On January 30, 2013, I listened to a press conference with Ray Lewis (a 17 year veteran linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens). As the Ravens approached the pending clash with the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl, Mr. Lewis had the opportunity to put things into perspective. This was not an edited interview; it was a live press conference. And what he had to say resonated with me. My son is an athlete and I am always on the lookout for good advice to give a 14-year old boy. In the world we live in today, good role-models are hard to come by to say the least. But what Mr. Lewis spoke yesterday to a collection of reporters from all over the world made me hopeful for the next generation of young Christians. I will address three of the main points he made during the press conference.
The first point I will address is Ray Lewis’ answer to the question of whether he used performance enhancing drugs. Ray stated that everyone who knows him knows the allegations are false. He stated quite bluntly that he was a Christian and models his life on Jesus Christ. He made no apologies, said that his teammates know him well, and that this allegation will not affect the morale in the locker room. His point-blank statement gave me chills. Instead of defending himself, he simply stated his heart and lifted up Christ. This spoke to me profoundly. As Christians, we should always be quick to apologize for our misconduct and ask for forgiveness, but when false accusations arise, as they always do, we should simply cut through the grey and state boldly that we depend exclusively on Christ’s strength. When these allegations are proven false, Ray Lewis can use this for a strong testimony on how to deal with attacks from the enemy. As Christians, we know that we do not wrestle with flesh and blood but rather with principalities and powers in the spiritual realm (Ephesians 6); therefore, Sports Illustrated is not the enemy but rather the physical manifestation of an attack by the real enemy. Mr. Lewis’ only regret was that the false report was getting too much attention and skewing the public’s focus from the main issue at hand, mainly, that football’s greatest challenge is about to be played.<
How many times do we want to defend ourselves? How many times do we let the enemy get the best of us by reducing us to his level? How many times do we stoop to the level of the world and get caught up in hurt feelings? Ray Lewis just demonstrated how we should respond to attacks: by resisting the enemy by not ignoring him but by standing firmly and simply on the Rock. If you haven’t done anything wrong, then stand and let your words be filled with boldness and love. Mr. Lewis modeled this approach for us in living color.
The second point I will address is Lewis’ response to the question of how he has been able to achieve longevity in the NFL in one the harder positions to achieve said longevity, mainly, as a linebacker. His response was insightful, full of wisdom, and showed intelligence not associated, quite frankly, with a linebacker! If you are not a football fan and are unfamiliar with what a linebacker does, a linebacker is a guy who throws his body horizontally and forcefully to tackle an opponent’s offensive player. One could make a case for this position on defense as the most physically demanding and therefore the most risky and injury-prone positions in football. His response was that every season he finds new ways to re-invent himself. He drew a contrast between the prevailing strategy of simply improving one’s strength and skills and the alternate philosophy of finding new ways to improve and think “outside the box”. He said in the off-season he would take karate, swim, and change his workout routine among other things. He stated that simply keeping the status quo is a recipe for thwarting one’s ability to become better every season. By trying to re-invent oneself as a player every single year ensured that you would be always improving as an overall player…brilliant! Keeping the status quo just wasn’t in Mr. Lewis’ playbook so to speak.
How many of us are stuck in a routine or a rut? How many of us falsely believe that our spiritual walk is something to simply maintain instead of letting God continually re-invent us? How many times are we misled to think that a spiritual walk with God is a destination rather than an ever-changing process? I had this same conversation with my son just the day before, after a basketball game! I told him, “Look son, you have to push yourself to new heights all the time…there is no such thing as the ‘norm’ or ‘good enough’…you are doing one of two things: getting better or getting worse. Toeing the line is a false construct. Life is a river flowing against you; you are always paddling upstream. If you stop paddling, you will be carried backwards downstream.” It made my heart joyful to hear one of the greatest athletes of our generation confirm this premise. I applaud Ray Lewis for demonstrating the type of work ethic required to be all that God wants us to be. What a glorious life we could all lead if we understand that we are transformed “glory to glory” at all times throughout our lives; the Christian life comes into clear focus when we allow God to lead us into higher and higher levels of His glory.
The last point I will address is Mr. Lewis’ response to a question about how to stay focused. One of the reporters asked him if he had had time to “get out” and enjoy the city of New Orleans. His reply was that he had been invited several times by his teammates to get out and enjoy the moment by flowing in all the attention and celebration. He said he had declined because he was too busy breaking down the 49ers’ offense! He stated that he had been studying film from the time they won the previous game and was informed of who the opponent would be! He said his job as a team leader was to know the opponent backwards, forwards, and upside down…amazing! While everyone else was out celebrating their achievement of getting to the “big stage”, Mr. Lewis was focused on the next step, the next challenge, and never losing focus on the fact that the job is not yet complete. Getting there was great, but finishing was more important. I am truly edified by this Christian man’s mindset of never resting on one’s laurels but rather pushing forward focused on finishing.
How many times do we think we have arrived? How many times do we pat ourselves on the back and forget that the job is not yet finished? How many times do we lose focus because we feel we have achieved what we feel is “good enough”? And how important do you think it is to know the opponent?! Now, there is nothing wrong with celebrating a victory in life; but we must temper the celebration and realize that we have won battles, but the war still rages on! We should take time to enjoy God’s deliverance, God’s provision, and His joy that comes when we are allowed to see victory; but we must always realize that staying focused is paramount to ultimate victory over the enemy…and sometimes WE are the enemy! Ray Lewis made me reflect on the fact that persistence and focus can rarely be defeated, that running the race is a lifetime endeavor and not a destination to enjoy and rest upon, and that relentless focus can and will propel us to new heights. And a major part of success is knowing the opponent; we cannot ignore the opponent without running the risk of being taken by surprise.
There were many other incredible insights shared by Ray Lewis during this press conference; but I will conclude here because this is enough to reflect upon at present. I will have mixed emotions when Ray Lewis retires after Sunday’s game, but I know that Ray is not finished with his race. He may not play football any longer, but as a Christian man, he will continue to strive for God’s kingdom as long as he breathes air on this planet. Anyone who has followed Ray Lewis’ career knows it has not been easy, has been filled with allegations and mighty pitfalls, and has not been all rainbows and unicorns! But when all is said and done, Mr. Lewis has leaned with all of his strength on his relationship with Christ Jesus and has run a hall of fame race. If you really research Ray’s life, you will see past the fearsome façade, you will see past all of the negative press, and you will see a loving and strong man who has unashamedly lived his life for his God. So whether you are a fan or a foe of Ray Lewis, he is a great example of a life restored. As with most people, his life has been one of ups and downs, mistakes and forgiveness, and a life lived imperfectly but victoriously. He shares his life with kids, with fans, with his church, with his city, and with his family. What he has achieved is nothing to him except that he has been given the opportunity to share the joy of a Christian life and bring hope to others by sharing his faith and commitment to “living out loud” for his Savior.