The Sixth Man

Psalm 54:2

Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth

I went to a Lutheran grade school, K-8. My eighth grade year was a high point for us guys.  The seventh and eighth grade boys basketball team was a powerhouse in our league.  We had Mark Lyon, Mark Bonnough, Chuckie, Dickie, & Eric in the starting lineup.  They were fast, read each other well, and could shoot.  Boy, could they shoot!  I remember the Friday night that we were scheduled to play for the league championship!

Friday night basketball was a huge deal at Trinity. There were several games starting with fifth and sixth grade boys, then girls.  Then the seventh and eighth girls, leading up to the seventh and eighth grade boys; a.k.a The Main Event.

We were nowhere near confident that we’d collect the coveted trophy. The team we had to beat that last night had pretty well gone to town on us earlier in the season.  We had no real expectation of doing any better.  We knew we didn’t have the talent or whatever else they had to beat them.

All of us spent the hours of the three games before ours in prayer. The school gym was on one end of that long building, the sanctuary on the other.  We went there as we felt moved to, praying in the dark, passing each other in that long hallway in between.  We prayed for strength and skill to win the trophy, because we knew these guys were poised grind us up on our own court.

We prayed off and on hour after hour. When it was finally time to hit the locker room and dress, we were determined to give it our very best shot and let God decide the outcome.

Somehow, some way, we tore them apart that night. Even I made it off the bench and scored a three point play.  The crowd went wild, as the saying goes.  At the final buzzer we were drunk with amazement at what had just happened.

Back in the locker room we were jumping and shouting, delirious with joy. We raised three cheers for God in acknowledgement of the miracle we had just been given.

That was too many decades ago, but I remember it clearly; the multiple pilgrimages to the dark, silent church, hours of repeating our simple earnest prayer for a victory, and the solemn nods in the hallway as we quietly commended each other for continuing the prayers. It was something that just happened.  No plans, no “I’ve got an idea,” nothing.  Just a bunch of kids who took God seriously and weren’t afraid to ask for a win in a small league, in a small gym, at a small school.

I know God gave us that win. And I don’t think the win was the point from where God sat that night.  Sure, He was our sixth man on the floor with us that night, but He had bigger things in mind.  It was a teaching moment.

I haven’t seen either Mark for at least 10-15 years. I saw Eric about ten years ago.  I don’t think I ever saw Dickie or Chuckie after we all graduated.  But the Marks, Eric, and I still hold that night in the same awe we had as kids.  It never should have happened, but it did.

We prayed innocently for a great desire. We prayed in unity.  We prayed persistently.  At the end, we learned the power of prayer.

Did God enjoy saying “Yes” that night? I know He did.  What Father doesn’t get a kick out of giving a child of His a nice surprise?  Did God teach us something that would last our lifetimes?  Certainly!

Life is more than a basketball trophy that is now lost somewhere, gathering dust if not broken. God is our Sixth Man in every part of our lives.  All He asks is that we pass Him the ball when He’s open and we’re covered.  That’s it.  Don’t pray once and call it a night.  Don’t pray against someone.  Pray in unity.  Accept His answers, and praise Him for taking the court with you.

After that…nothing but net!

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