“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to man who was actually in the arena whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood…”
Upon first hearing this quote, it gripped my heart and inspired me, but lately I’ve come to understand and appreciate it a little more deeply.
This past summer I helped start a YouTube channel called The Anima Series, a creative project committed to giving local Christian artists a more global platform. For some strange reason, some of our most viewed and commented-on videos are ones of me doing spoken word pieces that I’d written. The videos themselves have been viewed nearly 50,000 times, which is actually a pretty small number when it comes to the internet, but even with a small audience, I have run into my fair share of critics. In some small way, I feel as though I’m beginning to understand what Brene and Teddy were talking about.
If we want to step into the arena, if we want to become a voice for something we believe in, there is a promise that goes along with it. The promise tells us that the critics indeed WILL be there. The critic WILL point out where you stumble and where you could have done better, and your face WILL be marred by dust and sweat and blood. These are not things that might happen if you build your platform enough, these are guarantees no matter how large the arena may be.
The early believers in the book of Acts were very familiar with this promise. These apostles, fresh off the Jesus’ ascension into heaven, wanted to step into the arena and speak boldly for Christ. Very quickly, however, they were arrested, thrown in prison, and rebuked by the religious leaders. When Peter and John are released in the middle of chapter four, they return to their own people with a report of what happened. In that moment, it’s clear things are not going to be easy. It’s clear that by stepping into the arena, they will be marred with dust, sweat, blood, and eventually death.
So what do they do? They pray, and their prayer is perhaps a bit different than you would expect.
“Now, Lord, consider their (the religion and political elite) threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” (Acts 4:29)
This prayer surprised me a bit. The apostles run into persecution and adversity and their gut reaction is to pray not for deliverance from the circumstance, but for God’s power to work within the circumstance.
We so often want to escape criticism, hardship, and uncertainty. We so often want to step out of the arena at the first sign of trouble, but what we don’t realize is that perhaps God wants to enter in and use us right in the midst of the hardship. He wants to meet us in the fire to refine the communities around us.
With stepping into the arena comes the promise of adversity and criticism, sometimes to an unnecessary degree. But there is a much more powerful promise there as well, that the God of the universe meets us in the arena and enable us to stand tall, even with a face full of dust and sweat and blood.
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