My dad often used to tell us when we were kids, “You don’t compete just to do your best. You compete to win. Otherwise, don’t compete; just practice!” It didn’t make sense to me then, but it does now. There is indeed a difference between playing your best and playing to win. That’s true in sports. That’s true in life. That’s true in ministry. “Run in such a way that you may win!” says Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:24. Tenacity can overcome talent; grit can overcome game.
As an athlete, there are times when I’ve won matches because my skillset was superior to the other players. But there were plenty more times when I won matches against players with equal or even superior ability simply by refusing to quit even with my back against the wall. Experienced athletes will attest that, at higher-level competition, sports is far more—I repeat, far more—about the mental than it is the physical or technical. This is the difference between recreation and competition. And there often comes a point in competitive sports where, as the famous A-Rod said (you can try to figure out which A-Rod I’m talking about!), all strategy goes out the window and it becomes all about fight. Thus, for success in sports, competitive grit is every bit as important as technical proficiency and athletic prowess.
When it comes to living for the Lord and engaging in His work, there’s no escaping the call to battle due to the reality of opposition to God and His work from Satan and this world (Eph 6:12). Christian living is not recreation; it’s competition. The Christian life is not a hobby; it is a fight. Walking in faith involves fighting the good fight of faith (1 Tim 6:12). A faithful Christian, therefore, is a fighting Christian.
This is true because of the presence of a very real and powerful enemy in Satan who prowls around like a roaring lion waiting for someone to devour (1 Pet 5:8). Such is necessitated by life’s constantly changing climates. Some seasons of life will be relatively tranquil; others will be marked by heavy affliction, if not opposition and persecution. But when life gets agonizing, the Christian must agonize. When faced with opposition and resistance to the work of the Lord, the Christian can’t roll over in resignation; he must fervently compete to win the souls of people for the glory of God (1 Cor 9:24-27); when faced with the disappointment of temporary losses, he must forget what lies behind, reach forward to what lies ahead, and press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:14).
While the prize is reserved for us and victory is guaranteed, victory won’t be realized and the prize won’t be won apart from the agonizing fight of the Christian against the opponents who seek to take away the prize. The souls you will see in heaven are the souls that were fought for on earth. The rewards gained in heaven were awarded to those who won their race on earth. Souls will be saved and rewards will be given, and such will happen through the soldiers of Christ who were willing to fight the good fight of faith.
How much more effective we will be for the furtherance of God’s kingdom if, during those seasons of affliction and opposition, we would quit complaining and start competing!