Lesson #6: Learning How to Win When You Are Not at your Best

by J. R. Cuevas

I remember speaking to a young athlete once during P.E. who was particularly upset that he wasn’t performing well on that particular day. As we were sitting on the sidelines, he lamented, with tears streaming down his face, that he no longer wanted to participate because he had never played this poorly. I then told him, “I’m not going to force you to play today, but one of the things you need to realize about sports is that there are days when you’re simply going to be off your game, and every athlete needs to learn to compete even when they’re not at their best.” A few minutes later, he wiped away his tears and was back in the game.

This is where sports can be very different from school. As a teacher, I’ve taught several students who would go through the entire academic year scoring A’s on every single one of their tests in all their subjects. But competitive athletes understand what it means to be “on fire” as well as what it means to be “off.” They know that they won’t be at their best all the time as there are so many factors in sports that are out of our control.

As an athlete, there were times when I felt like I was hitting the ball so well I could squash Boris Becker, and there were other days when I was hitting the ball so poorly that Big Bird could’ve beat me with his costume on. But what often distinguishes a great competitor from a good one is the ability to win when things aren’t going their way and they aren’t playing their best. Succeeding in sports means learning to fight through the bad days and also learning to put the bad days behind you.

Such inevitable “bad days” are not only a part of sports, but a part of life in general. This is true personally and emotionally. This is true relationally. This is true circumstantially. This is true spiritually. Christians will experience both seasons of fruitfulness and seasons of drought. There are days when the horizon is crystal clear, and there are days when nothing seems to make sense. There are seasons when you’re running well and there are seasons when you’re feeling weighed down. At times, you’ll see fruit; other times, you’ll feel as if you’re in a “funk.”

But plentiful harvests are often followed by periods of drought. While there are times to ride the wave of victory, other times you must simply press forward and keep your head in the game when life just doesn’t seem to be going well. In the same way that a good competitive athlete keeps his feet moving in the game during dry spells, a faithful man of God must keeps his knees bent during those seasons of drought. As Habakkuk says,

Though the fig tree should not blossom, and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flocks should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation

Hab 3:17-18

The commitment to worship God—to exult and rejoice in Him—must be through both seasons of fruitfulness and seasons of drought, because Christ remains exalted through all seasons, and the salvation we have in Christ remains true through every circumstance. Oh how important it is for us soldiers of Christ to press on toward the victory guaranteed to us, even when we’re not at our best! 

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