Iowa’s Zach Johnson won the Masters golf tournament today. The DesMoines Register reported:
Johnson said with a cracking voice as he talked with CBS near the 18th green that the victory meant even more on Easter, as he credited Jesus and his late grandfather for helping him steel nerves.
Normally, when athletes give credit to God after a victory, the implication is that they won because God wanted them to win, that they put their trust or faith in God and were rewarded.
Johnson evidently didn’t pray to Jesus to help him win, he prayed to Jesus to help him stay calm. It’s an important distinction. We don’t know what the internal words of his prayer were, of course. But it probably wasn’t just a simple plea whenever he noticed his nervousness, ie, “Help me to stay calm, Jesus.” Rather, he likely had a prayer that he repeatedly recited, and it functioned as a way to mentally focus, helping him to stay ‘in the present’ rather than letting the mind trigger fears which create muscle tension which inhibits athletic performance.
In the movie, Saving Private Ryan, Private Jackson is a sharpshooter who quotes from the Hebrew Psalter each time he prepares to kill a German:
Be not that far from me, for trouble is near; haste Thee to help me.
Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight.
My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust; who subdueth my people under me.
O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me.
He thinks God is helping him to vanquish his enemies, but it’s the calming effect of the prayer that quiets his mind, thereby calming his nerves and steadying his muscles and allowing his special athletic skill to be effective. Unfortunately, none of this is a match for a German tank which blows him out his sharpshooter perch towards the end of the movie. (I suppose one could argue that the German soldier operating that tank might have prayed more effectively than Private Jackson and therefore God answered the German’s prayer and not the American’s. But let’s not go there for now.)
So this type of prayer is a special class of false prayer that I blogged about in Feb. It’s false, because the person believes God is interceding in the physical universe. But it’s an effective false prayer because nerves are actually calmed.
The brain wouldn’t care if the words were from the Hebrew Psalter, the Sermon on the Mount, Mother Goose, or a McDonald’s commercial. The effect would be the same if the technique was practiced equally religiously. heh.
But I could be wrong.