When is it Okay to Pray?

     Just a week ago, on “Monday Night Football,” Damar Hamlin, defensive back for the Buffalo Bills, suffered cardiac arrest after making a tackle against the opposing Cincinnati Bengals. The crowd which had been very noisy cheering for their teams in a game with playoff implications, suddenly became very quiet as they realized the seriousness of the situation on the field as medical personnel worked to revive Damar.  Many of the players from both teams gathered on the field and knelt in prayer for Damar.  One of the Cincinnati fans in the stadium turned his big poster over and on the blank side took his magic marker and in big, bold letters said: “PRAY FOR DAMAR.”  He remained in the stands until they had pretty much emptied when the game was cancelled, encouraging all to pray. News sites as well, on television and  live, had messages about the event and encouraged people to pray for Damar and his family.

     The next day, on “NFL Live,” Don Olavsky, ESPN sports analyst, said, “Lots of people are telling Damar and his family, ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with you,’ but I would like to stop and pray for him and, with probably millions of people watching, Don, acknowledging the sovereignty of God and the power of prayer,  prayed a very moving prayer for Damar and his family.  {NOTE: Damar suffered a second cardiac arrest at the hospital, but after an induced coma, he has made amazing progress  (PTL!), and, with his family by his bedside, he sat up and watched the game yesterday between his Bills and the New England Patriots. The Bills won 35-23 including two kickoffs returned for touchdowns (there had been only four in the whole NFL all year!)}

     I find it very interesting that a culture that has done so much to eliminate prayer from any public venue suddenly turns to God when an emergency arrives, like the attack in New York City on 9-11-01, or a serious injury to a football player during a game!  It seems that though many don’t believe we should live out our faith in public they still turn to God when difficulty comes (“No atheists in foxholes”).  

     As I observed the public prayer for Damar, I couldn’t help but think back to the story of Joe Kennedy, assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Washington who was fired for his practice of quietly praying briefly on the 50 yard line after each home game. Joe had a difficult childhood, spending time in and out of foster homes. As he finished high school, his pursuit of discipline and stability in his life, led him to join the Marine Corps, where he served our country for 20 years. His deployments included Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He observed the lack of religious freedom in other parts of the world, which made him very grateful for living in the U. S.  Before leaving the Marine Corps, he committed his life to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

     Joe was invited to join the coaching staff for the football team at Bremerton High School in 2008.  He made a commitment to God that he would give thanks at the conclusion of each game for what the players had accomplished and for the opportunity to be part of their lives through football.  For seven years it was his practice to go out to the 50 yard line after each game and pray quietly for 15-30 seconds. Over time, some of the players asked if they could join him and some invited players from opposing teams to join them. None of the players were ever coerced to join Joe. But in 2015, an admiistrator from a visiting school complained about his practice and Joe was ultimately fired from his coaching job, claiming his practice was a government endorsement of religion.  

     The First Liberty group, believing that no American should be forced to choose between their faith and the job they love, heard about his situation, and offered to take his case to court. Well, Joe Kennedy’s case ended up making it all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled this past summer (June 22, 2022) in favor of Joe. He will be back coaching next fall (at BHS) and will undoubtedly be seen quietly praying on the 50 yard line after each game! 

     What a privilege it is for us to offer our praise to God as well as to bring our petitions before Him in prayer.  Because we have a Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who paid the penalty for our sins and who now is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven to intercede for us (Heb. 6:14-15; 7:23-25), “Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 6:16).  The Apostle Paul gives us this exhortation and accompanying promise:  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jeus” (Phil. 4:6,7).  

     Prayer often seems to be our last resort, but it should always be our first response. As believers, we should always be in communion with God, “casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you” (I Pet. 5:7).   There is power in prayer (Jas. 5:16b). When ESPN sports analyst, Don Olavsky, prayed for Damar Hamlin, he said, “I believe in prayer and the impact that it has.”  It has an impact, not only on situations, but maybe more so, on the hearts of people.  When we pray we are acknowleding the sovereignty of God, of His control of the affairs of man, and of His love and mercy to minister to our needs.  

     So, when is it okay to pray?  Well, Paul writes: “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thes. 5:16-18).   And what did Jesus say about prayer?  “Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all time they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (Lk. 18:1), i.e., don’t be discouraged because answers do not come immediately. Keep praying!  Prayer keeps us close to the heart of God. Prayer helps us to have an eternal versus temporal viewpoint. prayer demonstrates that we are not adequate in ourselves, but that our adequacy is from–and in–God (II Cor. 3:5). 

     Don’t forget to include Damar Hamlin and family as your pray today. Pray for his physical restoration and for the spiritual restoration of his family and teammates. Pray for all those impacted by the events of a week ago when Damar’s life nearly ended on the football field.  As Josh Allen, quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, was interviewed after the game yesterday and asked about the amazing recovery of Damar Hamlin, his first words were: “To God be the glory.”    Amen!

Forever His,

Pastor Dave

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About Pastor Dave

Until my retirement 2 years ago, I pastored an independent Bible church in Northwest Montana for nearly 38 years. During that time I also helped establish a Christian school, and a Bible Camp. I am married and have children and grandchildren. The Wisdom of the Week devotional is an outgrowth of my desire to share what God is doing in my life and in our world, and to challenge you to be a part.
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