Four years ago to the day, the 23-year-old Bolton Wanderers midfielder, Fabrice Muamba, suffered a cardiac arrest live on national television during an FA Cup quarter final tie against Tottenham Hotspur. The heart attack would leave him effectively dead for 78 minutes, something he would never fully recover from.
The ordeal that took place on that Saturday sparked widespread national interest both within and outside the world of football. Many where shocked by what they saw live on TV that day and were gripped by the almost constant news reports that followed.
Shortly after his collapse, something quite remarkable happened. I’m not talking about the fact that a cardiac specialist just happened to be sat in the stands and then convinced a steward to allow him onto the pitch – although that really is remarkable.
The ‘Pray for Muamba’ campaign that erupted around the world was undertaken by football players past and present, fans of every team, people who don’t like football, Christians, Jews, Muslims, people with no faith, all posting photos and #hashtagging the words #pray4Muamba”. If nothing else that day, people learnt how to unite for a common cause.
I’ve often wondered whether or not Muamba would have survived that day had he not been centre-stage of one of England’s most renowned competitions. Only, I don’t say that because of the amazing ground staff, paramedics and doctors who treated him. What I’m referring to is the tremendous wave of support he received in the form of prayer.
The apostle Paul explains in Romans 8:26-27 that we can approach God through prayer in a way that doesn’t require the perfect words or even the knowledge of what exactly to pray for. This comes as a great relief for me as I imagine it does for many people. The fact that the spirit will intercede, filtering out the nonsense sometimes embedded in our prayers, gives great confidence that when we approach God in prayer – we can be sure that what ‘needs’ to be said, is being communicated to Him.
On reflection of that day in 2012, I’ve become convinced that the way in which the movement #Pray4Muamba captivated the world’s prayerful groans was one that I’m certain we can learn from. Consider this – the apostle Paul instructs all of us in Ephesians 6:18: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and request” (NIV). Note: Paul encourages “all kinds of prayers”.
Accepting that on many occasions the prayers of sports fans clearly go amiss in heaven, I wonder if in the instance of Fabrice Muamba, when the groans of the many that were following the events were heard by God thanks to the interceding filtration of God’s spirit. Perhaps this provides us some explanation and insight into the many ways God reacts to prayer. Or in this instance prayerful groans.
But why then, if God hears our prayer regardless of how we word them, do we not see results more often?
The reality and the nature of prayer is something that we can’t approach in absolute understanding. Despite being encouraged throughout the New Testament to pray, it’s clear that often we can be disheartened by God’s apparent lack of response – resulting in the death of our prayer life. However, we know that God is good and when we consider the will of God and not just our desires – regardless of how ‘good’ we think they might be – I believe we begin to understand why He doesn’t answer prayers in the way we often demand of Him.
“For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted.” – C.S. Lewis
When we make requests to God, we can’t forget that He already has a will for our lives better than you can imagine. When things don’t fall into place like you’d hoped and prayed, it’s then that God desires you to seek His will again through prayer.
When God answered a united people who groanfully conducted the #Pray4Muamba campaign – we saw Him move in great power. As for why God chose to bring Muamba back? Perhaps it was in line with His will. And if in your own prayers you feel never listened to, be encouraged in the knowledge that God’s will is good.
“Did you know that no doctor can put an exact finger on exactly what went wrong and then exactly what went right? You can’t explain that. It’s just part of the bigger picture and you have to move forward. I’m 100 per cent sure that if God wanted me to die I would’ve done so on that pitch. Why wouldn’t I have done? Think about it. Who comes back after that?” – Fabrice Muamba