The Exhilaration of The Athletic Fight
It was a brutally hot summer day in the South. The type of day where I have seen young men drop to the ground from heat exhaustion. Sitting in my golf cart, I awaited the opportunity to take the field on the final day of the championships. The day before, I had a mediocre performance breaking 195/200 targets standing 16 yards behind the trap bunker. Averaging 97.5% might sound good to the typical shooter, but it would not win in competition of this level. However, I felt reassured as I sat waiting to take my place alongside the squad mates I usually shot with in competition. Of the 5 misses I had on the first day 3 had been in the opening 50 targets. Knowing the issue was fixed I was confident believing I could post good scores on the final day of the championships for the Southwestern zone of the United States.
My score the previous day put me 5 targets behind the scoreboard over the entire zone. That mark was far enough to be considered out of contention by nearly everyone, but close enough for me to still feel like I had a fighting chance. It was my mindset to go out and simply give it every ounce of effort I could muster accepting whatever result transpired. The two events of the day were doubles and handicaps. In doubles, two clay targets are thrown simultaneously from the machine resulting in their combination making a v-shape that spreads wider as each target travels. Shooters have to be disciplined and fast in order to excel in this competition. Fortunately, I was on fire in practice while shooting doubles leading up to the competition. I wound up posting a score of 99/100, which served to put me back in the hunt for a championship to take home.
The last event of the tournament was the handicap where instead of standing 16-yards behind the bunker, shooters are progressively backed up maximally to a point of 27-yards. I had my work cut out for me as a long-range shooter seeing as even the slightest of mistakes is unforgivable at that distance. As we started the round many of my teammates began to struggle. These young men on the line with me were not your normal shooters, the month previously, we had tied the Arkansas all-time state record of 497/500 targets broken as a team winning the state’s championship event. Clearly, if they are struggling it is for a reason.
Somehow, I continued to keep smashing targets breaking 74/75 taking me to my last box. Waiting on the last round to begin, I drank to stay hydrated preparing to take the field for the final time. No leaderboards were around me, but I very well knew with this kind of score there was no doubt that I was shooting for a championship. The wind began to pick up . . . every long-range shooter’s greatest nightmare. Even if you make every move perfectly you may find the target rudely pushed out of the path when you pull the trigger. Putting the finishing touches on this comeback would prove difficult. Relying on my previous background of competing in over 50 mph wind gusts, I finished with 97/100 taking my total score over all the championship events up to 391/400. I won both the top score over every age at the location where I was shooting and the highest in my age group over the entire Southwestern zone. It was an entirely unanticipated comeback, which made the victory all the more thrilling.
The Importance of The Spiritual Fight
Everyone loves to see competitors fighting it out to the end. Athletes find the comeback moments and last-second efforts exhilarating capping off countless hours of hard work. Yet, fun as they may be, such endeavors are only for fleeting trophies which nearly no one will remember 100 years from now, much less 500. Those of us as believers have been called to a battle that has eternal consequences. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with partaking in sporting events, God does give those gifts to believers as well such as in the case of a man like the Olympic champion Eric Liddell. With that being said, we must not shirk our duty to remember that no matter what our station in life on earth a call is upon us to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).” If earthly athletic battles and competitions arouse our affectionate emotions, how much more should the warfare for the faith?
That reality is highlighted by Jude’s specific wording to “contend for the faith.” Specifically, the context of his letter raises the gravity of this call since certain individuals are seeking to pervert the grace of God (vs. 4). We are encouraged to strive to “save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh (vs. 23).” Beyond a doubt, it is God who gives salvation and not us no matter how serious we are about sharing the Gospel (Ephesians 2:8-10). However, God uses the tool of human beings saved by grace to preach the Gospel and the full counsel of His Word to the world. This endeavor is not a glamorous work, it is often mundane. When I was a clay target shooter, very few saw the grinding hours at the practice field preparing for competitions. Our work as Christians rarely takes us to the center stage of the world. Most often, it involves encouraging the local church week-by-week, sharing the Gospel with lost souls we know, and simply striving to live day-by-day with faithfulness serving others for God’s glory. Contending for the faith by declaring truth and engaging falsehood does not typically win over the worldly press, but it does bring eternal joy grounded in the work of Christ.
Don’t Forget Mercy
Believers can fall prey to a position where they believe they should not be fighting for the faith, but our passage in Jude is the antidote to that problem. However, others take great pleasure in “contending for the faith” to such an extent it is as though they are playing a game of whack a mole pounding every person on the head. Scripture speaks to this issue in Jude saying, “And have mercy on those who doubt (vs. 22)” which demonstrates the heart a person fighting for the truth must maintain. We do not war for the sake of ourselves, but to pour ourselves out in service to others that they might know God and glorify Him. Some individuals need a softer approach filled with mercy that patiently helps their doubts. At other points, a “snatching” is needed to pull them out of the fire at the last moment. But, my friends, in an age where Twitter wars prevail in unorderly fashion, let us remember both the necessity to contend while also setting mercy in the forefront of our minds. Jude 24-25 reminds us of the eternal glory awaiting us as believers when we read:
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” -Jude 24-25
Christians have been saved by the work of our Lord giving to us an everlasting inheritance of joy and glory where we shall serve Him forever. The world may never recognize the Christian man who works 40-hours a week, invests in his family, serves the local church, fights for the betterment of his community, and contends for the faith amongst the lost or amidst those who doubt. Yet, it is for the pleasure of the Master who gives eternal blessing we labor. That is the objective we are striving for every day. What a great calling our Lord has given to us that we might serve Him in this way. I pray that we shall throw ourselves whole heartedly into contending for the faith that we might bring glory to the God who has shown such grace to us!