In the last “WOW” we looked at some spiritual lessons from tennis. One that I failed to mention. and actually one of the most important, is the importance of “mental toughness.” Tennis, much like golf, is a very challenging game and to stay competitive, you must be mentally tough. In a tennis match, it is hard to forget a bad shot and focus on the next point. If one is struggling with his/her serve, it often affects the rest of the game as well. A player who is competing against someone of a similar skill level must really work at staying strong mentally in order to be successful.
We have had several very talented players on our high school tennis team who really struggled in the area of mental toughness and often lost to someone less skilled but stronger mentally. I recall a challenge match between two of our male singles players to see who would play in the #1 spot for the team. The more skilled player would often get down on himself. After an unforced error that cost him a point that he should have won, his whole demeanor changed as he hung his head in disgust. At that point his team mate told me afterwards, “I knew right then that I was going to beat him,” and he did! In contrast, when our son was a sophomore and playing a match at the divisional tournament to qualify to go to the state tournament, he was down to a senior one set and 2-5 in the second set (playing the best two out of three). He went to the back fence and had a pep talk with himself and went on to win the match and qualified for state!
Mental toughness is also crucial in our spiritual lives. Our minds are really the battlefield where spiritual warfare takes place and the opponent, Satan, attempts to discourage us into giving up and to believe his lies and succumb to his temptations. Prov. 23:7 tells us, “As a man thinks within himself, so he is.” Every man has a train of thoughts on which he rides when he is alone. The dignity and nobility of his life, as well as his happiness, depend upon the direction in which that train is going, the baggage it carries, and the scenery through which it travels. The mind is a workshop where the important decisions of life and eternity are made. The mind is an armory where we forge the weapons for our victory or our destruction. So, be careful of your thoughts–they may become words or actions at any time. Jesus said, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart (mind)” (Mt. 12:34).
We just watched a young lady who is battling cancer compete on “America’s Got Talent,” singing a song she had written entitled, “It’s Okay.” She told the judges that you don’t have to wait until your difficulties are over to be happy. She said that the doctors give her a 2% chance of surviving her cancer., “but,” she added, “that’s better than a 0% chance!” I don’t know if she is a Christian, but she definitely was “thinking like one should.” Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
Now I know that the “power of positive thinking” can only take you so far, but as a Christian, “we have the mind of Christ” who indwells us (I Cor. 2:16). We have something that goes far beyond “happiness” which depends on happenings (circumstances). We have available the “joy of the Lord” as our strength (Neh. 8:10). Jesus promised “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (Jn. 15:11). So often we let our circumstances or how we are treated by others (or perceive to be treated) determine our state of mind rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to be in control of our mind and experience the fruit of the Spirit, which is “love, JOY, peace….” (Gal. 5:22,23). We get discouraged and even depressed and think this Christian life doesn’t really work. That’s why we have so many exhortations in Scripture like Gal. 6:9: “And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary,” and I Cor. 15:57,58: “but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. ”
The Apostle Paul, who penned these words, is a great example, for he faced tremendously difficult circumstances and people, yet also wrote this: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?…But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us…(for nothing” shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ro. 8:31-39). Paul wrote from a Roman jail, “For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am…I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11,13).
Note the key in all these verses is the person of Jesus Christ, “in whom we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28). So, as believers, indwelled by Christ and the Holy Spirit, we can stay “mentally tough” by “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (II Cor. 10:5). “Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things” (Phil. 4:8). Do that and you will succeed against your “opponents” (the world, the flesh, and the devil).