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Perspective: Watching BYU Cougars pray after the game can teach us something about talking with God

What if we’re getting prayer wrong? Here are four ways to get it right

Both BYU and Boise State gather at midfield for a prayer following the game at Albertsons Stadium in Boise on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. BYU won 51-17.
Both BYU and Boise State gather at midfield for a prayer following the game at Albertsons Stadium in Boise on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. BYU won 51-17.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Editor’s note: This essay by nondenominational Christian pastor Derwin Gray is part of an ongoing Deseret News series exploring ideas and issues at the intersection of faith and thought.

On October 16, something wonderful happened in Waco, Texas, at McLane Football Stadium. Sure, Baylor roughed up, and beat up my Cougars, 38-24. The more physical, disciplined team won that day. But for me, the moment of greater significance occurred after the game when the two teams circled together and prayed. Who would have imagined that Baylor, the world’s largest Baptist university and BYU, the world’s largest Latter-day Saint university, would pray together after a hard-fought football game? Protestants and Latter-day Saints praying together.

Of course, that’s not the only occasion BYU players have circled up with their opponents after the game. It’s usually a discreet act, but the nation caught another glimpse of it last week after BYU played Virginia.

And, in 2020 after Boise State took a beating from the Cougars, nearly everyone from both sides of the field joined in the supplication. “We started with prayer, we’re going to end with prayer, and we’re going to give the glory to God,” said Mark Thornton, Boise State’s team chaplain. It happened again in 2019, when another religious school, Liberty University, played BYU.

Watching these young football players with heads bowed emphasizes honoring something higher than football. But if you and I are honest, prayer is difficult and boring most of the time. And if we are really being honest, we often find ourselves praying before we eat or we pray during a crisis. What if prayer was a gift from God that was meant to be more than just asking him for stuff? Or what if prayer is more than just calling on God to get us out of the crisis, we find ourselves? What if we have prayer wrong?

Here are four ways to get prayer right. I write these words not as an expert, but as fellow traveler on the road of life. Grab my hand. Let’s walk together.

One day Jesus was praying, and his disciples asked him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1). He said: “Therefore you should pray like this: ‘Our Father in heaven your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:9–13).

Like a diamond, which has multifaceted beauty depending on the angle you see it, the Lord’s Prayer also teaches us a multifaceted kingdom-of-God reality. In my faith tradition, we can pray the Lord’s Prayer as it is written, or we can use the Lord’s Prayer as a pattern of supplication. Either way is good. Most important, however, are the lessons contained within it.

  1. The Lord’s Prayer is a mini catechism that teaches us about Jesus and his mission of mercy and love. Each line of this ancient prayer details an aspect of Jesus’ life.
  2. The Lord’s Prayer is not about getting stuff from God, but about becoming who you were created to be. Your purpose, your passion and your participation in God’s kingdom will be ignited.
  3. You will approach God’s throne of grace and mercy with boldness and confidence because you will pray the prayer that Jesus told you his Papa would hear and answer. When you pray the Lord’s Prayer, you are praying God’s will for your life.
  4. You will learn that God answers the Lord’s Prayer in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. Sometimes the prayers we have prayed in silence with tears streaming down our face take years to be fulfilled. When a farmer plants seeds, he does not expect them to grow overnight. He knows that harvest time is still coming.

I want to invite you into a seven-day prayer challenge. Be inspired to pray by reading or praying the Lord’s prayer everyday for a week. Be expectant. And get ready for God to move in your life. Read this prayer and let it marinate in your soul.

Heavenly Father,

Teach me to pray.

I long to learn.

I confess that most of the time I pray just to get things.

Rarely do I pray to get you.

Rarely do I pray simply to be with you.

Today, I choose to enroll in your school of prayer.

Teach me, O God, how to pray.

In Jesus’ name, who is the Lord of Life,

And the One who gives me access to your ear,

Thank you for hearing me.

Amen.

Can you feel it? Embracing the power of prayer will bring victories that last well beyond football season.

Dr. Derwin Gray is co-founder and lead pastor of Transformation Church, a multiethnic, multigenerational, mission-shaped church near Charlotte, NC. He played football at Brigham Young University and in the NFL. Website: DerwinLGray.com

Editor’s note: This article is partially adapted from the author’s book, “God, Do You Hear Me? discovering the prayer God always answers.