Many years ago, I used to instruct women on personal safety. Martial arts training and competition was therefore, a regular part of my regimen. In a particular tournament, my skill sets offered me a choice to compete in a much higher weight class, which my ego readily accepted. Only minutes into the first go-round, I was regretting it.
When the bell sounded, I was limping back to my corner, having concluded my first two rounds with a faster, more skilled opponent who outweighed me by 30 pounds. My right foot was immobile; the instep having been strategically hammered by elbows (it would take 6 weeks before I could walk without a hobble due to soft tissues damage). Several of my ribs were bruised to the bone. My face was a mess and I was sucking air frantically. I later found out my left wrist was broken.
Sometimes, thirty seconds is a lifetime. My instructor silently reached for my nose, and my mind began to wander to an old movie of two opposing american Indians engaged in mortal combat; a desperate attempt of one trying to overcome being badly outmatched. I tried to calm myself, taking deep breaths. I didn’t mind the pain. I minded failing. I was offended at myself for falling short; of not hitting the mark. Looking past my corner, I saw the bewildered faces of some of my fellow classmates. Warriors every one of them. They gaped in awe that the pride of their studio was being beaten, let alone so badly picked apart. Combat in its truest form is a chess match and I was out of my league. I was tired. I was weary. Having engaged in competitive sports all my life, I was very familiar with being an underdog, but of this… I was unaccustomed. The sweat hid my tears of shame and helplessness. I wanted to defend others in life. Protect those who have no advocate… I could not even help myself. All a waste. Outweighed, out-skilled and out-thought. I looked away from my colleagues. The self-deprecation continued. Searching for one of my brothers, I found him, two mats over, dissecting his opponent with the skill of a surgeon. As I watched, they stopped his fight. “Of course.” I thought. That’s my little brother.
Eyes burning, I remember exhaling a sigh of resignation. I was alone.
“None of you truly see me.”
My teacher was holding ice over my eye, saying nothing. He was one of the most gifted fighters I would ever know, an Olympic candidate. He was quick to laugh and his eyes could just as easily turn into lightning when needed. He was an excellent read of people’s hearts, and understood that every soul was a one-off mold. What is more is he also knew that I recognized this about him. Between two warriors, this was a deep bond that very closely knit us together. A trust beyond words was mutually shared. He was a good man. Above all, he was my friend.
“David…?” I looked up at him, expecting that storm so often seen when he was talking with other students. I wasn’t familiar with that and so braced myself. I was the confident, poised and skilled fighter in our class; the one he would call to the mat to face two-on-one when visitors stopped by the studio. Not today. Today there was only the bruised combatant, searching for some lesson to be learned to justify what, at the moment, all seemed to be a humiliating waste of time.
Our eyes locked. There was no storm. Only a man that had heard my internal monologue. His gaze was soft and comprehending. He believed in me. He understood me. The sounds around me faded to black and all was quiet. I saw only unconditional pride and acceptance of me. No disappointment. No condemnation. I looked into the eyes of one who saw me. I was not alone. Suddenly, my heart was steadfast.
He removed the ice from my face, and placed his fingertips on my chest, then his palm. Just as that bell sounded for the final round, he whispered straight into my heart.
“David. Get your head in the game.”
Many, many seasons have passed since Father used both that event and that person to deposit eternal grit and worth into my being. To this day, and in fact this very hour, I hear Jesus whispering behind me, strengthening me once again, directing my path. He gives clarity and focus.
“If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, Then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, How will you do in the thicket of the Jordan? Jer 12:5
So I say to you, my fellow classmates and the undefeated in Christ; Father sees you. Father understands. Now, more than ever, though, the voice of compromise is speaking.
“Put down your tomahawk and knife. Sit by these waters. Aren’t the views in Babylon so beautiful by these shores? You have done so much already. Maybe it is time to ease up. See, your friends are here. Come, let us reason together. Let us… compromise.”
Cast off your weariness. Compromise is the carnal antidote to the heart who longs to see the Hand of God move, but for a season seems inexplicably deferred. Show me a discouraged prophet and I’ll show you a man who has considered taking up the bottle.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Cor 4:8-9
This season is offering the Church an opportunity through some tough trials to develop a steadfastness and grit that will see us live the scriptural truth that we are more than conquerors as a reality and not merely a parroted confession.
Some of us are in circumstances beyond our doing, and for others its the cumulative result of stubborn pride. Usually it’s a combination that has found its way to Father’s heart and sets things in motion to push us forward and set us free. In the end, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what we will decide in our hearts moving forward. Will we place Jesus first above all things? Will we compromise our walk, our family, our relationships, our spouses? What about our loved ones that do not know Jesus? What about our children? Dare I even mention the strangers that Jesus calls our “neighbor”? What is the enemy offering us as the substitution? Is it worth it?
The reality is you are never alone. He is always with you, even when fellowship, family and friends cannot truly see you. You can do this in Christ. Let Him guide your steps without compromise. Give Him permission to deal with “that” issue. Let the plans of our own heart finally and fully align with His as He is doing a new thing in this generation. Now more than any other time in our life let us align… and forever stay the course. There is no condemnation in His steadfast love for you. No disappointment. No shame of falling short. Just love, and a longing for greater intimacy.
I feel my ribs. I hear the roar of the crowd. To this day I rub my left wrist when I recall those events and what I have learned. All the lies and opposition once again fade to black. I remember who I am. I am reminded that I am His redeemed and He has placed everything under my feet. I see my Savior who uses all things… ALL THINGS… to set me free and invite me to know Him in a greater, more powerful way. None shall stand against me all the days of my life, and it is only my mindset and the condition of my heart that holds me back.
Now is not the time to put down our tomahawk and clasp hands with weariness. It is not the time to look at what everyone else is doing. It is the season to stare down the opponents of Father’s kingdom that have been allowed to live inside our own soul.
And so, beloved family, with all His passion, and as a brother who is also and always on this journey with you, I say to us all in this season…
Get your head in the game.
“A man’s heart plans his way: but the Lord directs his steps.” Prov 16:9