Ethos Education

Prayers for Fabrice Muamba: What is the point of praying for people who are facing extreme danger?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Knowledge of what prayer is and what it is for, as understood by Christians.
  • Awareness of Jesus’ example and teaching about prayer.
  • Consideration of the relationship between prayer and faith.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon the relative merits of different activities for someone trapped on a leaking boat.
  • Reflect upon the social-networking responses to Fabrice Muamba’s cardiac arrest while playing for Bolton Wanderers against Tottenham Hotspur in March 2012.
  • Analyse key Bible passages to determine what Christians believe about the relationship between faith, God’s will and answered prayer.
  • Reflect upon the possibility that Christians should be willing to be actively involved in answering their own prayers.
  • Analyse a Bible passage to identify the relationship between prayer and activity.
  • Synthesise learning by answering letters to a fictitious advice column.

STARTER:

Explain that you want the students to imagine that they are in a small boat in the middle of a large lake, and have just discovered that there is a leak in the boat. Ask them to work together in small groups to brainstorm possible things they could do. Make sure that they understand their initial task is simply to generate as many ideas of things to do as possible.

After a few minutes of brainstorming, ask them to evaluate their list and choose the three most important/useful things to do. Give them a few more minutes to make their selections, then ask the groups to feedback their responses to the rest of the class. Allow some discussion of any controversial, unexpected or just plain funny suggestions.

If anyone suggested prayer as one of their three priority activities, remind the students of that fact; if no one suggested it, ask whether any groups thought of it and rejected it, or whether the idea of praying in such a situation simply didn’t occur to them. Explain that in today’s lesson, you are going to be thinking about the point of praying, particularly praying when faced with extreme situations.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Ask the students what the name Fabrice Muamba means to them. If necessary, remind them that on Saturday 17th March 2012, Muamba was playing in an FA Cup quarter-final for Bolton Wanderers against Tottenham Hotspur when he collapsed on the pitch and suffered a cardiac arrest. He received treatment on the pitch, with fans of both clubs chanting his name, and was taken to a nearby hospital specialising in heart problems. After two hours, doctors were able to get his heart beating without assistance, and he remained in intensive care for several days. If you want to give out a summary of the events (or just use it to make sure you are clear on the background to this lesson) see http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/17417973

In the hours that followed Muamba’s collapse, several footballers responded via social networking sites such as Twitter. Read the following tweeted comments to the students, and ask them to pay attention to the running theme that unites this selection of comments:

‘Come on Fabrice Muamba, praying for you.’

Rio Ferdinand

‘Terrible what happened with Muamba during the game. We’re all praying for him.’

Rafael van der Vaart (who was playing for Tottenham in the match when Muamba collapsed)

‘Praying for you Fab. Hope he’s OK. Thoughts with him and his family. For all those asking, I know as much as you do. Waiting anxiously for updates from teammates. Fab is a fighter!’

Bolton team-mate Stuart Holden (who didn’t play in the match due to injury)

‘Pray for Fab. God willing he will pull through.’

Jermain Defoe (who was playing for Tottenham in the match when Muamba collapsed)

‘Hope Fabrice Muamba is OK. Praying for him and his family. Still in shock.’

Wayne Rooney

‘Doesn’t matter who you support. Doesn’t matter if you aren’t a football fan. Doesn’t matter if you aren’t religious. Pray for Fabrice Muamba.’

Kyle Walker (who was playing for Tottenham in the match when Muamba collapsed)

Draw out that all of the selected Tweets – and a significant proportion of the tweets reported in the media related to Muamba’s condition – included either an expression of support in the form of prayer, or a call for others to pray for Fabrice Muamba. Even the Football Association released a tweet stating that, ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with Fabrice Muamba and his family right now’. Muamba’s fiancée, Shauna Magunda, issued the following tweets: ‘God is in control. Please keep Muamba in your prayers’ and ‘Please keep praying for Fabrice, it’s really helping I can feel it.’

Ask the students if any of them had noticed the high proportion of tweets with reference to prayer? What do they think about this – why are so many people calling on others to pray for Fabrice Muamba? Draw their attention particularly to the tweet from Kyle Walker. Do they agree with Walker’s comment that people should pray for Fabrice Muamba, regardless of whether or not they are religious? Why do the students think that some people without religious convictions turn to prayer in extreme circumstances?

Remind the students of the starter activity and ask whether they think that prayer would be likely to achieve anything in a situation like Muamba’s. One difference between Muamba’s situation and the fictitious boat from the starter is that the people being urged to pray were unable to do anything else. Do the students agree with Shauna Magunda that the prayers were helping Fabrice, or do the prayers achieve nothing more than making powerless people feel a little less out of control.

You could refer the students to the following article on the BBC News pages online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17429779 . The article looks at the widespread calls to pray for Fabrice Muamba and the popularity of this action even with those who do not claim any religious faith.

Explain that Christians believe that prayer is important, and that Jesus’ teaching is clear that believers in God should pray regularly. The Bible is less clear about the relationship between the things people pray for, the will of God and the eventual outcome of the thing prayed about.

Ask the students, working in pairs or small groups, to look up Mark 11:12-14 and 20-26 and answer the following questions: 

  • Why are the disciples surprised that Jesus’ words about the fig tree have come true?
  • How does Jesus explain what has happened?
  • What things does Jesus seem to suggest are important if somebody wants God to answer their prayers?

Once the students have had time to answer the questions, let them feed their answers back to the whole class. It is probably worth pointing out at this stage that the Bible does not use the phrase ‘curse’ in the same way that it may be commonly understood today. The New Bible Commentary (IVP, 1994) says the following in its account of Mark 11:

It is important to realise that in the Bible ‘blessing’ and ‘cursing’ do not have the same meaning as today. They are God’s solemn judgements, his pronouncements of the results of either pleasing or displeasing him; he does not act without reason. The Bible knows nothing of magical curses. (p968).

Discuss with the students whether they think that there is any limit on Jesus’ statement that ‘whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours’. It would be helpful to remind them of the example of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, when he longed to not have to go through with God’s plan for him to be crucified, but prayed, ‘Yet not as I will, but as you will’ (Matthew 26:39).

Read Romans 8:26-27 to the class:

‘In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.’

(You might need to explain that in the Bible the word ‘saints’ describes all believers in Jesus – i.e. Christians – not just a few miracle-working superstars.)

Christians believe that God is more than just a giant vending machine in the sky, churning out answers to prayer if the right buttons are pressed, and always giving people whatever they ask for. Christians believe that prayer is just as much about the person who prays discovering what God wants them to pray for – this is what the passage means when it talks about praying ‘in accordance with God’s will.’

The students might ask what the point of praying is, if God only gives the things that people ask for if they are things that he already wants to give. C.S. Lewis once described prayer as not being about him trying to change God’s mind, but about God changing his mind – helping him to see more clearly what he really needed, and therefore what he ought to be asking God to do for him. You could remind the students of the last verse of the passage from Mark, which talks about forgiving other people, which should also be seen as an indication that the attitude of the person praying in relation to other people is as important as how strongly they believe that their prayer will be answered.

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

Give out copies of the Dear Geraldine worksheet, and ask students to write answers to the three questions about prayer on the sheet. Their answers should demonstrate their understanding of Christian belief about prayer.

YOU WILL NEED:

  • Copies of BBC News article ‘Prayers for Muamba’ (optional).
  • Bibles.
  • Dear Geraldine worksheet.

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