Regardless of the sport, it has long been understood that when a team is on top, they are wearing a target. This has been particularly true in college basketball this year. In fact, last Thursday night, when Illinois upset #1 Indiana, it became the fifth consecutive week when the top team in the nation had been beaten. Getting to the top is hard. Being on top is challenging. But staying on top—that is the hardest of all.
A couple of factors may contribute to this. First, for the top-ranked squad, every team they face will give them their very best effort, because everyone wants to knock off #1. For teams that are struggling through a bad season, a win over the top team in the country can make your entire year. Also, however, is the mindset of that top-ranked team. It takes so much energy and effort to get to the top of the mountain that there is a sense in which it is easy for the young players to relax a little bit. To pause long enough to enjoy the achievement. But, in that moment is danger and vulnerability. In that moment, Number One can lose their grasp on that lofty perch.
The same thing can happen to followers of Christ in our spiritual journey. If we think we have made it or think we have achieved a level of spiritual maturity, we can easily find ourselves vulnerable to temptation and spiritual failure. That is why Paul warned, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Perhaps that is why, after 30 years of following Christ, Paul also said, “No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead…” (Philippians 3:13). Paul knew that he had still not arrived.
The walk of faith is a lifelong endeavor that calls us to depend deeply upon our God. Any advancement or opportunity must be seen as a gift from Him that can only be stewarded by His grace. The moment we think it is the product of our own ingenuity, strength, or wisdom, we are in great danger.
Bill Crowder, Sports Spectrum Chaplain