I really enjoy watching football. I can tell myself on a Sunday afternoon that I have a number of other things to do, and like a moth to a flame, if that TV is on with football, I’ll stand there in one spot for 30 minutes watching without moving. The sheer force of will and strength these guys show, week in and week out, is something to behold. I think one of the greatest displays of this strength is the stiff-arm. Most reading this will know what a stiff-arm is. But for the benefit of those that don’t, a stiff-arm is when a runner who has the ball is about to be tackled. The would-be tackler is starting to wrap his arms around the runner, when suddenly the runner extends his arm with full strength straight into the facemask (or neck) area of the defender. The defender seeks to keep his grip on the runner after the initial devastating blow to his head, and meanwhile, the runner continues pushing into the defender’s helmet, further contorting his neck and head, in what has become a severely disfigured looking posture. One of the best I’ve seen is this shot of LaDanian Tomlinson administering a pretty brutal stiff-arm.
So, I found it intriguing Sunday when our pastor began talking about how we sometimes “stiff-arm” God. That is an immediate word picture for me and helps me get what my pastor is saying. Later that day I heard a message on Desiring God from John Piper where he too spoke of stiff-arming God. OK… 2 times… I think God is trying to get my attention! Now, removing those images of football players dropping guys like flies to the ground with their stiff-arms, I start to wonder… what does it mean that I stiff-arm God? Clearly, I cannot apply some kind of force to make God go away from me. I am not more powerful and more wise than God that I can somehow keep Him from doing something. No, I think it is when, over a series of choices, priorities, and idols, little-by-little, I push God away from that innermost part of my life… you know… that most vulnerable part of you that feels pain, sadness, joy, ecstasy, delight, desire, anger. It is that part of me which fears God coming close to me because of who and what He’ll see. Not wanting God to see the “inside of the cup,” which would reveal all manner of sin and idolatry. So, I push Him away.
Now, picture for a moment a small child… maybe a 2-year old… running down a football field and suddenly a large, athletic football player like this guy below comes running up to tackle this 2-year old and suddenly from out of nowhere, the 2-year old stiff-arms the would-be tackler and drops him to the ground.
Seems absurd, doesn’t it? Of course! And this is not the way of God. Like this large fellow with the 2-year old, God could easily force me into submission, if He chose. But He doesn’t. God is interested in our heart, not our blind, loyal, resentful obedience. He wants me to know and love Him. He wants me to desire Him above all other things of this world. So, when I stick my “arm” out to prevent God from interfering with my life, something peculiar happens. He sometimes lets me experience my intended result. But my “stiff-arm” has a sort of “Corsican brother” affect, where the only one I end up stiff-arming… is myself. I experience the pain and agony of that loss of “felt” closeness to God. I feel the longing in my heart that there must be something greater meant for this life. So when I finally drop my stiff-arm, God reveals a wonderful promise to me:
Therefore, we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…
2 Corinthians 4:16-17
God is continuing to work in me, shaping me to be made into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. So, about the only stiff-arming I can do is to stubbornly attempt to refuse the love God has poured out on me so lavishly through Jesus. And He will make it miserable for me during that time. For His commitment to me is to keep me in His grip. To “not let one of them fall”. For that, I am ever grateful. And it makes me fall in love more and more with Jesus each day.
In case that first stiff-arm picture was not enough for you, enjoy this youtube video shows a compilation of NFL stiff-arms. There are a bunch of these out there. I picked one. Good stuff.