Does God support Everton?
For me, it was more than the usual nerves. This was a spiritual battle as I desperately tried not to pray: “Lord, please, please don’t let Bournemouth score!”
Once again we Evertonians peered into the abyss. To quote Psalm 66: “You road-tested us inside and out, took us to hell and back!” (The Message translation, obviously)
And it wasn’t easy, especially those ten minutes of added time. I toyed with the idea of hiding behind the sofa. But it was Relegation and not a Dalek which was staring us in the face.
My every spiritual instinct, of course, was to pray. If anyone could stop Bournemouth from scoring it was God. So I longed for divine intervention, on our side naturally
But there again I reluctantly concede that there would have been fellow disciples in Leicester making similar demands on the Almighty, praying fervently for a goal in Fergie time.
The ultimate question for both sets of supporters, for all of us, is “Does God take sides?”
Which reminds me of when the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey and the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, went to watch their team Arsenal play Manchester United at Highbury. Tragically for them, it was the worst defeat for Arsenal in 63 years, losing 2-6 to the visitors.
The next day a national paper carried the story and concluded: “If the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi between them cannot bring about a win for Arsenal, does this not finally prove that God does not exist?”
To which the Chief Rabbi replied: “To the contrary, what it proves is that God exists. It’s just that he supports Manchester United.”
So given that we stayed up, yet again, another miracle, maybe God is an Everton supporter but characteristically he only intervenes at the last minute when all seems lost.
Maybe, just maybe Everton is still St. Domingo's FC, as it was in 1878 when Rev Ben Swift Chambers decided it would be a good thing for his church to have its own football team.
This has to be the classic example of two sides pleading God for a contrary result. This is labelled by Pete Greig as #2 “the contradiction reason” in his excellent book on unanswered prayer, God on Mute.
For the record, Greig is someone who is totally committed to intercessory prayer, not least as shown in his founding the 24-7 prayer movement. And yet he found himself praying, apparently without effect, when his wife was seriously ill.
His teaching is very simple and to the point, “to keep it simple, keep it real, keep it up.”
Helpfully he does go through the various reasons in a systematic way why God may not answer prayer as we would wish. However, you must read the book yourself if you want to know what these are, but they are pertinent and persuasive.
However, what I am blogging about is not so much about intercessory prayer but how we live our lives with Jesus, how we may share our experiences with him, moment by moment. Such is God’s love we have the privilege of being open and unguarded with him: authentic.
Teresa of Ávila had a strange and for me, a bewildering spirituality. I once tried to work through her books, the Interior Castle, but found it impenetrable. But her basic understanding was very simple: “For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.
This saint had focus in her mission as a monastic reformer in 16th century Spain. This meant much travel. One particularly cold and wet day she was thrown by her horse and as she clambered out of the mud, she prayed one of the most moving prayers I have ever heard: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder you have so few!”
For Teresa had one of those hallmarks of mature discipleship: humour. Hence another of her prayers: “May God protect me from gloomy saints.”
At the heart of the Gospel is the understanding that we may know Jesus as our friend. “You are my friends if you do what I command,” he told his disciples. (John 15:14)
Jesus was good to be with. That is why everyone invited him to their parties. He enjoyed people, he enjoys us. Which means we speak naturally with him as we would speak with any friend. It doesn’t matter, so to speak, if we put our foot in it. He values our friendship.
So our prayer may be both spontaneous and genuine, entirely serious or just plain daft. Either way, we are sharing our life with our friend Jesus in real time – and that’s what counts
“So thank you, Lord, for Jordan Pickford, for his save in added time! And can we please have Erling Haaland for next season.”