Damar Hamlin (PDF) is a twenty-four-year-old safety for the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League. Nine minutes into last night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, he tackled a Bengals receiver who appeared to collide with him in the head and chest area.
Hamlin quickly stood up, took two steps, collapsed backward, and his body went limp.
Medical personnel administered CPR and cared for him for ten minutes while visibly upset players from both teams watched. Some shed tears while others circled together to pray.
The Bills said later that Hamlin had suffered cardiac arrest on the field; his heartbeat was restored and he was taken to a Cincinnati hospital. According to the team, “He is currently sedated and listed in critical condition.”
The NFL postponed the game; rescheduling discussions have not yet occurred.
A picture that brought tears to my eyes
The reaction in prayer was immediate and profound.
A photo of players and coaches from both teams praying on their knees brought tears to my eyes. Christians from around the league were quick to respond as well.
Robert Griffin III tweeted the image of the praying players and wrote, “Please don’t share the video of the Damar Hamlin play. Share this because we are all praying for him and his family.” Star quarterback Josh Allen tweeted: “Please pray for our brother.”
If you don’t believe in Zeus
I’m sure their calls for prayer will be criticized by skeptics, as they usually are when “thoughts and prayers” are offered during a crisis. Critics want us to do something concrete and practical about the issues we face, believing that words spoken to God (if he exists) are insufficient and often used as a substitute for action.
Such criticism is understandable from their point of view. If you don’t believe in Zeus, you will discount prayers to him in a crisis when practical responses are needed. If those who pray to him don’t then take action, you’ll dismiss their prayers as a pious evasion of personal responsibility.
But if you believe in the God to whom Christians prayed last night, you know that asking for his help is the most practical thing we can do. Why would you not want an omnipotent God to intervene in a health emergency? Why would you not ask him to heal Damar Hamlin as Jesus healed so many others in Scripture?
And you know that praying to God in a crisis, rather than distracting us from taking action, empowers us to respond in ways we could not otherwise. This is why John Bunyan observed, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.”
Our real problem with prayer
Our real problem with praying in a crisis is not that we do it but that we don’t do more of it. The Bible says, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). Jesus assured us, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).
Criticism of prayer unmasks the self-sufficiency at the heart of our secularized culture. But crisis unmasks the irrationality of such self-sufficiency. We think we don’t need God anymore, that our scientific and medical advances have made faith in him obsolete and irrelevant. Then we face an emergency our human resources cannot solve and we are faced with our need for Someone beyond ourselves.
For example, this morning’s news tells us about another earthquake and massive flooding in California, a death in a house fire, fatalities and injuries from car crashes, and snowmobile accidents that killed a professional driver and severely injured a Hollywood actor.
Each story demonstrates again our finitude and frailty in a broken and fallen world.
Three practical steps
The right response to Damar Hamlin’s life-threatening injury and to the other crises in our world is to do what sports analyst and former NFL linebacker Emmanuel Acho tweeted: “Join me in praying for: Damar Hamlin’s full recovery. Peace for his family and loved ones. Wisdom for doctors and physicians in contact with Damar right now.”
Then he added, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16b).”
First, be sure you are a “righteous person” by renewing your commitment to Christ as your Lord and submitting to the sanctifying power of his Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). For practical ways to experience the power of God in prayer, please read my latest blog, “The key to success is to ‘sit in one chair.’”
Second, pray specifically for Damar Hamlin and any other crises in the news and in your life. Ask God to work in power and grace.
Third, look for ways to help answer your prayers by meeting needs in God’s name. For example, a toy drive sponsored by Damar Hamlin with a goal of $2,500 had raised more than $3,170,000 as of this writing. Find a way to help a hurting person with the compassion of Christ.
One way God redeems our crises is by using them to turn us to himself. Pope Benedict XVI modeled such faith from his deathbed when he spoke his last words: “Lord, I love you.”
How will you express your love for your Lord today?