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Earlier in my career, I had an opportunity to coach High School Volleyball. I joked that after five years of this activity, I decided to give up coaching and keep my Christianity. In all honesty, it was something I enjoyed for a season and I am thankful for the experience. I have been able to look back on those years and apply both the positive and negative lessons learned in many aspects of my life.

53236207_565845720580033_4070223743438290944_nThere are many things to consider about offense and defense in an athletic competition. I want to use this concept in a very different way to drive a spiritual point that I hope will benefit all of us. When we think about one team being on offense and the other being on defense during a given portion of a competition, we could think about many concepts, but the one I want us to focus on is opposing forces with the end goal of winning.

Unfortunately, if feels that we are constantly surrounded by division. We find it in politics, in the workplace, in homes and families, and even in the church. This type of opposing forces can come with a greater price than just the loss of an athletic competition. With a variety of opinions comes an opportunity for us to become offended or defensive. While a strong offensive and defensive strategy may be critical to win in sports, allowing a spirit of offense or becoming overly defensive could cause you to lose big in your natural and spiritual life.

Since these two issues can take such a toll on our love walk and our peace, I want to divide this topic into two parts. Today, I specifically want to talk about the defensive side.

Have you ever been caught off guard by your own unintended defensive reaction in a given situation? Perhaps you received some unsolicited feedback or criticism about your personal passionate projects. Maybe you are in a discussion where your opinions are overlooked or deemed unimportant. Regardless of the situation, defensive feelings and more importantly the root of the cause of those feelings are painful.

Defensiveness can be a serious problem. It can limit your growth and isolate you from risk taking, which might be required to walk out your God-given destiny. Additionally, defensiveness may limit your ability to mature as a Christian and to be used by God in ministry opportunities. As a Christ-follower, we should want to see forward momentum in our relationship with our Savior and in our efforts to share His love. If we are isolated behind a wall of defensiveness, how can we accomplish this goal?

I recently had an unplanned opportunity to face this challenge. I was in two different situations during the same time where I found myself reacting defensively. I didn’t like the way it made me feel, and I certainly didn’t like the limitations it put on my opportunity for growth. I began to ask myself why I reacted this way. In the first situation, I had to realize that not all feedback is intended to be negative; often its purpose is to help you grow. When we have received hurtful or unfair criticism in past experiences, we can unintentionally put up a wall of defense that is meant to protect us from that type of pain, but it also protects us from advice that may help us succeed.

In the second situation, I had to realize that my initial reaction was related to a passionate belief; however, I needed to take a step back and respond instead of react.

“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.”  James 1:19-20 NLT

My key take-away from this experience is this. My situation was unlike an athletic event, no one had to win! I began this blog defining the key concept of the athletic competition I was referencing as the opposing forces with the end goal of winning. It is an unreasonable expectation to think that everyone will agree with your opinions, and the reality is others are as passionate about their way of thinking as you are.

Much of our defensiveness could be avoided if we did as James instructed in the above verse and become better listeners and slower to speak. When we can put ourselves into another’s perspective, we may see things more clearly from a very different vantage point. This is the place where compromise and growth begins and hate and division can be obliterated.

Next time you find yourself feeling overly defensive, stop and ask yourself if you are reacting or are you responding. Remember to listen for the opportunity not just the criticism, realize that you are who God says you are and don’t allow yourself to be defined by others, and lastly, relax and realize that you don’t have to defend everything. The emotional consequences of being overly defensive are simply not worth it, and the ability to relax and understand that others have the same right to their perspective is liberating.

Stay tuned for part two coming soon about offense!