Sometimes I label myself the underdog.
Not underdog in the feel-good movie sense where the unlikely ragtag sports team takes on the high-powered favorite. That sort of scenario carries with it a scrappy sort of hope.
No, when I label myself the underdog, I picture the scrawny kid with the secondhand clothes who runs into the schoolyard bully and his minions. Alone. The underdog without a chance.
Sometimes the obstacles in my life look huge. Muscled. Mean. They gang up on me, catch me alone, back me into a corner.
I don’t know what your gang of bullies looks like, but these are some of the characters in mine:
• Financial Pressure: This one’s circled me constantly for the past few years, jabbing steadily, now and then throwing a sucker punch.
• Shattered Dreams: These guys taunt me, whisper that hope cannot be resurrected. That my best days are behind me.
• Character Defects: There are dark pockets of my heart I’ve wrestled with for years. And though some parts have experienced healing, others stubbornly hold their ground and insist that they will never give way.
These three bullies (and more) corner me again and again. Don’t get me wrong—I resist. I hit back. I’ll go down fighting. But some days I look at what I’m up against and I assume that I will, indeed, be going down. And I’m not alone in this assumption. People in the Bible take on the underdog label, too.
The Israelites do it after leaving Egypt. They get to the very edge of the Promised Land, and send spies in to check it out. When the men return, however, the majority of the spies report that the land is full of giants, “and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers.” (Numbers 13:33, ESV)
The prophet Elisha’s servant wakes up one morning and sees the city surrounded by a great army. “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” he cries out. (2 Kings 6:15, ESV) He thinks they are doomed.
No doubt the first followers of Jesus feel like underdogs in the days after his crucifixion. A frightened group of men and women gather in a locked room, wondering if the same people who orchestrated Jesus’ death will arrange for theirs as well.
For each of these people—and for us—there’s convincing evidence for the strength of our enemies. For the insurmountability of the obstacles in our path.
No wonder I label myself the underdog.
But when I do that, I forget a vitally important truth: I am not alone. As formidable as my obstacles and enemies are, they don’t hold a candle to the power of my greatest ally—God Himself.
Thankfully, time and time again in the Bible, people stand up and reject the underdog label we’re so quick to take on.
Caleb and Joshua are two of the Israelite spies, and they buck the majority opinion with a reminder of the truth: “…do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them.” (Numbers 14:9, ESV)
Elisha comforts his panicked servant, saying, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kings 6:16, ESV) And then Elisha prays that God would open his servant’s eyes to see the truth. Sure enough, God’s forces (“horses and chariots of fire”) are camped all about the city as well.
A few weeks after Jesus’ death, the frightened group of disciples is transformed into a force to be reckoned with when they are filled with the Spirit. They are no longer alone. Jesus rose from the grave, ascended to heaven, and sent his Spirit to live inside them. Many years later, one of those transformed disciples, John, writes to a group of Christ-followers facing their own opposition. He reminds them that “…he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4, ESV)
No matter how it seems, John’s words are still true today. He who is in me (and for me) is greater than the obstacles in my path. And because of that, no matter what I face, I am not the underdog. Does that mean my particular gang of bullies will melt away? I’ll get rich, my dreams will come true, and the dark pockets of my heart will suddenly sprout double rainbows?
What it does mean is that I have the power to face those bullies down. It means that I am not alone in the fight.
It means that I can say along with Paul:
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:31-37, ESV)
I should be less quick to take on the underdog label. Conqueror has a better ring to it. The ring of truth.
Kirsten Wilson teaches at Colorado Christian University. She’s attended Flatirons for six years, and facilitates groups at Shift on Friday nights.