In high school a varsity football coach had a profound impact on my life . . . in a destructive way. I could bench press 275 but was a whopping 185 pound offensive and defensive lineman. I was often outweighed 40 to 100 pounds by every opposing player I went against. I loved my offensive line coach, but my defensive line coach was an abusive person. He would grab your facemask and throw you to the ground. He would kick you when you were in your stance, and then when you stood up he would slam you on the helmet and yell to get back down, repeating this over and over. One day when I was over the ball as offensive center that coach began to spit on my arms, saying that even that couldn’t make me tough. When I drove that defender backwards he yelled I was still an expletive. Looking back, it is no wonder that I loved playing offense under one coach and absolutely froze and panicked when I played defense under the other coach. Dread, doubt and fear of a lashing are a bad formula for success in sports. My offensive coach was tough at times, but in a positive way. During one practice he kept telling the defensive linemen where the play was going before each snap, with a smile on his face. The defender would naturally rush to that area and I would be told by the coach to do 20 pushups each time I missed the cutoff block. He knew he had stacked the deck against me. After I had done several hundred pushups the offensive line coach said, “Lile, we have a great win-win going on today. You are going to either get much better at blocking or much stronger. Agreed?” “Yessir,” I said, shaking my head and smiling. I loved that coach! He was being hard on me, but with his support and confidence I was being trained for success.
Almost 40 years later those memories are still vivid. And they remind me of a much bigger picture that Christians are enduring in life. Life involves many of the same elements experienced in Texas high school football: doubts, clear successes and defeats, overwhelming odds at times, fear of failure, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat! Sometimes the news makes Christians feel our opponents and circumstances are overwhelmingly superior and are certain to crush us. Sometimes the defeats make us question how we can find the motivation to go on. And other times we tend to let a little success lead to pride that sets us up for a hard fall. Christians have very dark and ominous archrivals: our old sin nature, the world with its fallen system, and Satan and his demonic host. These oppose every area of our lives including marriage, parenting, relationships, economics, politics, work and more. Some Christians feel they are holding their own against their opponents and some feel as though they are being driven to the turf play after play.
Satan’s desire is to kill, steal and destroy humanity, attacking what God most desires and values. He is the voice and actions that tell us of our worthlessness, our inability to succeed, our powerlessness... we are the object of his ridicule and scorn. The Bible says Satan is a liar, our accuser, the deceiver, a slanderer, the tempter, an adversary and a roaring lion seeking whom he can devour. Satan kicks you when you are down and knocks you down when you stand up. He tries to bring destructive and defeatist focuses to our mind, our will and our emotions. He unleashes division into once strong relationships. We mustn’t let him shape thoughts into hopelessness, fear, doubt, insecurity, weakness, failure and condemnation. If we do we freeze up when the lights are on and the big games of life are here. If we believe and follow his accusations, we play and live life at our lowest level of confidence and identity rather than being confident and secure in both our strengths and weaknesses.
Jesus is the ultimate life-coach! He has played the game. He has been in the trenches. The Bible says He is sympathetic, having been tempted in all ways as we are, and yet without sin. I always feel a special bond with football players, knowing they understand the suffering and price to play and win the game. Jesus invites us to “know Him and the power of His resurrection and fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that we may attain to the resurrection of the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).
Jesus, as a good and perfect life-coach, sometimes chides us (Luke 24:25), rebukes us (Matthew 16:23), disciplines us (Hebrews 12:6) and even allows us to endure failure to fulfill a higher goal (John 21:18).
When you are afraid, anxious and doubtful about the world and events, turn to Jesus and focus on His promises. God promises, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). Scripture also exhorts, “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
Ernest Hemingway stated something that is in many Christians’ thoughts today. “The world breaks everyone, and afterward some are strong at the broken places.” Believers should be the stronger ones after brokenness because we have a far greater relationship in Christ and a far higher purpose for living. Regardless of how the game is going or the power of the opponent, we must remember our purpose, our destiny and that we serve Christ from victory and not just a hope to achieve victory. He has already won.
Life, attitude and focus are beautifully expressed in the words of Ella Wheeler Wilcox:
Play the game of life in confidence. God’s grace is sufficient. In Christ we have already won. You are a part of a much greater, victorious team. Ignore the voice of destruction, doubt and condemnation. Follow the instructions and commands of the perfect and glorious life-coach, our Lord Jesus Christ!
Pastor Craig Lile