Collapsing at Crunch Time

Collapsing at Crunch Time

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Some time ago, blazing fires torched expensive homes in the Malibu hills of California. After the melee, victims stepped forward to harshly criticize, of all people, the fire department.

Why? Firefighters ceased spraying water on homes having any trace of fire. Considering such structures doomed, they dropped back to "uncompromised areas."

A study in the sociology of medicine concludes that nurse-patient eye contact lessens and distance increases after a nurse learns a patient is terminal. Just when compassionate looks and tender encounters are most needed, today's caregivers psychologically disengage.

These illustrations underscore this conclusion: At crucial moments, when potential and need for significant change is highest, many back off or drop out. They cease and desist when, in the parlance of long-distance runners, they should "give it the kick" of maximum effort.

Becoming A National Pastime

My Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team perennially flirts with becoming champs of baseball. But by season's end, they typically dash hopes with a raging, contagious case of fumble-itus. Understandably, their nickname is the "bums."

Most university students work like gangbusters during the semester. But during the pressure-packed days of final exams, with papers due and grades hanging in the balance, many become divested of energy, diverted or discouraged. The result: grades go south.

Yet how much more crucial it is when such failure occurs in the context of our faith. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of examples.

Scores of churches whose communities are invaded by dysfunctional, destitute people rush to relocate in "safe," affluent suburbs. Just when their message is needed most by the disadvantaged, they check out.

Many Christians desire to be effective soul winners. They form friendships and discuss spirituality with non-Christians. But at the crucial point when such folks appear ready to accept Jesus, well-intentioned believers may freeze, unable to lead their friends in simple prayers of faith.

People whose lives have been sterling examples of discipleship sometimes succumb to the ravages of old age. Suddenly, their sweetness is replaced by deep-seated bitterness. The result? Their last miles are marked by defeat and negativity. It all comes down to blowing it at crunch time. Flubbing the ball when the game is on the line. Abrogating our mission.

Biblical Picture Gallery

Consider stalwart biblical heroes, whose stories we cherish and examples we emulate. What if they had flaked out when it counted? What if:

  • In the final hours before the deluge, Noah had become supersensitive to scoffer's jibes and ceased building the ark?
  • Moses had thrown in the towel at his first glimpse of Israelites worshipping the golden calf?
  • Elijah had kowtowed to Jezebel or to the verbal intimidation of Baal's prophets on Mount Carmel?
  • Daniel had quit worshipping the God of Israel when pondering what hungry lions do to unarmed humans?

Admittedly, some in holy writ failed the test. Adam and Eve - well, you know. Lot's wife looked back instead of gazing ahead. Numerous kings of Israel failed, and even David succumbed to lust for Bathsheba. Peter lost his cool three times when Jesus was arrested. The priest and Levite, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, left less than stellar examples of compassion. All pulled up stakes at crunch time.

Later, most saw, many regretted, and some repented of the opportunities they flittered away. But all illustrate that opportune times must not be taken lightly. They are too infrequent. Their potential for reward is too great and failure too costly. Most importantly, these moments are gifts from God.

Seizing Precious Moments

We sail along in life cruising in habitual, predictable, and comfortable modes. Suddenly, in God's good providence, fleeting opportunities for doing significant, long-lasting good appear and allow us to become effective instruments for needed change. Someone, previously unresponsive, reaches out to us for spiritual guidance. Or we are blessed with unexpected financial resources, expanding our capacity to give. Perhaps an offer arises for a position of authority, providing a serendipitous window of opportunity for making a real difference.

Down deep, we know that we must respond to such occasions with all we have and are. Pull out all the stops, give it our best shot. And why not? As Reuben Welch asks, "What are we saving ourselves for? To look good in our caskets?!" We have only one life and only a limited number of special opportunities for making a significant difference.

The best we can give for as long as we can is our mandate, in spite of fear, doubt, or discomfort.

In the words of yesteryear's blacksmith, we are to "strike when the iron is hot." The best we can give for as long as we can is our mandate, in spite of fear, doubt, or discomfort. As followers of the One who never flinched nor failed at "crunch time," how can we possibly settle for less?

Jon Johnston is professor of sociology and anthropology at Pepperdine University and chair of the Association of Nazarene Sociologists and Researchers.

1) Can you recall a "crunch time" in your life when you felt like collapsing?

2) How did you overcome that situation and what did you learn from it?

3) Have you seen personal growth as you have dealt with tough times and overcame them?

4) Where might you be spiritually if you never had a "crunch time?"

5) How have those crisis moments helped you in dealing compassionately with others?

6) What are you doing to prepare for future difficult times? What are you learning as you walk through life?

Prayer: Thank God for His presence and wisdom given provided to you felt like collapsing. Ask for continued wisdom to handle anything that comes your way with a Christ-like spirit and with a strong faith.

Holiness Today, March/April 2005