“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” – James 5:6
Praying is hard.
It’s hard to concentrate. Hard to know what to say. Hard to listen. To stand. Kneel. Raise your hands. Close your eyes. Stay awake. You get the idea.
Praying is hard.
Yet, praying is essential if one is to remain connected with God. Not only is praying essential for communication, praying is evidence of faith.
Our human grasp of prayer is limited. For many Believers, praying becomes routine. It’s something we’re supposed to do in the morning, at night, before a meal or the offering. For unbelievers, it’s response to a crisis. A request from The Genie in the lamp. When prayers are not answered as we hope – the loan fell through, the loved one dies, the grade is F – prayer is abandoned and God is blamed. And God is abandoned. Until the next crisis.
What God requests of prayer is consistency. This is a hard lesson, and hard activity. Through prayer we recognize the attributes of God, acknowledge His ways are not ours, and realize we – His children (those who acknowledge Him) – are instruments of His plan. Instruments, not pawns.
These ideas became concretized in these corners when the Cubs won the 2016 World Series and Ben Zobrist was named Most Valuable Player.
In the course of the playoffs, Zobrist unexpectedly popped up on our TV in a commercial for his alma mater, Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Generally, such commercials are muted in our house awaiting the next noisy game show. However, the spot hit the personal radar because of family friends who attend there and interns from ONU our church has hired. That commercial put Zobrist on our Christ-follower radar.
His MVP award demonstrated his value to the team throughout the year, not just in the Series. After winning a World Series championship with the Kansas City Royals in 2015, he became a free agent and signed with the Cubs over the winter. As a Cub, Zobrist became a personal favorite for his reliability and versatility on the field throughout the season even though neither he nor his statistics, were flashy or headline-grabbing. A switch hitter, he was signed as a second baseman, but was skilled at multiple positions. As younger players – potential stars – developed, Zobrist was moved around. Even though it was not always certain where he would play, it was pretty certain that he would. By the playoffs Zobrist had become a fixture in left field.
Between Games 5 & 6, when the Cubs were down 3-2 in the Series, The Huffington Post Parents section published a blog by author Kristie Christie outlining how Zobrist and his wife Julianna infuse their faith in raising their family and their work. This was something of a revelation, for throughout the year there was no great, public indication that Zobrist is Christian – not in the same high-profile athlete vein as, say, Tim Tebow. In these eyes, appreciation of Zobrist grew. So much so that, when he came to bat with runners in scoring position during the 10th inning, something unexpected emerged from lips that had never been done in relation to a sporting event, team or competition.
“Lord,” The Lips said, “ let Your Child get a hit.” This was not a thought. These were SOUNDS from a mouth that generally prays in his head, or writes them in order to concentrate. No sooner had they come out, Zobrist purposely sliced the ball the opposite direction, beating a defensive shift against his left-handed swing. The result was a double and two runs batted-in, including one for the margin of victory. Shortly afterwards, Zobrist was given a snazzy new car as part of his Most Valuable Player performance.
However, the larger stage for the small-town Illinois native was to come on Friday at the championship rally. Before countless millions watching live in Chicago’s Grant Park, and elsewhere, Zobrist gave insight into his professional journey and served as a witness to those who do and don’t speak Christianese. Zobrist spoke of God as a proper noun and of the role of God in his decision-making process.
“So literally, I promise you, I prayed during free agency last year, to be a Chicago Cub….”
“Thankfully God, and Theo (Epstein, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations),” he added, bringing perspective, “made it happen.” (Watch the speech.)
To the uninitiated, this may have sounded as some hocus-pocus, mumbo jumbo. For those to whom God IS a proper noun, the sentence is a lesson.
Zobrist’s free-agent process included the following considerations:
- He had to know what he wanted professionally – where he wanted to play, terms of the contract, work conditions, how much money, his ultimate goal.
- He had to weigh these options against offers from other teams, in tough negotiations with Epstein and in a restricted time frame.
- He had a choice: to make the decision on his own, or petition God with specifics – especially if other offers seemed more, well, tempting.
- He had to make a choice that involved his family as well as personal desires.
- Having made the choice, Zobrist had to live with the decision trusting God, win or lose.
He chose the Cubs, and the rest is, well, you know…His story.
It would be wrong to interpret these thoughts as saying, “God made the Cubs win,” or, “God liked the Cubs more than Cleveland,” or “Didn’t the Christian Indians pray, too?”
This tale is simply a reminder to those who do give God His Proper Noun. It is embracing one man’s approach to facing recognizable human challenges. It is a tale of recognizing Paul’s letter to the Romans in action today: from the free agency prayer, to the season of play, to the family blog, to the prayer on the couch, to the double to left, to the stage at Grant Park, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Though not dealing with millions of dollars, millions of people engage in a free-agent process each day such as mulling job offers, making school choices, selecting contractors for home repairs, or health care procedures. Zobrist’s journey illustrates prayer encouragement of Paul to the Thessalonian congregation (“pray without ceasing”) and Jesus to His followers (“seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”). It brings to mind prayer perspective by Jesus’ brother James, writing to the first Jewish believers in Jesus Messiah . First James admonished (“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasure”); then he reassured (“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”).
Zobrist reminds us there is power in specific requests but to not just leave prayer as lip service. There is the responsibility of doing the work at hand rather than passively sitting back and waiting for “a miracle” or giving in to distractions. In such cases, as our desires become in sync with God’s, He’ll provide the stage to proclaim His glory whether in a ball park or a kitchen table. That’s His reward for being MVP: Most Valuable Prayer.