…until they get punched in the mouth. – “Iron” Mike Tyson.
Ninety-six years ago, two men stood toe-to-toe in the boxing ring at the long since demolished, Polo Grounds of New York City. American heavyweight champion, Jack Dempsey, face-to-face against his challenger, the Argentina born, Luis Firpo.
Dempsey, the reigning champ, was a fast and hard hitter. Firpo, the challenger who had the nickname “El Toro de las Pampas,” was known for his explosive power packed into every punch. This boxing match would become known by many as the greatest fight in the history of the sport.
In the first explosive round, the champion, Dempsey, would be knocked down briefly in the opening seconds of the fight. Perhaps invigorated by the initial hit, Dempsey responded powerfully, raining fists on Firpo and knocking him to the mat 8 times. Everything seemed to be going Dempsey’s way, until Firpo worked him across the mat, backed him against the ropes and hit him with a high, right hook, “from the bleachers.” With that punch, Firpo knocked the reigning heavyweight champ head-over-heels out of the ring and onto the ringside reporters. No one had ever been knocked out of the ring before and many spectators must have thought Dempsey was finished.
What a set-back.
How do you recover from a hit like that!?
No one ever plans to get knocked out of the ring. Sure, you know you are going to get hit. You prepare for difficult times in life. Because, let us be honest, in every one of the arenas God places you (life, family, ministry, career, etc.) the hits are going to come.
Fictional boxer, Rocky Balboa, once said,
The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna’ hit as hard as life… But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
Consider those times when you have felt beaten down, knocked out, like you have nothing left to give. Maybe you have even been knocked out of the ring altogether – or so you think.
It can be tempting to throw in the towel and give up.
Your hard work and planning seem to be in vain. The hits keep coming. You are overwhelmed. You start wondering if you are doing more harm than good. Maybe your endeavors in life, in family, in career, or even ministry seem to be meaningless… dust in the wind. This was not what you had planned!
I do not know where you might be experiencing struggles or suffering, but my guess is at least some of you, dear readers, are enduring something. Stuck in the darkness, weighed down by the sucking hits of life. After all, suffering, or as Luther called it “anfechtung” (which Roland Bainton defines as: “the doubt, turmoil, pang, tremor, panic, desolation and despair that invades the spirit of man”), afflicts the life of all humanity.
I know there have been times when I have been backed up to the ropes, taking hit after hit, in the many and various vocations God has given me. I know what it is like to work hard, laboring and preparing, only to suffer the indignity of failure. I have done things with the best intentions, with eyes set on having a positive impact in the places where God has planted me to serve and grow, only to get knocked out of the ring. And sometimes, when someone has helped me get back into the fight, I have learned the hits do not stop coming and only get harder.
Maybe you have been enduring a devastating volley of hits, trying to move forward, starting to get some traction underneath you, only to get blindsided with a hit from the bleachers. Plagued by sinful thoughts, words, or actions. Dazed by a failed project, lost promotion, angry spouse, miserable workplace or false friends. Those hits keep on coming. It seems like old-man Rocky was not wrong, “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows,” is it?
But I say, do not throw in the towel. Dust yourself off. Take the hits as they come and keep moving forward. Get help if you need support. Be strengthened by another. And then do what God has given you to do; at home, at work, in your community of faith.
And take the hits.
When it seems like everything you do is in vain, consider these words, “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” (1 Corinthians 15:58). No matter what hits come, your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
When Dempsey planned and prepared for his career defining fight, suffering the indignity of getting knocked out of the ring was not in his plans. But he got back into the ring. Sure, it took a boost from the ringside reporters to help him up into the fight. But once in, Dempsey stepped into the fray again, swinging hard until the bell rang. No doubt exhausted at the end of that incredible first round, Dempsey collected himself. He re-calibrated his body, mind, and spirit, and by the time the bell rang to start round two, he was ready to re-engage and go out on the attack.
And attack he did. Dominating round two with a torrent of punches, he knocked Firpo down twice in less than a minute, his final blow knocking Firpo to the mat for the 10-count knockout. Dempsey left the ring victorious, retaining his world heavyweight title and going down in history, a legend.
The man who was knocked out of the ring, only to emerge victorious.
Watch the Dempsey v. Firpo fight here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALYH9eQX_Oc