is somebody praying for specific weather on a specific day. Weather affects everybody. To think that God would stop rain for someone’s wedding comes at the expense of farmers who are dependent on that rain! Needless to say, I get what you are saying.
2. I would agree with you that those types of prayers would be considered selfish, arrogant, and abhorrent—except God has communicated to us through His word that He wants us to come to Him with any request that we have. Does that mean God wants us to selfish or arrogant? I don’t think that’s the case. I think he wants us to come to Him expressing the desire of our hearts…
3. But He also wants us to submit to His will. I have many instances in my life where I have prayed for something, did not get it (someone else did), and it turned out to be great for me. For the Christian, the concept of zero-sum needs to be understood from a heavenly perspective. What we want is often times different than what God wants for us. But He still wants us to ask, which can be maddening.
4. I think I pointed this out in the article but praying for success in sports is probably one of the least noble things you can pray for. It’s petty and shows a lack of perspective. But, I believe God still wants us to ask if that’s where our heart is at.
5. I don’t know what else to say but I understand you wrestling with this concept. My Christian worldview has me trust that in a situation where there is not a zero-sum outcome, that God can ultimately work for the good of both (or more) parties. In sports, maybe somebody losing builds character and resilience to help them in a future struggle? In a job, maybe the person who doesn’t get the job has a better one around the corner or, through the process, learns to trust God at a deeper level through the pain of not being employed? In the case of weather…nope, that one is still stupid to me.