Friday Night Prayers

A friend of mine asked me to consider replacing the “Come, Lord Jesus” prayer that we recite before dinner with a prayer by Eric Taylor—that’s right, the fictional coach from the TV series Fright Night Lights. My friend is serious.

In the series finale, “Always,” Taylor offers up this prayer before the state finals:

Dear Heavenly Father, keep us and protect us tonight. Please allow us to take the talents you have given us and use them to the very best this evening. As a family. As one. Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

It’s a simple prayer, one that probably passes the muster of Matthew 6:7-8. It is memorable because it focuses on talent and unity—and, strikingly, not on victory. Despite the commonness of the practice, it has long seemed strange to me for a team to pray to win a game because it is so transparently self-serving and self-aggrandizing.*

Fans might be interested to know that the prayer does not actually appear in the script for the final episode, which you can read here. The writer, Jason Katims, only prompted Kyle Chandler with the first few words. The rest, it appears, was left up to Chandler to ad lib.

The series didn’t shy away from showing prayer on the small screen, and that was surely one of the things that made it great. It tried earnestly to show people living out their faith, however imperfectly. And it showed how a godly man, if not an overtly religious one, could be a role model, a shaper of men, often through his leading prayers.

Texan blogger Wade Hodges called attention to another great pre-game prayer:

“Dear Lord, please allow these young men to safely pursue the height of their excellence tonight. And, as a family, allow them to achieve their goals with the gifts with which you have blessed them. Amen.”

Again, the brevity and the emphasis on excellence, talents, and unity are noteworthy not the least for their appearance in mainstream media, let alone a prime time drama.

Of course, the most memorable prayer in the show (actually there are two back to back, both written by Peter Berg) is one from the pilot. Jason Street, the star first-string quarterback, has just been seriously injured on the field, and as the episode ends, the extent of his injuries are unknown. As the team finishes out the game, Smash, the star receiver, drops to one knee, surrounded by players from both teams, and offers this extemporaneous prayer:

Right now it’s not about who wins or loses, Father. We all just want to be with [Jason] Street right now, God. We know that you work in mysterious ways, and we just want to send our spirit, our presence, our love, just to heal him in whatever way, Lord. Whatever might be broken, Lord, just fix it right now, Father. It is in your name we pray. Amen.”

Then we hear Coach Taylor’s voice as the camera pans to the grief and fear on the faces of Jason’s parents, girlfriend, and friends:

Give all of us gathered here tonight the strength to remember that life is so very fragile. We are all vulnerable. And we will all, at some point in our lives . . . fall. We will all fall.

We must carry this in our hearts: that what we have is special, and that it can be taken from us. And when it is taken from us, we will be tested. We will be tested to our very souls.

We will now all be tested. It is these times, it is this pain, that allows us to look inside ourselves.

This prayerful coda becomes the theme that will resonate through the best episodes of Friday Night Lights. It is a part of the show’s greatness, pointing us, not to victory, the domination of the other, but to sympathy, to another’s point of view, in strength and in weakness.

So I say, if my friend wants to replace his mealtime prayer with the fine sentiments above, he has my blessing—and my thanks for helping me to imagine how Dillon, Texas, might be the City of God.

____________

* During the Civil War (isn’t football always compared to combat?), Abe Lincoln observed, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully.”

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