It took less than a minute to put things in perspective: this would be a tough competition. Arrogantly, he had arrived thinking things would be the same as last year. He had wiped the floor with kids last year. But as he sized up the competition, his heart began to sink. He was in trouble. Less than a minute on the mat confirmed that. The kid pinned him and since he knew it was coming, he let it happen. He didn’t fight against it, he flowed with it. Not surprisingly, he lost. It cut him deep and the next match was in his inner man: will he fight harder or quit? I watched helplessly as my son struggled with this question. It hurt just as much for me to watch him. I wanted him to get up and brush it off. I wanted him to reclaim his victory. I wanted him to atleast give it all he had. I knew there was much more skill and will to fight inside of him than I had seen come out of him in this competition. I wanted him to know that too, and to use it. I watched him for several minutes while he wrestled in his mind, then I went to him and said, “You are capable of more. Are you quitting or going back out there and giving it all you’ve got?” His decision was out of my hands. Of course, I could have made him get out on the mat whether he wanted to or not. But I could not make him wrestle. That had to come from him. He chose to give it all he had, and went in for his second match. He wrestled hard but found that the competition was tougher than he had imagined. He lost again. Last year’s champion started the season with two losses. That was more than he lost in the entire last season. His past victories did not serve him anything on the mat. This was new territory. Tougher battles. Stronger opponents. I had feared this would happen. He hadn’t taken practice seriously, and he had entered the gym like the gold was his by right. He hadn’t taken in to consideration that there would be others with the same ambition and drive, who put their all into securing it. He was so sure of himself but he found out soon enough that his half-hearted approach to practice would show up in the mat. He was exposed and humbled by it. Next time would be different.
I realized as I reflected on all of this that this is what my spiritual life is like more often than not. I go into battle arrogantly, seeing more spiritual strength in myself than what truly exists. I depend on my past victories to carry me through, and unsurprisingly find myself staring at the ceiling, laid out on my back and wondering what hit me. Did my enemy get stronger? Did he learn new tactics? Sometimes, I give all I’ve got and still lose the battle. Why? Probably because I didn’t take my training seriously.
I know I’m not the only one. Actually, I didn’t even see this in the spiritual sense until a good friend of mine described her last trip to Africa and how she had shown up completely unprepared in the spiritual sense, and suffered for the first few weeks because of it. The battle she had expected ended up being more intense and because she failed to prepare herself spiritually, she was a punching bag for the enemy. He descended on her in a furry the moment she stepped off the plane and he was relentless! She was laid out speechless, dazed from the impact of being thrown to the ground, hurt and confused. And then it hit her: the enemy was stronger and better prepared than last time. She instantly knew she needed to reclaim victory, but first, she had to throw herself into training.
What does training look like for the Christian warrior? First, it begins with preparing the body for battle. If our battle is in the unseen, our preparation is spiritual. You cannot fight the spiritual wickedness around you in the flesh. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty…(2 Corinthians 10:4)” As a matter of fact, flesh is your first opponent. Flesh will wear you down before the enemy strikes. It’s a like a one-two punch, only your flesh is working for your enemy. I find that the only way to strip flesh of power is to bring it under submission. How do you do that? Most effectively, through fasting. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:27 (NIV), “No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” He goes on to say in Romans 8:13 that if we live according to the flesh, we will die. But if through the spirit we put flesh to death, we will live. Here in America, we tend to walk by the dictates of our flesh and society urges us on. As Christians, we should know better. The bible tells us that friendship with the world is against God’s standards for us. Society caters to our flesh. We eat more often than not for taste instead of nourishment. We lust with our eyes instead of loving with our hearts. If it feels good, we do it. If it doesn’t, we don’t. It doesn’t matter whether it is beneficial to us or not, if it satisfies our appetite, we are all for it.
I have to admit, I have a love-hate relationship with fasting. It is so uncomfortable! I hate the feeling of hunger and emptiness. But when I deny my flesh and endure physical hunger, I become much more aware of a spiritual hunger and since that’s the only food I am permitted, I eat the Word like nobody’s business. I may be weak in the flesh from hunger, but my spirit-man thrives in these times! The second part of training happens in this time, too. I get to wrestle with my Coach and He shows me all the right moves to defeat my enemy. He and I spend a lot of time together and He tells me all He knows of my opponent so that I am not shaken when I meet him on the mat. He may look bigger and stronger, but like I tell my son, “skill will beat him every time.” Every time! “For when I am weak, then I am strong! (2 Corinthians 12:10)” And my favorite, “If God is for us, who can be against us! (Romans 8:31)” During the match, if your coach is not at your mat, you cannot wrestle. The coaches are right there, guiding you through the moves that you need to make to beat your opponent. Our spiritual battles are just like that. God sends His Spirit alongside us, standing at our mats, to guide us through the battle. The Spirit knows the moves by heart. He knows every attack and counterattack the enemy has, and He knows how to defeat them. But again, your time in training will help you perfect your offensive and defensive strategies, because it takes both to win. You don’t want to go out there and do just enough to ward off the enemy. Well, at least I don’t. I want to win! I want the gold. I want to pin him in under a minute so that when I go home, I not only have a trophy, I have some major bragging rights. I want to send him home a coward. And when I see him on the mat again, I want to see him tremble when we go toe-to-toe!
I believe that we can have victory in Jesus every time! But I also believe that we will get out of practice what we put into it. If we treat our training time like social hour, we will not be prepared when we “go live.” If, however, we commit ourselves to training, build up our strength, wrestle with the pros and get to know the enemy’s tactics, we will be victorious every time we step onto the mat. And that’s what it takes to bring home the gold.