Last modified: Mar 11, 2017

Watch 32

As they broke from the huddle, the coach looked over his clipboard again, taking one last deep breath before his players put his man-to-man defensive play to use.

The old man had been calling plays from the sidelines for almost four decades now, but he had never gotten used to the pressure of the last-second play. And he was certain he never would. Especially not when his team was tenuously hanging on to a 1-point lead.

His heart raced a little faster as his players assembled in their half court for the inbounds play. Immediately, his experienced eyes caught the opposition’s strategy. There were 5 seconds left on the clock and the opponent needed a quick play. They were stacking their players at the free throw line to cause confusion. The point guard was high, a forward was in the middle, and a big man was low.

They were going to send their big men for a double screen on the near wing to free up the inbounds passer for an open jumper from the top of the key… But how? A lot to do in 5 seconds, but it had been done before.

“Watch 32,” he yelled out. Again. And again. It was the jersey number of the inbounds passer. He was gonna get open.

He wasn’t sure exactly how they’d do it, but they would. He knew that. He had seen the play a million times before and, at this moment, he needed his players to see it, too. And a few of them recognized it. Just as the ball was about to get thrown in, his star player barked commands to his teammates, re-adjusting assignments on the fly to cope with what the opposition wanted to try.

“Watch 32,” they all yelled.

The other team sent their big man to the near side wing to catch the inbounds pass. He caught it. And sure enough, sudden like an explosion, the stack broke up from the free throw line, the big man popping out to the near side to join the other big man with the ball, the point guard racing out to the near side corner, and the other forward running to the other side.

The big man held the ball high, serving as a decoy as number 32 ran at half speed towards him. He was trying to get his defender caught in the double screen. It would free him up for an open jumper to win the game.

The point guard ran from the near corner up to the wing just as number 32 got there. A triple screen.

Number 32’s defender heard the chants from the sideline. And from his teammates.

But he still got caught in the screen. All you needed was to get caught in one to lose your man.

The coach clutched his clipboard tighter as he watched the shooter get free up top and the ball find his hands. A second left on the clock.

And all he could do as the shot went up was mutter under his breath, “Lord, please help us.”

The Opposite

When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he set up a few parameters for them.

Don’t just pray to show off. Don’t worry about how many words you use or how long you pray for. Learn to forgive.

Basic parameters. But, growing up, I was often told to do just the opposite.

Pray on stage. Pray longer. You don’t need to pray for the people that messed you up the other day; just drop it.

It’s not that anybody necessarily told me any of these things. But it could be a glance. Or a tone of voice. Or a shaking head. And that would tell me all I’d need to know about how off-base my prayer skills were.

But I feel like, maybe, somewhere along the way, in the 2,000 years since Jesus taught us all how to properly pray… we kinda sorta messed up a little bit.

The misconceptions have prevailed. Especially the one about having to pray super loud and super long. But that misconception is self-explanatory and I won’t go into that here.

I figured it’s best to point out 4 of them.

Misconception #1

We need to talk when we pray.
Sometimes, listening can help.

I get it. There are scores of passages in the Bible that tell us that we’ve gotta pray out loud, and make requests with our mouths. And that’s perfectly fine. But I think, sometimes, in our haste to keep talking about what we need, we forget to listen to what God knows we need.

And sometimes, I believe God just speaks to us.

Like when Jeremiah was in a difficult situation, God was the one that spoke to him to remind him just how much he had things under control.

And it’s an important thing to remember, because, it’s not like God doesn’t already know what we’re gonna ask him. He knows us better than we know ourselves. If God wanted to cut us off before we finished our sentences, he could—and that would be kinda hilarious at times—because he totally knows what’s being processed in our minds. At all times. Jesus reminded his disciples of that in Matthew 6. God’s not surprised by what we can ask from him.

So don’t worry about talking all the time. Leave some time in your prayer sessions to be still and know that he’s God. To be still and listen to what he knows is best for us.

