Nate Jackson / January 10, 2023

The National Faith League?

Prayer played an important and undeniable role in the recovery of Damar Hamlin. Take a moment to appreciate that.

When Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field during Monday Night Football last week, the nation immediately took notice. A healthy 24-year-old in the prime of life made a routine football play, got up to return to his position for the next one, and suddenly dropped to the ground due to what we later learned was cardiac arrest. After seemingly eternal minutes of CPR and resuscitation efforts, Hamlin was taken by ambulance to a Cincinnati hospital. That he walked again on Friday and was transferred out of the ICU yesterday to convalesce back in Buffalo is a testament to the quick and effective medical attention he received — and also to the prayers of millions of people.

Hamlin, you see, is a Christian man who believes, as we do, in the healing power of prayer. No, God doesn’t always heal people. That’s a sad reality of living in the world He created but that was and remains marred by human sin. Yet His grace does show up in our lives often, including in the occasional miracle, if only we choose to see it.

“Glory to God,” said Bills head coach Sean McDermott last Thursday, “for His keeping Damar and his family in the palm of His hand over the last couple of days and His healing powers.” Doctors say Hamlin is “neurologically intact” and showing “remarkable improvement,” though he has a ways to go and his football future is uncertain. Given that his life was uncertain last Monday night, we suspect he’ll take it.

At the risk of getting “too spiritual,” we’ll summarize Deuteronomy 8: When you’ve reached the Promised Land and have flocks and herds and wealth, when you have everything you ever wanted, “take care lest you forget the Lord your God.”

Americans in general are among the richest people ever to live on God’s green earth, and not many among us are as materially and physically blessed as NFL players. America has also increasingly forgotten the Lord. Christianity is in decline and the devastating results are, well, everywhere.

We all are guilty of sometimes thinking we’ve got everything under control only to suddenly realize in crisis how very not true that is. The sight of athletic, strong, and fit men so distraught and kneeling in prayer for their stricken friend because it was all they could do was one of the more powerful images of human frailty we can imagine. That millions of Americans so readily joined them is a testament to deep truth that we’re often too slow to acknowledge.

Those prayers didn’t just go up during the hushed silence in the stadium last Monday night. They continued all week and were a common sight during this past weekend’s NFL games. “Prayers for Damar” was a phrase seen almost everywhere.

Heck, even The New York Times featured a story about how “Christianity is embedded in N.F.L. culture.”

ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, a former NFL quarterback, led a prayer during a live broadcast. “God, we come to you in these moments that we don’t understand,” he prayed. “We … pray for strength for Damar, for healing for Damar, for comfort for Damar, to be with his family, to give them peace. … I believe in prayer, we believe in prayer, and we lift up Damar Hamlin’s name in your name.” His fellow commentators agreed with an “Amen.”

“Prayer is officially having a moment in the NFL,” observed commentator Megan Basham.

Prayer is also often derided not just in the NFL but elsewhere. Think of the last mass shooting and the smug leftists who angrily rejected all your “meaningless thoughts and prayers.” Speaking of shootings, it’s interesting to see the attention given to one NFL player when some number of young black men were gunned down by other young black men over the same weekend. We ought to pray for them.

It wasn’t long ago that NFL players were mocked for taking a knee to pray, while others were celebrated for taking a knee to protest the national anthem of the very country that made them wealthy and privileged. Football coaches have been fired from public schools for leading prayer, which is largely unwelcome in the public sphere.

When people are suddenly disabused of any notion of their own sovereignty, however, they sometimes do know exactly where to turn.

Unfortunately, coming together doesn’t happen universally, even in Hamlin’s case. Arguments and tempers flared over COVID vaccines (in both directions) or how the NFL was handling the game. Emotions ran high, and people were hateful and rude even in the face of harrowing adversity.

Even so, it’s encouraging to see, if only for a moment, a nation come together in prayer for one individual. A similar thing happened after 9/11 and other intense events. Our task now is to work toward making that moment last longer and come more frequently. That more than any policy or politician would actually heal what ails us.

As former NFL coach Tony Dungy put it: “As I walked this morning I thanked God for how He has watched over Damar Hamlin. I couldn’t help but think of Romans 8:28 and God working through a tragedy to help unify us. Over the last week I think we have realized that life is too important to let differences separate us.”

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