Some meetings you’ll never forget! When I was in New York a while ago, the hotel manager pulled me aside. He knew I loved sports and offered to introduce me to a fellow guest, Clemson football head coach Dabo Swinney, whose career I’ve long followed.
My family and I sat with Dabo for an hour as he talked about his faith, his love for football, his excitement about his players, and his zest for life. The love he had for his team was obvious. He was animated, speaking with his eyes and gesturing with his hands. I’ve seldom been around anyone more positive! I remember thinking, No wonder he wins championships. He is a champion. He is a man who believes!
Dabo’s real name is William Christopher. He was born to a mother who battled debilitating polio. When he was a baby his older brother, Tripp, tried to call him “that boy,” and Swinney was known as “Dabo” ever since. When Tripp was sixteen, a horrible accident left him permanently injured. About the same time, their father had business problems, fell into debt, and started drinking heavily. Dabo’s parents broke up, and Dabo lived from pillar to post.
At sixteen, Dabo had a life-changing experience with Christ, and his newfound faith bolstered his belief in the future and in himself. He tried out for the University of Alabama football team as a walk-on and got a scholarship. During his last college game, on New Year’s Day 1993, the Crimson Tide won the national championship. At the end of his college career, Dabo reconciled with his father and eventually helped lead him to Christ.1
In 2003, Dabo joined the coaching staff at Clemson. He became head coach in 2008. At the time, Clemson was known for losing games they should have won. It happened so often people called it “Clemsoning.” Coach Swinney knew belief was at low ebb both inside and outside the program, so he posted a large sign in the training room bearing one word: BELIEVE!
The coach’s belief was sincere—and contagious. No matter the challenges or setbacks, he believed in his players more than they believed in themselves. He believed in them so much their confidence surged, and under his leadership, the Tigers won national championships in 2016 and 2018.2
Part of my admiration for Coach Swinney comes from my own background. I grew up knowing a lot more about doubting than believing. I was raised in a good church, but it was better known for what it was against than what it was for. At the time, I didn’t realize how that can affect one’s outlook. To be sure, there are lots of things we should be against, but that mustn’t be our primary focus. It took a while for me to learn that; but praise God I did, or there’s no way I’d be doing what I’m now trying to do in the kingdom of God.
It takes a positive attitude to move forward. As you read that, you may be thinking, Dr. Jeremiah is falling into the positive-thinking trap. No, I’m not. I know about that pitfall. “Conceive it, believe it, achieve it!” “Health and wealth!” “Name it and claim it!” Lots of motivational speakers and self-help preachers make lots of promises without preaching the whole gospel—or any of it. The self-improvement industry has become a kind of religion that says, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.” We should guard ourselves like Gideon against any self-help ideology that pushes God to the sidelines, magnifies human ability, and doesn’t tell the whole truth.
But there is a positive, hopeful, joyful optimism that is totally biblical in its essence and comes from Christ alone. You can be a Christian and an optimist at the same time—and you should be. Faith adds a positive power to your life. Just listen to Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
That sounds pretty positive, doesn’t it? The man who wrote those words was an Optimist with a capital O. Read his story in the book of Acts and study his thirteen letters. They’re packed with optimism. Dr. John Henry Jowett said of Paul: “His eyes are always illumined. The cheery tone is never absent from his speech. The buoyant and springy movement of his life is never changed. The light never dies out of his sky. . . . The apostle is an optimist.”3
We’ve seen that seizing the dreams God plants in your heart requires not only risk but also the willingness to pursue those dreams with abandon. Now I want to show you the importance of believing in the reality of those dreams—and yes, believing in yourself—in order to move forward.
So, for the next few minutes, sit at the feet of the great apostle and learn his powerful secrets for resilience, optimism, and positive belief. By stepping into his story at critical moments, you can understand how he lived a life of positive accomplishment despite hardships, which is the only way to plunge forward into the future God has for you.
David Jeremiah, Forward: Discovering God’s Presence and Purpose in Your Tomorrow (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020), xii–xvi.
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Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking. Answers are provided in the form of quotes from respected authors such as John Piper, Max Lucado and Beth Moore.
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Ultimately, the goal is to create conversations that change lives.
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