It’s Part of the Job Description

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By Mark Vermilion

Back in the eighties, I worked as a part-time sports writer for a local newspaper as I paid my way through college. Most of the time, I covered local high-school and college basketball and football games, but sometimes I got to cover major NCAA and pro sports events.

One of my best assignments was covering a Chicago Bears football game just a few months before Bears’ running back Walter Payton broke the NFL career rushing record. I interviewed Payton for a sidebar article I wrote to accompany the game article. It focused on the factors that had contributed to Payton’s success.

I felt a little awkward and nervous as I took my place with a few other reporters and stood next to Payton at his locker while he finished dressing. I was 20 years old, and I felt like a fraud wearing the press credential that hung around my neck. I feared that the Bears’ staff might see how young I was and ask me to leave.

I quickly introduced myself to Payton and got straight to my first question.

“What has been the secret to your prolific rushing career?” I blurted out as he buttoned up his shirt. I felt good about that word prolific. I thought it made me sound smart.

“I think the biggest reason I’ve gotten this far is that I’ve been able to stay healthy,” he said in the soft, humble tone for which he was known.

I quickly asked a follow-up question to keep another reporter from jumping in. “So, what’s been your secret to staying healthy?” I asked.

Payton smiled. I think he could tell I was a little nervous.

“I’m not sure I know,” he replied, “but I think a lot of backs try to protect themselves when they run the ball. I’ve never played that way.”

“Can you give me an example?” I injected, still mindful that other reporters wanted to ask different questions.

“Yeah, if I’m running down the sideline and a defender is coming at me, I don’t usually run out of bounds. I put my shoulder down and hit him with the same force that he’s hitting me with. I think playing all out like that every play has actually helped me keep from getting injured.”

“That sounds backwards,” I replied as I began to relax a little. “It seems like it would hurt more to run into the defender than to let him push you out of bounds,” I continued.

“I didn’t say it doesn’t hurt,” he shot back. “But if you play football, you know that you’re going to feel some pain. It’s a part of the job description.”

He laughed and continued with his thought.

“No, there’s a difference between feeling pain and getting injured,” he clarified. “When you have an offensive mentality, it doesn’t protect you from pain, it just helps keep you from getting sidelined with an injury.”

“Wow, I never thought of it that way!” I said with a little too much excitement. I got self conscious again, realizing that my enthusiasm was out of place. But Payton didn’t seem to care. He seemed to like my questions.

“Think about it,” he said philosophically. “It’s not the guys who are hitting that usually get hurt. It’s the guys getting hit. So, when they come to put the hit on me, I hit them right back.”

Then he laughed again as he added, “If they’re going to make me feel pain, I’m going to make them feel pain, too.”

An impatient reporter butted in at that point and took the line of questioning a different direction. But I later heard Payton interviewed on ESPN, where he elaborated even more on his offensive mentality.

“When a defender hits me hard—when he hits me as hard as he can—I don’t stay on the ground and let him know he hurt me. I jump right back up and run to the huddle.

“I don’t care how much it hurts,” Payton continued, “I get up as fast as I can. I think it demoralizes him. It lets him know that I can take whatever he can dish out.”

Avoiding Pain
As a follower of Jesus, it’s taken me a while to learn something that Walter Payton knew as a football player.

Pain is a part of the job description.

I’ve spent many years trying to avoid the pain and suffering that come with life. And all it’s done is make the pain harder to deal with when it comes. For many years, I’ve reserved the right to lie on the ground and moan for a while when life would hit me with a hard blow. But I’ve found that living defensively doesn’t work. Moaning and groaning every time something painful happens just increases the the misery. Running to sidelines every time Satan delivers a hard hit only increases the length of time that the hit impacts my life. It increases the amount of time that I’m sidelined from what’s important in life.

So, I’ve been trying to live a different way. I’ve been trying to take an offensive posture when it comes to life and not let life’s blows send me to the sideline.

And lately, I’ve been asking myself a question: What would happen if we all jumped up off the ground after taking Satan’s hardest shots so we can run back to the huddle to see what God has for us next?

Like Walter Payton played football.

If you live long enough, you will get hit by circumstances that bring pain to your life. It’s part of living in a fallen world where evil, sin, disease, decay, and selfish pride run rampant. And it’s part of having a mortal enemy, Satan, who’s hell-bent on destroying you and your faith.

What’s your first response when you get hit? Do you run to the sidelines and show everyone your wounds? Do you forget about the game for a while and let the pain put you on the bench? Or worse, do you give up and shuffle back to the locker room where you put on your civilian clothes and leave the game to become a spectator?

What if we took a different approach? What if we let our enemy know that when he hits us, we’re not going down easily? What if we let him know that we’re not going to lie on the ground and feel sorry for ourselves every time he inflicts pain? What if we didn’t run to the sidelines–or worse, run to the locker room–when we must endure suffering? What if we realized that pain is a part of the job description and we became offensive with the suffering in our lives? What if every time we got hit hard we jumped up and ran back to the huddle for the next play?

Jesus’ disciple Peter said: “Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering” (1 Peter 5:8-9, emphasis mine).

The writer of Hebrews said: “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering?…So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere, so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:32, 35-36, emphasis mine).

The writer of Hebrews went on to say: “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved” (Hebrews 10:39, emphasis mine).

When Satan hits us with his best shot, we must believe John when he said: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome [the evil spiritual forces at work in this world], because he who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4, emphasis mine).

We have every reason to play like we’re on offense, because he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.

That’s why the apostle Paul said: “No, in all these [sufferings], we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

Satan is bigger than you, but he’s not bigger than the God who is in you. The all-powerful, all-mighty, all-knowing, all-consuming, amazing God who loves you perfectly is at work within you. And that’s why you can play like you’re on offense.

So when circumstances bring a painful blow, don’t just run out of bounds. Don’t just lie on the ground and cry about the pain. Don’t run to the sideline and sit on the bench. And by all means, don’t run to the locker room and quit!

Lower your shoulder and hit back. And if you get knocked to the ground, get back up and run to the huddle.

It’s time for another play.