Have you ever wanted something that turned out to be inferior to what God had in mind? I have.
I lost my job and my career on the same August day. I’d had a good 1991 season helping the Seahawks and Eagles win games. I expected to make the Eagles 1992 roster and earn the best salary of my career. Instead, I was the last player cut that summer, and I found myself back home in Seattle without a team or a job. I was talking to God a lot for the first month of the season, asking that any team would need me and sign me up. As it turned out, God wanted something else for me — something better.
I was praying for what I wanted. I wanted God to fix things; God wanted to fix me. I wanted changed circumstances; God wanted changed character. I wanted a new team; God wanted to take me in a new direction.
After four weeks of praying for my way, I thought I got my answer when the Seahawks quarterback got injured. I called and left a message for the coach, telling him that I was in town, in shape and ready to report. He called back and said the team would be signing a different quarterback. My heart sank. I headed outside my home, slammed the door and sat down on the porch to have a pity party. Grumbling at the unfairness of it all, I told God, “I’m not going to pray. I’m just going to soak in this stinking pain.”
My wife, Stacy, walked out to console me. “Jeff, I can’t imagine how much this hurts, but I do know that God has taken us through many tough times and he has always been faithful in caring for us.”
“I know that,” I replied, “but I just want to finish football with some dignity.”
She gently countered, “Jeff, when Jesus left this world, he didn’t receive any dignity. Maybe you need to let go of that desire.”
“And maybe you need to go inside,” I said.
As I considered the last days of Jesus’ epic life and his self-sacrifice on the cross, I melted in remorse for my attitude. My shallow, greedy desires for more pro football had crowded out the truth that God’s love was my greatest treasure. Soon, I was praying again, this time humbling myself, feeling God’s love and praising him for his love and forgiveness. Then he planted these words in my heart: “Forget what lies behind and press on to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13). With that, God released me from my inferior desire for more NFL football and sent me forward into his much better plans: using my past career as a platform to join him in strengthening men, marriages and families.
I’ve come to understand that prayer is not just talking, but also listening to God, acknowledging that we don’t see life as accurately or as fully as he. Prayer moves our desires to align with God’s, to do what he deems best over what we deem best. Prayer is a man’s greatest strength, yet our pride often prevents us from diligent prayer. On the other hand, humility compels us in prayer to trust God and to invite his will and his power in life.
Praying has shaped my life, both alone and with teammates. I pray with Stacy nearly every day. Men experience God’s power when they pray at all junctures in life: blitzes and blessings; new experiences; when resolving conflicts; and in all family, career and ministry efforts. Prayer fuels humility that leads to apologies, forgiveness and closeness on your most important team.
A man can talk to his Father in heaven constantly. Daily routines and regular conversations can include prayer — mealtimes, tucking children into bed and especially when a conflict arises in our marriage and family. Even children in college or the military will appreciate your asking how you can privately pray for them.
But remember, men, whenever we pray, let’s ask for what God wants over what we want.
• Jeff Kemp quarterbacked 11 seasons in the NFL. He has been married 33 years to Stacy; they have four grown sons. He is a vice president at FamilyLife (FamilyLife.com), a national speaker and author of the book “Facing the Blitz.” He also hosts a weekly video blog, Facing Your Blitz (FacingTheBlitz.com).