BRADY COLUMN: When the props are knocked out

Published 9:30 am Friday, January 21, 2022

Ever had the props knocked out from under you? Sure you have! We all have. Take the legendary Herschel Walker. Being from Georgia, I’ve known about Herschel for a long time. A record-setting high school football player from Wrightsville, Georgia, Herschel led the Georgia Bulldogs to the National Championship in 1980 and set a number of collegiate records. Herschel then became a star player while playing professional football for the New Jersey Generals and the Dallas Cowboys. At this point in Herschel’s career, the famous “franchise” trade was made by the Cowboys and Herschel was sent to the Minnesota Vikings. There was an article in the June, 1992, “Sports Illustrated” entitled “Please Let Me Run.” The article was about how the props were knocked out from under Herschel’s career, and he wanted to prove himself with his new team, the Philadelphia Eagles.

Then there’s the prophet Elijah. Here’s another case of the props being knocked out. Only a few hours earlier on the top of Mount Carmel, Elijah had stood out as a giant among men. He had challenged the people of Israel and the 450 prophets of Baal to follow God. Then, he had put these Baal prophets to the test, and Elijah and his God had emerged victorious.

But soon thereafter something happened that literally knocked the props out from under Elijah. He received Queen Jezebel’s threat to put him to death. He became a prisoner of himself and out of fear fled for his life and wound up hiding in a cave. But later after encountering an angel, the word of God came to him. God offered Elijah several insights, and I want to pass them on to you.

The first insight is that there are no permanent victories! Irving Berlin stated, “The toughest thing about being a success is that you have to keep on being a success.” Elijah’s spectacular victory over the Baal prophets was followed by a reaction. He was experiencing the “trying times” of those who discover that there are no permanent victories. As numbers of us realize, civilization itself is not attained by a single decisive battle or brief sudden victory. Civilization is a matter of the long haul and of millions of unknown, faithful people consolidating the gains that have been made and preserving those gains.

The second insight is that self-pity is not the answer.

The late Hubert Humphrey waged a valiant battle against cancer. During the height of his illness, he wrote: “The biggest mistake people make is giving up. Adversity is an experience, not a final act. Some people look upon setbacks as the end. They are always looking for the benediction rather than the invocation.” Self-pity means pity for oneself, especially to excess. C.G. Jung, the father of modern analytical psychiatry, has said that at least one third of his patients suffered solely for the reason that they were feeling sorry for themselves.

And the final insight, and the most important insight, is that there are always moments of unexpected grace! Elijah was so desperate and fearful in the cave that he wanted to take his own life. Instead of granting that request, God sent an angel to minister to Elijah and to prepare him for future service-a moment of unexpected grace. One word we frequently use to describe this unexpected grace is the word hope. Hope is the ability to imagine life in another way. Hope is allowing that things really can be different.

Hope is believing that I don’t have to live my life in despair or self-pity-that I can be healed and laugh and love and celebrate again. Because of the faithfulness of God, there are always moments of unexpected grace.