As an athletic director for a Christian school, I spend a lot of time traveling to and from games with our boys’ football and basketball teams. Occasionally they tell me before the game starts, “We’re gonna get crushed by this team.” I’ll tell them that, if they don’t change their thinking, then they’ve already conceded the game before the contest has even started. It’s not because of a lack of training or preparation; it’s because they’re allowing their hearts to succumb to intimidation before competition.
You can lose the match or a game before it even starts when you allow yourself to get intimidated by your opponent’s credentials. While the favorite can struggle with pressure, the underdog can struggle with intimidation. Not only can lesser-experienced competitors feel overwhelmed by the occasion, they can also feel overwhelmed by their more experienced opponent’s credentials and accomplishments. And nothing freezes the footwork quite like fear of opponents.
It happens at all levels of competition, and part of learning to compete well is learning to play the ball, not the profile of the person you’re playing, no matter how accomplished they are. Actually, in fair competition, you can’t earn points by resumes: you can only earn points by good plays. Whatever took place in the past is irrelevant to today’s match. Every athlete who competes to win must refuse to be intimidated by the profile of even the greatest adversaries.
Like inexperienced athletes, Christians will also find their feet frozen if they allow themselves to become intimidated by the profiles of opponents. That’s what happened to the Israelites in the wilderness when God sent them to spy out the land (Num 13:25-33): by allowing the stature of the Canaanites to melt their hearts even after God Almighty promised them conquest, they brought defeat upon themselves before they even crossed over to the Promised Land. The Israelites were so focused on the profile of a seemingly more powerful opponent, they failed to remember God’s promise of victory.
The book of Numbers was written for our instruction—that we may not be like Israel in this way (1 Cor 10:11). But contrast the pre-conquest Israelite spies to the post-captivity likes of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego who, when they found themselves face-to-face with the most powerful political ruler of the world at that time, courageously and confidently stood firm in their convictions (Dan 3:16-18). Even at a young age, they demonstrated the difference between foolish arrogance and a godly confidence.
As Christians, we must unashamedly engage in the good fight of faith by remembering that He who is in us is greater than any enemy we may face—whether that enemy is physical or spiritual. Those who engage in the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) will have opponents, and Scripture does not make light of this fact. Actually, ministers of the gospel will face opponents that have a far more intimidating profile than that of any other adversary, as our struggle is “not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).
But the power of our opponent is no reason to shrink in fear. Instead, we can confidently and assuredly take up the full armor of God (Eph 6:13), not because we want to die fighting, but because Christ who is in us is greater than any enemy outside of us. Remember the words of 1 John 4:4, “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” So, though we will encounter troubles and tribulation in this world, Christ exhorts us to take courage not because of the nobility of course but because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). In sports, victory is always possible. In Christ, victory is sealed. And when the win is guaranteed, where is the room for intimidation?