How You Respond to Adversity is a Big Thing

NCAA Division I Football Championship trophy and green and gold confetti

NDSU Football is the FCS champion again! That’s six titles in the past seven years, including five in a row (2011-2015). I honestly didn’t think they were going to pull it off, and as you’ll see in a moment, they almost didn’t. All season long, I had been watching their likely championship game opponent, James Madison University. They are the real deal, too, when it comes to old-school, run-based, grind-it-out, defense-driven football. It’s the style of play that enabled NDSU to beat their last 6 FBS opponents. But in 2016, it was JMU that stopped NDSU in the semifinals from claiming its 6th title in a row. Virtually everyone in FCS football wanted to see JMU and NDSU battle for the title. We all got our wish.

NDSU led the whole game, but not by much. It was a very low-scoring game for these two teams who had among the best total and scoring defenses in the nation. The 4th quarter turned into a real nail-biter, with JMU making a drive for a go-ahead score. NDSU was up 17-13 with just a few minutes remaining in the game. On 4th down and 9 yards to go, JMU executed a fake punt that gained 24 yards to NDSU’s 29-yard line. But JMU’s masterful quarterback, Bryan Schor, couldn’t overcome NDSU’s vaunted defense and they turned the ball over on downs with 58 seconds remaining in the game. NDSU had only to run out the clock to win the game…and they did.

In the post-game press conference, Nick DeLuca (Sr. Linebacker) was asked about his reaction to JMU’s successful fake punt. As a fan watching the game, my reaction was, “Oh no! This is a recipe for JMU to win the game in a last minute come-back. I’ve seen NDSU do it to their foes on a number of occasions. It might be time to pay up.” Frankly, my heart was racing a bit.

DeLuca’s reaction, though, was a lesson in leadership. He said, “There’s gonna be adversity. How you respond is the big thing.” Once the fake punt play was over, they focused their attention on being successful with the next defensive stand. They did indeed.

Later in the same press conference, NDSU head coach Chris Klieman was asked how it is that NDSU has won six championships in the last seven years (with a W-L record of 97-8 over those years). What’s the difference between NDSU and other programs? His response: “Resolve and character is hard to beat.”

Character. That’s what DeLuca was talking about. How you respond to adversity is determined by your character.

Leaders face adversity everyday. It’s usually small things such as conflicting priorities, too many demands on the daily schedule, and competition for resources. Sometimes it’s bigger things such as facing ethical challenges, being unfairly treated, and making career-killing and career-building decisions.

Scripture has a lot to say about adversity. Some of the most inspiring stories in God’s Word are about dealing with adversity. Joseph’s rise from slavery to second-in-command in the kingdom. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s faithfulness to God under immense pressure from a powerful king. The persecution of the Apostles during the first century of the Christian church. These are just a few of the examples of God’s faithful responding well to adversity, and it’s a theme we find throughout scripture.

Here are three questions to explore when you face adversity.

Who are you focused on?
When facing adversity, it’s easy to become focused on the wrong thing—usually the person that is the source or focus of that adversity. If, however, we fear God and love people, our focus is tuned correctly. On the other hand, if we’re too concerned with people, we’re fearing them, which makes it difficult to love them. Keep your focus on the Lord, fearing (respecting and glorifying) him.

“The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.” (Proverbs 19:23, ESV)

Who is in really control?
When I face adversity, it’s easy to lose sight of God’s sovereignty. It’s easy to forget he is in control—even over my adversaries and adversity. I often need to slow down my thinking (and emotions) to remember the Creator of the universe certainly has the ability to shape this situation for his good purposes, even if I don’t currently understand what that plan is or why I need to walk through this adversity.

“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” (Isaiah 46:9-10, ESV)

Who judges you?
I know that when I face adversity, one of the prominent themes in my head is protecting my reputation and saving face. I get concerned that if I make the wrong decision, or create conflict, or if I’m falsely accused without righteous defense, etc., my character will be evaluated and I’ll come up short. That hurts. While there is indeed a place to consider how we are perceived, the motivation behind it is the key. If my concern is for my reputation, I’ve got the focus on the wrong thing. I’m forgetting that God is the final judge. When my motivation is to honor and please him, he is satisfied.

“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16, ESV)

“And [the angel] said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.’” (Revelation 14:7, ESV)

All leaders face adversity. As Nick DeLuca said, how we respond to is the big thing. That response is a key factor in the development of a Christ-like character.

These words of the Apostle Paul, written to the church in Corinth are a great encouragement to me when I meet challenges. I hope they are to you as well.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10, ESV)

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at] with your questions.

Photo by NCAA

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