“Is God answering Tim Tebow’s Prayers?” is one popular line of inquiry driving the Tebow mania. Tebow must be praying for success on the field. The Broncos are winning. Is there causation behind this correlation?
But the question of correlation gets it all wrong, and reflects the thoroughly flawed — even unChristian — view of prayer that is prevalent today, even within America’s evangelical subculture: We ask for things we want, and God either does or does not deliver.
The first problem, of course, is that we don’t know exactly what Tebow is praying for — though the Freakonomics guy seems to think we do. We do know, however, what he should be praying for.
The guy who gave us John 3:16 also gave us pretty clear instructions on how, and what, to pray. “When you pray, pray like this …” Some of these instructions Tebow clearly struggles with. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men … when you pray, go into your room and shut your door and pray in secret.” But in terms of content, I have no way of knowing that Tebow isn’t following Jesus’s most famous instruction, the Lord’s Prayer, popularly known by its first line as the “Our Father.”
Evangelical Christians today are somewhat allergic to formal, written prayers, so the likelihood that Tebow is belting out a Pater Noster are pretty low. The Reformation roots of today’s evangelicalism routinely understood the Lord’s Prayer not as a formula to be recited, but as a guide or outline to the types of prayer we should offer. Viewed in terms of six discreet petitions, none of them ask for victory, or success, or “blessings” in the terms that we are accustomed to seeing our celebrity Christians pray.
While it might be entirely speculative to ask what Jesus would do in any given circumstance, there can be little doubt about how He would pray. He told us. And what’s really remarkable about the Lord’s Prayer is how little it asks from God, for the petitioner. For the uninitiated (or absentminded), let’s review:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. God’s majesty is a heavenly majesty, and is not known or seen in earthly glory. May we, your followers on earth, truly know and praise your holy name, that is your attributes and character. May we make known your works in a way that doesn’t lead people to curse you, but honor and regard you as they ought.
Thy kingdom come. May we be ruled by the clear teaching of your word, and by your Holy Spirit, who you send to dwell with us. May your church prosper, until you return in judgment to bring your heavenly kingdom in full.
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. May we renounce our own will and desires, and obey your word as swiftly and happily as the angels in heaven do.
Give us this day our daily bread. Perhaps the most explicit request for material provision in Christ’s prayer is ultimately a prayer for contentment, and a recognition that not just the promotion, but the very job, is a gift from God. It is a prayer that we may trust in God for what we need to survive this day, and know that we can trust in the same tomorrow.
And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. Asking for forgiveness is ultimately a confession of sin, the heart of Christian prayer. This petition doesn’t mean that God only forgives after we’ve forgiven others. Jesus told a powerful parable of a wretched servant who was forgiven a debt of a million dollars by his boss. He proceeded to go and throw a fellow servant who owed him five bucks in debtor’s prison. That’s what this petition means. Sinners who are forgiven should be about the business of forgiveness.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Jesus doesn’t teach us to pray for the strength to resist temptation … he prays that we might not be tempted in the first place. The faithful petitioner recognizes his weakness to resist evil, his fundamental selfishness, and relies on God to preserve and protect him from great sin. How many of us flee sin? How many of us flee temptation? How many of us pray for God’s assistance to do just that.
I don’t know what Tebow prays in his heart, there is no way we can. But if he prays as Jesus taught us to pray — as Jesus is praying for him — there can be little doubt that his prayers are always answered.
As for today: Broncos 24, Patriots 21. Not a prayer, just a prediction.
Dr. Brian Lee is the pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Washington, D.C. He formerly worked as a Communications Director both on Capitol Hill and at the National Endowment for the Humanities.