Michael Phelps swimming butterfly

Last night I watched Michael Phelps win his 20th and 21st Olympic gold medals.  The 20th medal in the Butterfly was the one that really struck me as it was a showdown like we see in old Westerns.  There was an adversary that had thrown slurs and was trying intimidation tactics to get under Michael’s skin.

I watched Michael as he sat in the preparation room waiting for the race to start.  The opponent in question, Chad Le Clos, kept looking at Michael, probably trying to make intimidating eye contact.  But Michael refused to engage. Although, at one point, as Le Clos turned around, you could see what looked like rage spreading all over Michael’s face as he glared at Le Clos’ back.  But throughout the prep time, Michael sat in his seat, stone faced with his noise cancelling head phones on.  He could hear neither the jeers of his opponent as he sat in the green room nor the cheers of the crowd as he entered the pool area.

I listened as the announcers questioned whether the intimidation tactics of Le Clos were going to rattle Michael’s confidence, distract him or fire him up.  And looking at Michael from the outside it was impossible to tell which would be the outcome.  Based on past races, you would think that he would come out swinging; but Le Clos had recently won World Championship gold medals in the Butterfly and he was itching to take Michael down.

Once the race started, it was soon clear that Michael had decided to let the comments and taunting of Le Clos work up a fire inside him.  He burst off the blocks like a projectile and finished just as strong.  And Le Clos…well he didn’t even come in in the top three.  I don’t revel in his loss.  I feel kind of bad for him.  But the point of my story has more to do with the effects of intimidation rather than the people who engaged in it.

So what’s my takeaway from what I saw last night? As someone who has struggled on and off throughout much of my life under the overpowering effects of intimidation, both that from outsiders and that from the voices of my own self-doubt, I enjoyed seeing someone exemplify the right response.  Keep your mouth shut, don’t engage and let your actions do your talking for you.

Too many times when intimidation comes, I engage the enemy in rebuttal when the best defense would be a strong offense.  Can you relate?

Instead of engaging with the taunting and intimidation tactics of our enemy, we can put on the ‘noise-cancelling’ headphones of the Word of God and look straight ahead. We have been called, anointed and appointed for a purpose.  Getting into any sort of dialogue with either the Accuser or with people who are intimidating us only saps our strength and distracts us from our goal.

Michael had a goal and whether or not everyone in the arena wanted him to accomplish it or not meant nothing to him.  He went out to do his job – swim like a gold medalist.  And he did just that.

We have a job: Live for Christ, display God’s glory in the earth, and fulfill the unique purpose he created us for while we have breath. We don’t have to explain ourselves to anyone.  We don’t have to listen to the voice of the Intimidator.  We don’t have to back down to the taunting or defend ourselves.  We are HIS and we are called to keep our eyes straight ahead on the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus and swim in our own lane!

Philippians 3:14

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Now you:

  • What does intimidation look like in your own life?
  • Have you ever been bullied by a person or by your own negative self-talk?
  • Does intimidation strike you at the heart and suck the life out of you?
  • Do you want to become impervious to the effects of bullies and intimidation?

When Jesus had fasted 40 days in the wilderness, Satan came to tempt him. The temptation was in the form of intimidation because the enemy was telling Jesus to prove himself.  Intimidation always says that you’re not enough and you have to prove yourself.  The way that Jesus handled this intimidation was to keep his eyes straight ahead, fixed on his purpose and to put on the noise-cancelling headphones of the Word of God.  He knew that Who He was and what He was sent to do was settled and no dialogue with the Accuser was going to change that.  The only answers He gave were what the Word says. Do you know what the Word says so that you have an answer when accusation and intimidation come?

The next time you feel belittled, criticized or intimidated, just focus your eyes on who God says you are.  Look into God’s Word for your identity, and regardless of whether you “feel” like a conqueror, know that God says you are one!  And then get in your lane, swim your best race, and let your actions do the talking for you!

Remember: Your strength comes not in disputing about what you are not but in advancing in who you are.

And when you’re feeling crushed, reach out the One who can hold you.  When you’re at rock bottom, reach out to the Lord.  Just surrender to His love that covers you and declares that you are worthy, you are lovable, and you are an overcomer!

I found a sample of declarations that you can say over yourself daily, especially when you are going through a season of intimidation:


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSIVjjY8Ou8?rel=0&w=560&h=315%5D