How To Handle Adversity: Lessons From Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins, and Jesus!

Many of you know I have always been a big sports fan; many of you do not know boxing has always been one of my favorite sports. God has used boxing to communicate a lot of biblical truths to me over the years and I felt led to share one today.

If I asked what characteristics make a great champion many would say punching power, speed, defense, a good chin, and so on. While I agree, these are all important qualities for a great fighter to have, there is a more important characteristic that is often left off most people’s lists. It is the ability to stay calm in the ring.

Mike Tyson couldn’t do this. While he had ridiculous speed and power for a heavyweight, he usually panicked when he met adversity in the ring.

Many of us remember him biting Evander Holyfield’s ear in a fight that wasn’t going his way. Many don’t realize Mike’s inability to stay calm under pressure is what led to many of his other defeats also. When a fighter was able to land good punches on Mike, he quit. No, I don’t mean he walked out of the ring. He continued to stay in the match, but he quit trying to win the fight by winning the rounds. He sort of went into survival mode and hoped to land a big punch and get a lucky knockout. Mike panicked so much he could never think to make adjustments or switch tactics. Mike never came back in a big fight – EVER!

Bernard Hopkins was completely different. He fought most of his career at middleweight and light heavyweight and while he was good athletically, he was never the strongest or fastest. Many of the opponents he beat were physically superior to him, particularly later in his career. The two things Hopkins did that made him great were to prepare harder than everyone else and his tremendous ability to stay calm in the ring.

I watched multiple times over the years as an aging (40 years and over) Hopkins had opponents get him in trouble early and jump way out in front on the scorecards. I never saw Hopkins panic. Announcers would comment about how calm he seemed in the ring. It probably unnerved his competition to be throwing the kitchen sink at him and to see him still be there. Slowly but surely he almost always made adjustments and came back and beat the more physically gifted foe.

The key to handling adversity is to stay calm. Doctors tell us our brain doesn’t function properly when we carry too much stress. Fear and pressure often cause us to shut down and make bad decisions or not adapt to a changing environment.

Ephesians 6:11 tells us to stand against the wiles or tricks of the devil. It doesn’t tell us to stand against his power or speed, but the wiles. He throws things at us to get us to panic and break down. That’s his trick. He wants to break us down mentally. That’s often what causes physical breakdown: sickness, poverty, depression, divorce, or failure of some sort. We fail to stay calm in the midst of adversity.

This may be the first time in history Jesus was ever compared to Bernard Hopkins but a great example of staying calm in the midst of adversity is in John 8. The Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus and asked him what should be done. The devil was using a physical challenge to put pressure on Jesus and trying to break him down.

Think about it, if Jesus says to let her go, the Pharisees would say he was advocating violating God’s word and was a heretic.  If he said to let her go then the people who had been following him because he was portraying God as a God of compassion and mercy might have deserted him. The devil had him!

Or so he thought. Look what Jesus did:

John 8:6-7 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up

He didn’t panic and didn’t even respond right away. He just began to write on the ground while the Pharisees continued to talk to him. He stayed calm in the midst of the storm. After a while he got up and gave his answer, “He who is without sin throw the first stone.” And they all left from the oldest to the youngest.

Jesus didn’t respond to pressure, He learned to wait and respond to the Father! I would have loved to have seen the look on the Pharisees faces when Jesus threw that out at them. They had to be shocked.

How did Jesus do that? He stayed calm. He bent down and wrote on the ground and took time to hear God. He didn’t panic under pressure.

Don’t let pressure break you! Stay calm in adversity. Do what Jesus would do; take time and hear God. Don’t act out of fear or frustration. Act out of faith!

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