Odell Beckham Can Teach Us How to Pray


Robert Sabo/New York Daily News

Odell Beckham shocked everyone with his one-handed catch heard around the world.

Most of the conversation about that catch made it sound like it was either a stroke of magnificent luck or the feat of a superhuman god of professional football.

I think it was a great expression of freedom.

Normally when we think of freedom we imagine the ability to make decisions without being crowded by outside authority. We imagine that freedom is the opportunity to act how we might, when we want, and with whom we want. We imagine a freedom from authority and a freedom to make our own choices.

Beckham displayed a different kind of freedom. You don’t make catches like his simply because you are in the right place or because you really want your team to win. You only make that catch after you’ve prepared your whole career to do so. You can see Beckham practicing one-handed grabs “for no reason” during a Monday game warm-up just a few weeks earlier and on a kick-off return when he was at LSU. He made that catch, and will make many more like it in his career, because he practices them so often that it becomes like second nature. He has achieved freedom from a seeming physical limitation and a freedom to make catches that amaze commentators and break Twitter.

Most of us don’t think of freedom as the result of tenacious hard work. But this kind of freedom is not a freedom given to us by inalienable rights or an incorrigible “will to power.” It’s the freedom given by discipline. I have no idea whether Odell Beckham is himself a man of prayer. But he can teach us a lot about how to pray.

There is no doubt that he is an elite athlete even without his ability to consistently catch a football with one hand. I assume that he would be playing today with or without that ability. I’m equally certain that our faith and trust in Jesus Christ is enough that we can embrace the wide expanse of God’s grace that has been offered to us. But Beckham has done something amazingly straight-forward to give himself an immeasurable advantage over other NFL receivers. He practices catching the ball with one hand over and over again. He has intuitively learned little techniques that make it more possible for him to make those catches, techniques that are only learned by making thousands of one-handed catches. In the world record for one-handed catches that he set with Drew Brees, he doesn’t miss a single catch thrown to him, and that was with some significant distraction caused by the folks trying to keep up with their need for more footballs. To understand the impact this could have on the game, jump and touch a point on a wall with two hands and then one. Or, reach out to your side while standing and see how much farther your reach is with one hand or two. In a game of inches, he has found a great advantage.

The formula is simple. Practice catching footballs with one hand thousands of times: Have the freedom to catch footballs with one hand. There is an equally simple process by which we can connect with God in extraordinary ways.

I shared last month on all the ways that small and consistent acts of discipline are essential for health. For me, disciplined acts have made this difference in my efforts to lose weight and grow in my relationship with God. But these same small and disciplined acts of Christian devotion are also capable of empowering us to extraordinary faithfulness to God and victory over sin.

Here is an example. This is a prayer of confession from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer:

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

After these words have been prayed by the congregation, the pastor stands and proclaims the goodness of God:

Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.

Now imagine that you have taken up this practice of twice daily confession of sin as the Book of Common Prayer suggests. Imagine confessing sin before God each morning and evening and then hearing these words of grace spoken over you in immediate response to your confession. What are you most likely to do when you you are then confronted with some previously unrecognized sin in your life? Are you more like to deny your sinfulness and defend yourself? Or are you more likely to confess your sin and ask forgiveness as you have done so many times before?

And what might happen when you are faced with great sin against you? Would you then be empowered to extend the grace that has been offered to you so many times before?

To be able to immediately respond with acts of confession or offers of grace is not a natural response. Instead we are so often bound by our sin and need to preserve ourselves that we go to great length to hide our sinfulness. I would suggest that the regular practice of confession of sin can give us the freedom from our own egos and the freedom to honor God with a life of repentance. This is a remarkably simple process: Confess sin and receive forgiveness. Be readied to confess sin and receive and offer forgiveness when it is most critical.

To say that this is a simple process does not mean that it is an easy one. Running a marathon is simple. Take one step and then another and repeat for 26.2 miles. But it isn’t easy. Spiritual disciplines are like that. Confessing sin. Daily prayer. Regular Scripture reading. Fasting indulgences. Communal worship. These are the simple disciplines of the Christian life that can empower great freedom if we would only take on the difficult task of practicing them over and over again.

What are some ways that you have been empowered to great faithfulness by your regular spiritual disciplines?

Would you like to know more about spiritual disciplines and how they can improve your relationship with God? Check out Ruth Haley Barton’s Sacred Rhythms or Marjorie Thompson’s Soul Feast.

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  1. says

    Great post. Through Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours prayer book, I reorient myself to praise and adoration each morning, no matter how difficult the day. It is a realignment and a refocusing, if you will. The Lord’s Prayer is prayed before each segment ends, acknowledging God’s provision, admitting my lack, and asking for his help for the day. It reminds me of my neediness, time and time again.

  2. says

    Which version of the BCP is that? The prayers in the 1928 BCP are as follows:
    ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen. (A General Confession)

    ALMIGHTY God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live, hath given power, and commandment, to his Ministers, to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins. He pardoneth and absolveth all those who truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel.
    Wherefore let us beseech him to grant us true repentance, and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him which we do at this present; and that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure and holy; so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
    (The Declaration of Absolution, Or Remission of Sins)

    I mostly prefer though the Most Holy Rosary of Our Lady. The Eastern Christians use a chotki and repeatedly say “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner”–they never say “we” for it would seem arrogant to them to judge the lives of others around them. The Way of a Pilgrim is a highly recommended book in regards to prayer–it is about making prayer entirely about the heart. The pilgrim is told by his starets to pray X number of the Jesus prayer one day (something in the thousands) and then to constantly increase that number of prayers each day until the prayer is essentially converted to the heart and prayer becomes a natural joy. Chotkis are of all varieties–I have a 33-knot chotki but there are 50-knot and 100-knot chotkis available. Rosaries are cheap on Amazon as well–I think I got mine for about $10. I’m not trying to say I’m more spiritual because of this, but some people might not find the Daily in the BCP all too helpful. I know I don’t.

  3. says

    I had a baseball coach in high school who always told the team, “Practice makes permanent, not perfect.” He stressed proper technique always. I find this statement to be so true in almost all areas of life.

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