Listen To MY Prayer, Not That Other Person’s

In my professional field of economics, there is something called a Zero Sum Game.  It happens when the only way for one person to win is for another person to lose.  To leave the sum at zero, the gains and losses must be exactly equal.

Unfortuately, much of real life seems to be a zero sum game.  When we encounter it, I don’t understand how prayer makes things better. 

If there is one job opening and two devout Christians apply, why does it make sense for both to pray the prayer, “Give it to me.”  The implication of the prayer is that the other person should fail. The same principle applies to praying that one will win the lottery.

The zero sum result is especially true in sports.  One team wins, the other loses.  When the coach leads the team in prayer, he/she is praying for the other team to lose.

I would think this concept would be confusing to young  people.  They are trained, especially these days, to cooperate, work in groups and encourage each other.  To then be told, “We’re going to pray that we win (and those others lose),” seems out of step with the value system they are being taught. 

It would make more sense if people would limit their prayers to requests that did not make others worse off. For example, if there is no limit to the number of people that can reach enternity,  one could pray for that.

Maybe during this season of flooding the best prayer would be for all boats to rise.

15 Responses

  1. Brad Campbell

    So there is something wrong with people praying for the same thing?

    Let the best team win……the team that has better prepared itself.
    Let the best person get the job…..the one that is better prepared educationally, mentally or even physically.

    God gives us the “tools” to be successful; how we use them is up to us.

    I can pray to my heart’s content that I would get an awesome honey crop. But I need to go out and get my hives healthy. I need to put them in areas that they can forage for nectar. I need to treat them for pests and diseases. I need to go out and put the boxes on them for them to put the honey in. I need to pull the honey off and extract it. I need to do all of this.

    God has given me the mental – physical toughness and work ethic to do this. He will listen to my prayers but I need to take what he has given me and work hard for it. It is up to me….he will guide me but I am the “driver”.

    1. Brad 2:17 I agree with you, to let the best team win, or, the most qualified person get the job. But I don’t understand the point of praying to make this happen when it would, or should, happen without praying. Or, to explain it in another way, if the best person is to win without devine intervention, would not the point of the prayer be to have the almighty intervien so that I would win even if I were not the best qualified. Otherwise there would be no point. It’s just a confusing way of thinking for me. But, that’s just me. Others reason in a different way.

      1. PK

        Praying is having a relationship with God. Asking Him for help, in this sense, is not illogical if you believe in God. The best team hardly ever wins the championship and the best qualified person doesn’t always get the job. One bad game or one bad interview is all it takes. I’m not saying that the people who pray the hardest will always be the victors, just that the victory isn’t the most important thing. It’s the relationship with God. To you praying in general would be contradicting your logic, whether it’s to win a game or to save your life, you do claim you’re an atheist.

        1. PK 5:23 As I pointed out in the piece, asking God for help in a zero sum game is asking God not to help your competitor. I guess that makes sense to some, it just doesn’t happen to appeal to me.

          1. PK 6:04 Perhaps you’ve stumbled onto something here, that it is logical for a Christian to be selfish. Perhaps that is a summary of why the faith does not appeal to everyone.

      2. Brad Campbell

        Yes, i see your point.

        But maybe that “voice” in the back of your minds is God telling us to work harder, study harder, prepare harder for the challenge in front of us. To me, God is that voice… others it is not.

        Yes, the more qualified person or more prepared team should get the job or win the game. Maybe that prayer is enough motivation for that individual or team to aspire for greatness.

        I could pray for millions of dollars and God is not going to show up here and give it to me. He has given me talents to achieve that some day….now I have to take those talents and work for it to achieve it.

        Interesting topic!

        1. Brad 5:24 That makes sense to me, that for some people, the spiritual experience gives them some motivation. Since lots of prayers are silent, we don’t actually know what people are praying for. Hopefully, many would reason like you do. All I know is what people say out loud. I was a “guest coach” for the NDSU basketball team, a promotional gimmick of a coach several years ago. As I recall, his prayer with the team before the game had much to do with winning. Players showboating on TV interviews after games often attribute their win or stardom to God. That’s what I don’t understand. Either the best team won, or, it did not. On the other hand, I recall boxer Larry Holmes after a fight. late in his boxing career say, “Well, we can thank God no one got hurt.” I liked that.

  2. Hey Jon,

    I’m a follower of Jesus Christ myself, and I would tend to agree with you to a great degree in this area. I think it a much better (and more Christ-like) prayer to ask that the divine work his good will in a particular situation. Or to ask God to provide this or that only if that outcome is best.

    Of course, what is good and bad in a situation can be very difficult to identify. Even in a sports game where, prima facia, it would seem that winning=good and loosing=bad, in the larger picture, this might not be so. Loosing might lead an individual to pursue an activity for which they are better suited/gifted. Or having to deal with a loss might develop character within the individual who “looses,” and greater character would be a much greater good than winning a game, I would argue. Given the omniscience of God in classical theism generally and Christian theism in particular, it seems wise to me (given my own finite knowledge) to, in most cases, ask that he work out the final end according to his knowledge.

    Also (and I think this mindset is greatly encouraged by the prosperity movement), it seems that many Christians have missed the relational aspect of prayer. A notion has grown up that if one gets the formula correct, God must grant what one requests. I think this is misguided, changing God into something more akin to an ATM machine and devaluing the personal (i.e. conscious, relational, feeling) aspect of God’s character, which is essential to the classical theistic understanding of the divine. If, indeed, God were like that, it would produce very spoiled children, so it seems to me.

    1. Shane 7:12 Thanks–Good observations about the harm done by the prosperity movement. I would roll in with the prosperity people the “celebrety” people, show business, sports and political personalities. It seems to me they drive this message forward about the ATM God figure. To me, the problem is that there is not countraveiling message source. There is money behind the bad message, none behind the good. The most powerful criticism comes from the New Atheists who do not carry the cache that a Christian celebrety would. Yet, the New Atheists, or something, is causing a little erosion in the faith numbers.

  3. PK

    Nice Jon, way to twist my sentence around like you do with scripture. You got me with that one. You know what i meant, but i’ll concede.

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