"To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world." -Karl Barth
Pro football quarterback Tim Tebow has gained some notoriety for his praying on the field before, during, and after football games. He is not the first athlete to do this but he is one of the most popular (his jersey sold more than any other players in 2010, which was his first year in the league) and as such avails himself to more scrutiny.
Being a big sports fan, I know for a fact that Tim Tebow is a good guy and though he is vocal about his faith, he is not insistent or cloying. He only talks about it when it is brought up in the media and has always come off as a humble gentleman from all sports writers who have ever spoken to him. Nevertheless, there is an issue with Tebow's constant on-the-field prayers that I feel should be explored.
I was inspired to write this piece during our Sunday School lesson on prayer. Lois Ann said during the class (and I agree with her) that prayer is a constant conversation with God. We continue to bring our thoughts, cares and concerns to the Lord, while still asking that God's will be done. As we live in a world that is damaged by sin, this conversation never stops, which is why one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture is "Pray unceasingly" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). The dialogue that you share with God is ultimately your business in your one-on-ones, while we participate in corporal prayer at Worship, even if it's just Pastor Barrie or the assisting minister talking. Ultimately, it is a conversation that should never stop until we draw our last breath.
The content of prayer is subject for another day. What Tim Tebow's actions inspire us to examine is the manner of prayer. Tebow comes from a theological background different than most of us as Lutherans. He identifies himself as an evangelical Christian. What does this mean? The media has unfortunately tried to box in what evangelicals believe in light of the 2012 elections, whereas in reality there are a wide variety of beliefs within this tradition that should be respected. The one I would like to focus on is the manner of prayer that some practice (including Tebow) within the tradition that lends itself to more public displays of piety, ones that Lutherans historically are not keen to. Thus, even though we share the same faith, when Tim Tebow drops down on one knee to worship God after throwing a touchdown pass, he might look like someone worshiping the infamous flying spaghetti monster more than what we are used to as Christians of the Lutheran tradition.
So where does the disconnect come for us? It is important to check what the Bible says on this. We are taught multiple times in Scripture to carry ourselves with humility (Philippians 2:5-11 and Luke 18:9-14 are two examples). Jesus tells us to pray in private so as to not be so public about our display of faith (Matthew 6:5). Tim Tebow's manner of prayer, regardless of how faithful, is simply not supported by Scripture. As written above, the Bible condones privacy and humility. When Tebow drops to one knee on national television and reveres God because the Denver Broncos scored, no matter how faithful he is, I feel that he comes off in an inappropriate manner, as if he is trying to prove his faith to the world once more. And the fact that his actions have made him a cause for many Christians in America shows how deep the faith divide in our country is.
I don't mean to say that we can't live out our faith without pious actions. However, I feel that we are taught as Christians to live out our faith in loving God and neighbor. Showing my neighbor how faithful I am because I did a good deed may not be the best expression of faith. Helping the stranger, feeding the hungry, standing with the oppressed are better ways of faithful living. Pastor Barrie often quotes the famous saying: "Preach the Gospel at all times and occasionally use words."
Lutherans can learn plenty from our evangelical sisters and brothers. They generally have an easier time speaking publicly about God's love and enunciating what they believe as Christians. However, we should, as taught by Scripture, continue to be private about our prayers and public about our faith. Do not let the world see how holy you are, but allow yourself to show how holy God is in the world.