On Friday I watched my undefeated Stillwater Ponies Varsity Wrestling Team battle their way to their third state tournament appearance in three years.
Their first two duals weren’t even close, nor were they expected to be. Stillwater won both by a WIDE margin.
However, their third dual was a different story.
They were about to face a TOUGH opponent.
One they had beaten earlier this year by a very slight margin. This is the same opponent they narrowly beat last year to get to state. This time, we expected them to be out for blood. Determined to defeat the undefeated team. Intent on taking down their rival.
As I watched the championship mat moving to the center of the gym, my stomach clenched and waves of nausea ripped through my body—my nerves working overtime. Then I looked over at our boys. Their faces betrayed nothing, but I could tell they were charged. Confident. Ready. And just a little nervous.
They were ready for battle.
Before I could take in our opponent, the gym plunged into darkness, causing the crowd to hold its breath. With the exception of the scoreboards and the mat light illuminating the battleground, the only other source of light was what filtered in through the hallway outside the gym.
The atmosphere was crackling with electricity.
Then the announcer’s voice shattered the silence with a BOOM—straining everyone’s nerves. With each word, the tension built. And just before the critical breaking point, he began introducing the wrestlers competing in each match of the dual.
The crowd was on its feet! Our deafening cheers echoed off the walls—bringing our collective stress to a more manageable level.
As the teams’ captains shook hands, we all sat on the edge of our seats, anticipating an intense battle.
My heart was racing. Silly, I know. My sons weren’t even wrestling, they’re on JV—but I still care about and love each one of these young men as if they are my own. I cover them in prayer every day. I offer words of encouragement and support where I can. I feed them. And I have yet to miss one of their matches.
Oh, how I wanted this victory for them! For ALL of them—
- The wrestlers
- from the little kids, youth, middle school. JV, and Varsity
- The coaches
- The fans
- alumni, parents, and friends.
The first match was a flurry of activity with our 106 pounder holding his own against a VERY talented, older, and HIGHLY ranked (female) wrestler. Though he lost, his performance was so extraordinary we were all on our feet screaming as though he pinned her! Every heart burst with pride over his performance. And this young 8th grader singlehandedly set our team’s tone for the rest of the night.
THE BATTLE WAS ON!
The second match was a tough one. Both wrestlers were evenly matched and we lost by only a few points. Which means, our team was losing.
Then there was a subtle shift in our opponent’s strategy. One that only became obvious after several subsequent matches of the same thing. Our boys still came out for each match aggressive. Hungry for victory. Ready to give everything they had until the final whistle. However, the other team entered the center ring with a different mentality—and it shocked all of us!
For those of you unfamiliar with wrestling, there are two circles on the mat. The smaller, center ring is where the wrestlers face-off and start/re-start their bouts in their match. The larger, outer ring is the edge, the boundary, the out-of-bounds zone. And once the wrestlers are whistled out-of-bounds the clock stops, no points are awarded, they realign in the center, and the battle continues.
Instead of attacking or at the very least countering our wrestlers’ assaults, the other team’s strategy was to back up and play along the edges—to get out of bounds as much as possible. To slow the momentum. To prevent our team from acquiring points. To keep from getting pinned.
The feeling I got was they were afraid to wrestle our guys, which is absurd because this is a team of VERY TALENTED WRESTLERS! With a little extra grit and tenacity added to a hunger “to want it more,” chances are, they could have beaten us.
Rather than wrestling to win
They wrestled to NOT LOSE!
There’s a subtle but profound difference between those two statements.
Can you see it?
It’s a difference in
- Mental toughness
The next day, as I reflected on the disappointment over our opponent’s unwillingness to wrestle, I thought about the seasons in my life when I did the same thing.
I reflected on the lost opportunities and stunted growth I’d caused by backing up and scrambling for the out-of-bounds line. I pondered times when, instead of engaging in battle and wrestling, I froze, curled into a ball, and stalled out. The sad truth is, I knew even then I needed to meet those trials head on or at least launch a counter attack. But I was afraid of being defeated. So instead, I gave up. My back to the mat.
Some of those memories are still fresh, too new for a scar. And as I talked to God about this, He brought something else to mind.
I thought about David.
I let my imagination consider how things would have turned out if his strategy when he faced Goliath was NOT TO DIE as opposed to BELIEVING God for the victory? (1 Sam 17:34-37; 45-51)
The results made me shudder!
I bet they make you shudder too because if you’re like me, you draw a lot of courage and strength from this account. This passage fills you with hope as it increases your faith to continue on the road God has called you to walk. It allows you to stand tall when you face your giants. And it makes you believe He will make them fall even if your weapons seem inadequate for the task.
Which leads me to ask: Have you also been guilty of this strategy?
Beloved, if you have, learn from it and discover how to avoid it next time by letting David’s own words penetrate your heart and mind as they set you on the right course.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Remember, David was ‘The Warrior King,’ God’s chosen and anointed. But before he could take the throne he spent years hiding from the murderous rage of Saul and his men. And once he was enthroned, he spent the remainder of his life either leading his troops into battle or fleeing the diabolical plots of this jealous, hate-filled son.
David knew all about battle. About strategy. About victory and defeat. About trusting God’s protection and believing in yourself and your calling in light of that faith.
“You go before me AND follow me” are battle terms—
- You go before me =
- Guide to lead the way
- An advance team that goes before you removing centuries, ambushes, traps, snipers, etc. To give you safer passage
- Follow me =
- Rear-guard protecting your flank, your back, your ‘six’ as you go through a treacherous situation or enter enemy territory
David knew trails, challenges, and battles are part of life. And both Jesus and Paul verify that statement as fact. (Mt. 5:10-12; John 15:20; Phil 1:29; 2 Tim 3:12;) But David also knew regardless of what we face, God is THERE guiding us and protecting us.
Read Psalm 138:5 again.
Don’t you love how David skilfully makes the theology of God’s protective-omnipresence vibrantly relevant as he takes it from our head to our heart and lays it under the soles of our feet—a foundation to walk on in our daily life?
It’s a beautiful and precious gift.
When we come up against our personal Goliaths with nothing more than a prayer, a sling, and a stone—we are secure in knowing that God is not only with us, He will fight for us. (Deut. 3:22) Like David, we can raise our voice in confidence and shout, “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies…whom you have defied. Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head!” (1 Sam 17:45-46a)
Beloved, if you accepted Christ as your Savior and choose to follow Him, you are filled with His Holy Spirit.
That means you have the same power IN YOU that raised Christ up from the dead!
That means you have no reason to wrestle to NOT LOSE.
You have everything you need to wrestle to WIN!
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!
Win or lose, do it all for the glory of God!
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