Muhammad Ali…Down for the Count?

by Byron Paulus


How should believers respond to the loss of a legend?


This past week the world lost one of its well-known heroes of all time. Some would say he was the greatest and arguably most important figure in his field. He was an off-the-charts flamboyant boxer. He was inspiring, controversial, and polarizing. And he was a professing Muslim.


In a speech in 1964, boxing champion Muhammad Ali declared to the world, “I am the greatest!” The declaration became his brand. His tagline. It became his identity. Mention “I am the greatest” and millions know who is being referenced.


Though he was devoted to a form of Islam, he was known for doing good. He promoted and funded worthy causes. Causes that are profoundly right…even though he was profoundly wrong in his theology.


Do you find it strange, then, considering his gross error and public perception of arrogance that he had a positive impact on my life? How could that be?


I recently had a birthday, and I am always reminded that one of my resolutions on my 40th birthday was, “Every day would be a classroom and every man would be my teacher.” I can learn from anyone. I can learn from everyone. Including Muhammad Ali. Let me focus on just one thing I learned from “the Champ.”


Muhammad Ali could count. Way beyond the “ten-count.”


Because Ali lived here in southwestern Michigan for more than 20 years, several in our Life Action Ministries family had brief encounters with him. Whether at a little league game or at an airport, he showed interest in people. But it was Ali’s response in an interview years ago, when a young boy asked him what he was going to do after he retired, that I won’t soon forget. Ali jokingly snored in reply, indicating that he was going to spend his retirement sleeping. But then he continued with a passionate impromptu message for the entire world. If you listen to his answer, you would think he was a solid evangelical preacher pouring his heart out to “redeem the time.” Click here and you will understand his grasp of how short time is, how important it is to live in light of eternity, and how sure judgment is for everyone. He did not shy away from declaring a heaven and hell. Even as a Muslim. Confused. Deceived. And apart from repenting and coming to know Christ personally, he is no different than you or me or anyone who does not turn to Jesus as their only Redeemer.


Muhammad Ali’s passionate plea was for everyone to realize they will be down for the count soon. In the meantime, we must count time by the hour and minute because life is so short. After adding the hours we spend on sleep, dress, work, school, entertainment, eating, travel, etc., and subtracting from a 24-hour day, the average person, he concluded, has less than six hours a day to make a difference in the world. Then he said that someone who is 65 actually will have lived only about 14 years in terms of truly investing in something that counts in light of eternity.


That means, since the average person in America lives to be 78 years old, I have less than three years remaining to make a difference. LESS THAN THREE YEARS!


What about you? Do the math. Break it down. Just 23% of your remaining days here on earth are available to make an impact for Christ. How are you using them? And what will be your mantra? What will people remember you by?


So my personal take-away, as the world mourns the loss of this hero, is to realize that God’s grace is enabling grace. He enables us to maximize our days, our hours, and even our minutes. His grace comes through humility (James 4:6).


If Ali could have it wrong and give so much of his life to good things, what is my excuse for not giving every minute I can for the One who had it all right?


Someday, when we are down for the count, what will we be remembered for?

Upon graduating from a Christian university in 1972, with a B.S. in Business Administration, Byron pursued a business career until 1975 when God brought him to Life Action Ministries. For 15 years, he served closely alongside of Life Action’s founder in various roles, including National Administrator. Following the founder’s death in November 1989, Byron was appointed by the Board of Directors as President of Life Action Ministries.
Byron’s four decades of experience in leadership with America’s largest revival ministry (over 200 staff), and his vision to see God send another Spiritual Awakening to our nation, have given him an opportunity to influence thousands through his various speaking, writing, and leadership endeavors.

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