To be still.

Misconception #2

We need to stop praying for petty things.
Pastor and author Stuart Briscoe once said:

“When our children were small and we were trying to teach them to pray, we had three kinds of prayer: Please prayers, Thank You prayers, and Sorry prayers.”

At some point along the way, our need to intellectualize everything made these prayers seem like petty requests from children… and not something God would really care about.

The truth is that God wants us to ask him for help. Even for the petty things. But he wants us to understand that he’s already thinking about us before we even get around to asking him.

So, no. We don’t have to worry about clothing and what’s happening tomorrow. But he cares enough about the nuances that confound us that he wants us to ask anyway.

There is no small prayer. We don’t need to prove we’re adults by giving God epic prayers.

Jesus was moved to tears when Mary and Martha told him their brother was dead for days. Jesus was moved to impact a wedding party when he realized they weren’t going to be able to have a blast.

So even that prayer with a second left to go in the game and the jumper is up? Not even that is too small.

Nothing is too late or too impossible for prayer.

Nothing is too petty.

Just pray.

Misconception #3

If I don’t get what I asked for, I must be doing something wrong.

Or God is just working on his own schedule.

It’s something I’ve written about before, and I feel like this is a common refrain from most Christians.

If we believe that God is sovereign and he’s got things under control, then… he’s got things under control. Obviously, the hardest thing to wrap our minds around is unanswered prayers. But sometimes, God has other things in mind.

Lacking faith is a theological discussion I won’t get into right now. But God’s plans supersede how much faith we have when we pray. Or how good we are. Or how right we are. Or how ready we are for answers.

So when we pray for healing for our terminally-ill grandmother and we don’t get it? Maybe he realizes that getting the church together to pray for months for her would save the wandering youth who was touched enough to come back and return to the fold to join the prayers.

So when we pray for that job we want and we don’t get it? Maybe God sees there’s a better door waiting to open for us if we grind it out for another month. Or two. Or three.

So when we pray for that crumbling friendship or relationship to succeed and it doesn’t happen? Maybe God is just gonna make you stronger to weather more devastating storms down the road.

If we’re confident that God’s playing the role of director in this movie we’re living in, then… remain confident in that.

I’ll add what I wrote in that old post:

We all grapple with situations in our lives that make us realize that only God has the power to save us from the storms. But, far too often, we pray for the grandiose. The Hollywood. The Jenga fortresses. Are you ready for the silence? Are you ready for those moments when God doesn’t answer you right away? For those moments when God bides His time so that He can restore you to the position you were destined for in the first place? Are you ready to trust God and take steps of faith even when you haven’t gotten magnificent signs and wonders that make your forward progress that much easier? Are you ready to realize that God’s not only in the business of Hollywood or Jenga fortresses, but also in the business of subdued profundity? Remember that those indie films leave indelible dents on the world just as much as those blockbusters do. We just have to understand that. The truth is, just like any good director, God often waits until the right moment to deliver the scene that effectively encapsulates everything the plot has been building towards. And honestly, the movie is better off that way anyway.

Misconception #4

Prayer never ever works.
I won’t elaborate on this.

But just trust me when I tell you that you are standing where you are right now because of the prayers of somebody else.

Now, you may not think your parents care. Or your church cares. Or your friends care. Or your mentors care.

But somebody somewhere has spent a night or two on their knees, weeping so that you could be… standing where you are right now.

Praying for each other works.


Change the way you look at prayer.

Maybe you’ve thought you’re a useless case and God wouldn’t listen to you anyway. Or your prayers are small. Or your prayers don’t work.

And you’d be wrong about all of that.

Jesus taught us how to pray and it’s time we stop feeling too inadequate and too small and too disconnected to want to follow his template. So learn this:

“Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”

God’s got you in the palms of his hands.

Trust him enough to pray like you mean something to him.

Because you do. ■