Good morning, I'm the Rev Steve Page from St Patrick's Anglican Church, and you're listening to the Daily Devotional moment, sponsored by the Hudson Bay Ministerial.
This month, I'm drawing our images of Christian faith and spirituality from the wonderful and sometimes weird world of Sports.
March Madness is the annual month-long tournament in which 68 colleges and universities in the US play a series of single-elimination games to determine the national champion in college basketball.
Every year has epic battles and cinderella underdogs and action and excitement. But back in 1981 there was an especially memorable battle. The University of Arkansas Razorbacks battled the defending champion University of Louisville Cardinals met in the second round of the tournament.
It was a close, back-and-forth game. With less than a minute to play, Arkansas led 71-69. A foul put an Arkansas player on the free-throw line, but he only hit 1 of 2 shots. 72-69, with 36 seconds to play.
Louisville came down the court and hit a long 2-pointer with 20 seconds left. 72-71 Arkansas.
But then disaster! The in-bound pass got away from the Razorbacks, and Louisville recovered. They worked the ball into range and took a shot as the clock ticked down... Oh, a narrow miss! But wait! One of the Cardinals grabbed the rebound. He pumped, then tossed the ball through the hoop. 73-72 for Louisville, with just 5 seconds left! Arkansas called timeout, to plan a last-gasp effort.
But 5 seconds is not much time to get the ball to an open man in range for a good shot. Arkansas passed the ball into play, to a guard named Ulysses Reed. The Louisville defence immediately swarmed him with a double-team. Tick. Tick. Tick. Reed couldn't get the ball to any of his teammates. So as the clock expired, he heaved a desperation shot from his own side of half-court. The ball hung in the air... Everyone held their breath until... swish! He nailed it! Arkansas upset Louisville 74-73 to advance to the next round.
After the game, the Arkansas coach described Reed's shot as “throwing up a prayer and having it answered.” Now, we could have a good little debate about whether God cares about the results of a college basketball game, or maybe God prefers Arkansas over western Kentucky. But what grabbed me about the coach's words was their sense that prayer is only for desperate times.
Yet the Bible invites us to pray far more often. About anything. Things going well for you? Pray to God and say Thanks. Things going rough? Pray about them. Things going along same-old, same-old, pretty much as usual? Again, talk to God about them all. “Pray continually” or Pray without ceasing, Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians. Jesus reminds us that God knows our needs and concerns, better than we do ourselves, but that, like a human father, our Heavenly Father wants us to talk with him about the things and the people and the concerns in our lives.
If you don't know where to start, there is no better beginning-point than the Lord's Prayer. You can look it up in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6 vs 9-13. It was, after all, what Jesus said when some people asked him how to pray. Read it over. Memorize it, it's not very long. Use it, both as-is and as a way of shaping your own prayers.
And the God of love and power and mercy hears our prayers, and answers them, shaping us, our lives, our circumstances, our world more and more into a Christ-like shape. Whether you are down by one as the clock ticks to zero or not, God wants to hear from you today.
For St Patrick's Church, I'm Steve Page.