I just watched the greatest battle of the wills in sports that I have ever seen.
Yesterday afternoon my brother called me to let me know that there was an amazing tennis match in progress at Wimbledon. He said, “Glenn, this isn’t as great as the United States’ soccer victory earlier today, but there is a tennis match that is tied 32-32 in the final set.” I said, “Cool.” But when we hung up, I just went on with my day, not turning it on. Well, about an hour later the phone rings again, “Glenn, they are now tied 42-42.” I turned it on.
When I picked it up, the match was already the longest tennis match ever played. It had started the previous day, and after the first four sets went 2-2, they had to postpone the final set. Now American, John Isner, and Frenchman, Nicholas Mahut, had been playing that final set for five hours and were completely exhausted. Isner, who by the way, is from my home city, Tampa, and who played for my favorite school, UGA, especially looked fatigued. All one had to do was break the other’s serve, but the server held every game. As I watched the unfolding drama, I became mesmerized. Everything else went on hold, because I wanted to see who would snap first.
Then dusk came, and they had to stop again for the night at 59-59. They had started at 2pm.
Well, I was not going to miss the conclusion to a match that had become much more incredible than the U.S. soccer victory. In fact, it had become more incredible than any athletic contest that I had ever witnessed . . . and I’m not even a big tennis fan. So today I watched as the men went for another twenty games, and Isner finally broke Mahut. The final set score was 70-68 and the total match duration is officially eleven hours and five minutes, four hours and thirty-two minutes longer than the previous record.
Honestly, I don’t think there is a comparable battle, in terms of duration and will-power in the history of large venue sports, and especially in any recent history. Attempted comparisons fall far short. Syracuse’s nearly four hour, six overtime victory over UConn in the Big East basketball championship? Not even close. The Kentucky/Arkansas five hour, seven overtime football game in 2003? Sorry. The Rockies twenty-two inning victory over the Padres two years ago after six hours and sixteen minutes? Pancakes. This was a three day, eleven hour, one-on-one battle of the wills. Amazing.
I wonder though if professing Christians understand that they are involved in a battle of the wills that lasts far longer than the longest athletic contest imaginable and is of far greater importance. In Luke 14:27-30, Jesus declares, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’”
Jesus clearly explains that being a Christian involves determination. Those who are not equal to the task “cannot” be his disciples. In other words, starting with Christ only matters if we finish with Christ. Perseverance is necessary. Anything short, receives ridicule.
Do you understand, Christian, that you are in a battle of the wills with an opponent that is ever vigilant to break you? Do you understand that your eternal destiny is at stake? Do you understand that discouragement, apathy, and embitterment are grave temptations that reveal phony followers of Christ? Read the parable of the tired widow in Luke 18:1-8. Study the book of Hebrews. Learn the attitudes of Joseph, Daniel, and Paul. You simply must press forward! You must get off that bench and stay in the match! You have to win the next point! You have to! Fatigue is not an excuse because endurance is the essence of the contest.
I praise God that we are not left to fight alone. God is with his children. He who begins a good work is faithful to complete it (Phil 1:6). Those who are truly born again will evidence true faith by the sustaining grace of the Holy Spirit in their lives. “We are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the persevering of the soul” (Heb 10:39). Praise the Lord! He enables his followers to win the greatest battle of the wills.