I found myself asking this question during a dinner on Monday night with friends. They were asking me what I thought about Tim Tebow's unique way of praying. I had no idea who Tim Tebow was let along that he was developing some new form of prayer. We happened to be in a restaurant with TV's showing all sorts of sports things. It wasn't long before a kneeling figure in a blue and orange jersey was shown. "Is that it?" I asked. "How does he pray?" "It's called 'Tebowing'." My friend said. Then added, "Hey, you should write about this in your blog!"
I grew up more-or-less in Colorado, so culturally I'm a Broncos fan. Once I heard the name "Tebow" I couldn't stop hearing it. On Facebook, on Twitter, on the news, conversations on the street. So I said to myself, "Ok, what is 'Tebowing?'"
I did a little research. Turns out Tim Tebow and I are the same age. He has an official website and has his own non-profit along with a huge social media presence. He's a quarterback. He has a documentary and a book. One of his catch phrases is "GB2" which stands for "God bless and Go Broncos." Looks like he often Tweets it after citing Bible verses. And, most importantly, the Broncos recent wins have been attributed to Tebow's Christian faith. By the things I'm reading online and hearing from fans he seems like a nice guy who plays sports professionally and has a personal faith. Now, I'm not here to figure out what Tim Tebow believes or doesn't believe or give a bio about him.
I'm here to ponder the question: What is Tebowing?
What is Tebowing?
(vb) to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different. -tebowing.com
The above is the definition on the main Tebowing site, but it's much more than that. I browsed the Tebowing site and the pictures are ... very interesting. They're posed shots mostly of individuals but also of duos and groups in the now-famous knelt position. Some are in well-known places, and while some of the photos could be people in genuine prayer I'm not sure all of them are. Is this a spiritual discipline you want people to know about or is this a cool pix you want to upload? (Or both?)
What bothers me most is not the fan site or the media attention or the fact that you can buy a shirt that says "TeBOWing" or the praying-on-street-corners thing. I can't assume or project what Tim Tebow is or is not saying during his prayer time, but I'm bothered that Tebow seems only to pray after something happens that he deems good. I think this action reflects a much deeper problem in our cultural understanding of prayer. One of my friends referred to this as "bizarre half-piety." Meaning, God is only being acknowledged when something good or positive happens in the point of view of the pray-er or when the pray-er wants something specific to happen. The ones familiar with the Hebrew Bible might know where I'm going with this...
Then [after learning of the death of his entire family and loss of his fortune] Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. He said, "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." -Job 1:20-21
Where else to turn to talk about praying and praising when things aren't good than the Book of Job? I’m not going to go into the whole Job story. It’s long and worth plowing through with a guide or small group. So I’ll just say that lots of terrible stuff happened to Job, and he worshiped and praised God anyway. His friends thought he was stupid. They told him to blame everything on God and/or on his own sin. Job refuses. In his despair he continues to cry out to God. He knows God is his Creator and Redeemer no matter what happens.
One of the most difficult things for me is when I hear people talking about prayer as if God grants their requests because of the sincerity or length of their prayer. Worse is when people tell me they lost their faith because God didn’t answer their prayers. Meaning, whatever they wanted to happen didn’t happen and they blame God. But God is not a vending machine. We can’t put in prayer coins, press buttons, and get our treat out of the bottom. I believe God doesn’t will illness or addiction or abuse or poverty or racism or anything like that on us. We’re human. Our bodies will fail us. Our systems may work against equality. The world we live in isn’t perfect, not by a long shot. But prayer does change things. God doesn't change; God is eternal. Our understanding of God can change through prayer. Through prayer our hearts can be opened to new movements of the Spirit. I've often seen people praying for something who then feel empowered to go out and become the answer to their prayers.
I want to be clear because sometimes when we talk about prayer and praise in times of crisis it can seem non-empathetic and disconnected to pain. Often people who are talking about this issue are people who have gone through difficult times and come out the other side. Pain, despair, doubt, sadness, anger, and all other feelings do not mean there is an absence of faith. I'm sure Job felt terrible. His entire family died at basically the same time! He was in deep mourning. He may not even have had words for his grief. There are lots of Psalms that cry out to God from a place of deep pain and then turn at the end to praise and trust.
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because God has dealt bountifully with me. -Psalm 13: 1-2, 5-6
Not all the Psalms of pain have this turn to praise at the end. Sometimes they end on the despair. At the end of the Book of Job Job's illnesses are healed and he finds a new wife who he then has a family with, but this doesn't replace the loved ones he lost. People talk about the end of Job like Job is rewarded for his faithfulness. I'm not sure that's true. A friend lost a child several years ago and since then has had another child. She laments the loss of her first child while celebrating the life of her second. Being able to continue your life journey doesn't mean your pain is gone.
Pray unceasingly, right? Paul says that in 1 Thessalonians. Jesus talks about in Matthew loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you. Now, I'm just as bad as anyone else at forgetting to pray/praise when things suck or are really hard. That's usually when I roll up my sleeves and say, "I'm here to fix it!" or I drop into procrastination/frozen mode. And most of my hard stuff is nowhere near the difficulties Job faced! I'm nowhere near praying unceasingly, but God can transform us and our views on what is bad/good through prayer and communal experience.
Alright, back to Tebowing. My questions for the fans are: When the Broncos lose will you reject Tim Tebow? Will you blame him for the loss even if he doesn't play in the game? Will you claim his prayers suddenly aren't being heard? Or will you say "Well, football is a team sport; and the team didn't play well today?"
Now my question for Tim Tebow: why don't you pray after each play? Give thanks that no one got injured or that you are a child of God or that you had a sandwich for lunch. You are one of the most visible Christians in America right now. In God we live and move and have our being no matter what else is going on. Fox Sports reported Tim Tebow was tweeted by a fan who was Tebowing during his chemotherapy. Tebow was happy to encourage the fan to pray. So next time you're sacked or lose a game will you please get down on one knee and praise God because God is awe-some and worthy of praise whether the Broncos are winning or losing? Because being a Christian or Christ-follower or faithful person or just praying if you don't know what you believe is not limited to touchdowns. Our calling as people of faith is not to win something. We're called to walk the journey of faith in our lives among the brokenhearted people and broken systems. And if we believe that Jesus was victorious over death, that victory isn't ours to claim. Grace and love are gifts bestowed upon us, and those gifts aren't withdrawn if we don't pray hard enough or suddenly our life falls apart or the Broncos lose. That is Good News.