1) Success requires wisdom. The Ali-Foreman fight is a parable of this. The much younger Foreman had greater brute strength than Ali, but Ali fought with more wisdom. Its crazy watching Ali continually back up against the ropes and absorb Foreman’s body blows, with his trainer yelling him, and no one else understanding his strategy at first. But it worked. Foreman landed lots of punches, but they never seem to land very solidly, and it left him exhausted and vulnerable.
2) Success requires patience. Sometimes you have to wait 8 or 10 rounds before you have that split-second opening to land the decisive punch. Ali waited patiently until Foreman was extremely tired. There were several earlier points where you are thinking, “why doesn’t he go for it?” He didn’t rush it. He waited until just the right moment. So also life and ministry require great patience. Few real successes are achieved in the first round.
3) Success requires courage. You have to lean into your punches, knowing you might get hit back. Imagine leaning back against the ropes and taking shot after shot from George Foreman! And no one understands that you’re doing! Ali had the guts to believe in his strategy, and go for it.
4) Success requires flexibility. Ali was aggressive in Round 1, but then changed his tactic after realizing he could not compete with Foreman in a slug-fest. So also ministry requires flexibility. There is no strategy forged in the abstract that can account for all the various “real life” factors of ministry. It requires the constant adjustment of balancing.
5) Success requires perseverance. The great philosopher Rocky Balboa once said, “it ain’t about how hard you can hit; its about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” It seems to me that life that life and ministry are often defined much more by how we respond to failure than to victory. How we take a punch says more about us than how we throw one. I wonder if one of the biggest keys to a successful life and ministry is very simply – not giving up. There are few things that move me more than seeing a boxer take hit after hit, and thinking, “he should be going down right now – why isn’t he?“
Lord, give us grace to take the hits well, knowing we are fighting the “good fight” that has true eternal value. Give us strength to persevere to the end, so that we can say with Paul, ”I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (II Timothy 4:7).