Is It Ok To Pray For My Team To Win?

A quarter of Americans believe God decides the results of sports matches.Reuters

A quarter of Americans believe God plays a role in determining the outcome of sporting events, according to a PRRI poll – a figure that rises to 41 per cent of non-white Protestants and 36 per cent of white evangelicals. Only a quarter of white mainline Protestants and Catholics agree. Bear in mind that around 63 per cent of Americans consider themselves supporters of a sports team and that's a lot of prayer going up.

I'm a bit troubled about this. Is it OK to pray my team will win?

Sure, as long as you realise there are people on the other side praying they'll lose.

So is it about who prays hardest? A bit like training?

Back up a bit. A lot of people think God decides the result of a match – a soccer match, for instance. That doesn't necessarily mean it's true.

I thought God decided everything? It's a sovereignty thing, isn't it?

There is a school of thought associated with the Calvinist school that says God's sovereignty means he decides everything, including political elections and therefore presumably including football matches. At the same time almost all Christians would want to say that he responds to prayer. This is a bit paradoxical, but so is life, really.

Perhaps he just decides the important things?

Ever been to a football match? It's very important to a lot of people. Top-level players are superb athletes and the fans are prepared to invest time, money and emotional energy in supporting them. It really matters.

Ah, so I can pray for victory?

It's a tricky one. The best way of approaching prayer in general is to step back before we pray and say, "This matters to me, but does it really matter, cosmically speaking?" If the answer is "No", then our prayers are likely to be selfish, and God won't answer them. In sport, perhaps the best example is Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri, a Christian who says he prays every day to God: "If you can help me, thank you. If I don't deserve, OK, thank you the same."

But does God really fix matches?

That's not a very helpful way of putting it.

You know what I mean.

If God intervenes, as most Christians believe he does, then maybe sometimes – but unless you are one of those Calvinists who believes he fixes everything, not routinely. Usually he lets us get on with it ourselves. He's more interested in character than results.

That survey also said 57 per cent of white evangelical Protestants say God played a major role in determining the outcome of the 2016 election.

Hmm... well, the same thing applies. There's no particular reason, biblically speaking, to believe that – and you do wonder whether that's because they voted for him in large numbers. If you believe God ordained a result you think is a good one, you have to believe he ordained a result you think is bad, too. It doesn't really work like that.

Which team do you support, as a matter of interest?

Aston Villa.

They need a lot of prayer.

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods