Lesson #11: Learning to Step up in the Pivotal Moments

by J. R. Cuevas

As fun as upsets are to watch, what draws fans to competitive sports is the anticipation of a hard-fought contest between two evenly matched competitors or teams. Personally, I enjoy competing against and training with athletes who are about equal to me in skill level and ability. Iron, after all, is sharpened by an equal piece of iron (Prov 27:17). But when evenly matched players both bring their best to the competition and little separates the two in terms of skill, what is it that usually determines the winner?

“He played the big points better,” or “He was better at the important moments” are often the reasons cited for the win in such cases. But shouldn’t a competitive athlete strive to win every point? In one sense, yes. No athlete who competes well purposely tries to give an opponent the edge, a point, or an advantage. No basketball player purposely tries to air-ball. No tennis player tries to frame his forehand. No football player plans to fumble.

But one of the subtle realities about competitive sports that I didn’t truly understand until I reached a higher level is that not all moments of the game are created equal. While an athlete must maintain intensity and concentration throughout the game or match, there are certain moments that are simply more pivotal than others.

I remember, for instance, playing a practice set against an opponent whose serve I simply couldn’t return (he was a south-paw with nasty spin action on his serve). In that entire set, I won a total of three points on his serve. But I somehow won the set 7-6 because the three points I won happened to be in the tiebreaker. For those non-tennis players, this is what happened: he won more points in the entire set, but I won the set.

Truth be told, these pivotal moments also tend to be the most stressful and pressure-filled moments, and even experienced athletes are prone to choking during these occasions. It’s natural, upon sensing the big moment, to fight nerves. But a good match player—also known as a “clutch player”—regularly senses these pivotal moments, and knows how to buckle down, tighten up his game, and raise his level of concentration and intensity during these times. It’s one thing to win a long rally at 1-all, 15-all in the first set; it’s another to win it at 5-all in a tiebreaker. In many ways, knowing how to play these important points is the difference between winning and losing in a contest between evenly matched players.

Wise Christians, just like skilled athletes, understand that although all times are integral, not all times are created equal.

Wise Christians, just like skilled athletes, understand that although all times are integral, not all times are created equal. When it comes to God’s administration of world history for His redemptive purposes, certain times are more pivotal—more seismic—than others. Part of understanding the times (1 Chron 12:32) is recognizing those peak and pivotal seasons and redeeming them for the work of the Lord (Eph 5:15-17) while refusing to succumb to the pressure or the fear. Perilous times are also opportune times—the times for which God raised up His people to respond. “Who knows whether or not you have attained royalty for such a time as this” may have been Mordecai’s words to Esther (Est 4:14), but the spirit of such an exhortation applies to all of God’s people. The most heated and high-pressure times in history are also the most opportune times for God’s people to respond, and it’s in those times that we must not shrink back, but step up. Seize the moment, and don’t allow it to seize you!

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