I remember years ago talking to fellow Dad about children, raising children, and schooling. This Dad spoke to me about how we he wanted to encourage his child to win and to “be a winner“, or words to that effect. After he finished speaking, he looked at me, expecting that I would say the same thing or agree with him at least. Yet instead of the words he thought I would say, I responded that when my children grow up I am hoping that I can train them to lose.
The man looked at me as if I were crazy, with wide eyes he replied “Why on earth would you want to train your children to lose?” And I said to him “Because they will. Sooner or later, things will not go their way.” He looked at me quizzically and I added, “That is what life is like, is it not?”
I don’t remember the rest of the conversation we had, but I suspect that his view is not that dissonant to what our Western Culture promotes and lauds. After all, our culture promotes success, winning, and being a winner. I grew up playing football (the real one), since I was seven. I had no say in it, my brother was into it, and being the younger brother I just tagged along. I was rather rubbish at the game (as I was and still am regarding football of all codes) but the mantra “It is not whether you win or lose but how you play the game” became ingrained in my head. However I suspect that the saying today which is more fitting for our culture is, “Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing“. There is no room for the losers.
But we will lose and do lose. God’s people will and do lose. And it is important to remember (and this is a big by-the-way) that Christians lose. Being a Christians is no guarantee that you will never lose, or that things will always go your way. Here are some hypothetical examples:
- Work – You have been working in your field for several years, and have seen a position in which you think you would be a very good fit. If successful, it would mean a change of location and move of house. Not to mention a new school for your children (if you have them of course). The job also pays significantly more, which means that you will have the means to live in that suburb/part of town where you would like to live rather than where you can afford to live. You apply, are interviewed, and are shortlisted for the next round of interviews, which go very well. You are then asked to come in for a third and final round of interviews which, like the previous interviews, also go very well. You have a very good feeling after the interview and are quietly confident that you will be appointed the position as the indicators, from those whom interviewed, were very favourable. You are told you will be informed in writing as to whether your candidature has been successful. A month passes, and you then receive communication that you were unsuccessful. You are informed that you were the number one candidate until they interviewed the final candidate. So you were pipped at the post!
- Relationships – Friendships are very important to you. So you work hard to ensure that you are intentional in your friendships. You pray for and call your friends regularly. Even if they are not available, you leave messages to let them know you are thinking of them. However, after a period of time you notice the lack of reciprocity. That you are the only one making the calls and leaving the messages. Your friend(s) never return your calls. If they do call, there are apologies made and comments given such as “Sorry, I have not called you, I have been so busy“. But as the weeks turn into months, there is still no reciprocity. So you decide not to call, not to leave messages, not out of either pride or malice, but to see if the friendship is one-sided. Those weeks turned into months, then those months turn into years. You realise that your friendship, although not soured, has now become an acquaintance. With good friends hard to find, and friendships hard to keep, you say to yourself: “It must be me!“
- Money – Growing up, your parents were very frugal. They lived within their means and didn’t spend money that they did not have on things they did not need, in order to impress people they did not even know. So frugality is a quality that you aspire to have in your own financial life. However, you seem to be finding it harder to make ends meet. You realise that if you did not have to eat, you would have no money problems. Your food bill is so expensive that you are tempted to email Coles and Woolies to ask them if they would consider lay-byes. Your electricity bills are going through the roof, and you realise that your private health cover is costing you an arm and a leg. Being frugal, you decide to cut out a few of those wee luxuries that you have come to enjoy. That dinner out will be changed to a BYO picnic in the park, that bottle of Merlot will have to stay at Dan Murphy’s. But one day during the week, you are running late for a prayer meeting and you think you may have gone through a speed camera too fast. You cannot be sure. You don’t even remember if you were speeding. Two weeks later you receive a letter that tells you that you were clocked doing 81kph in what you were thought was a 60kph zone. It turns out that what was a 60kph zone had been changed to a 50kph zone. So you were 31kph over the speed limit which results in 5 demerit points and a fine of $855. It looks like it will be instant noodles for while!
- Church – Your church, where you have been a member for a long time, is going through a time of transition. Your minister has come to the conviction that in the name of relevance, the service has thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and so they have decided to revert back to the forms of corporate worship that are characteristic of the denomination that your church is a part of. The church leadership is united in this, but you are a part of a group of people within the church who (graciously) disagree and so you meet with the church leadership team to express your views. You attend several meetings, prayer meetings, and services where there is much discussion, debate, and more discussion. After several weeks and further meetings, you realise that the the initial decision stands and you will not have your way. Changes are afoot!
- Health – Over time you have noticed that you have been having pain in your lower back. It is rather hard to pinpoint where exactly the pain is, and over time you find it increasingly painful to sit for long periods of time. You also notice that you are having pain down the lower part of your right leg. At first, it is nothing more than an annoyance. Then one day as you bend over to pick up something off the floor, agonising pain sears through your back. You end up on the floor. As you very painfully see the doctor, you notice that your right foot does not work properly. It turns out that you have prolapsed disc in your lower back that is pushing on your nerve (which is causing the foot drop). You will require surgery which will involve 8 weeks of lying in a bed. Although you have private cover, it does not cover your operation, because it was a preexisting condition. So you have to go through the public system. You are told it will be a three month wait, you end up waiting for nine months. A painful wait indeed!
We all live on the other side of Genesis 3, which means we live in a world where bad things happen. A world where we get hurt; a world where we lose; a world where things don’t go our way. Sometimes we lose little, sometimes we lose big. Sometimes the loss is trivial, whilst other times, the loss is raw and extremely painful. Sometimes the loss it not actually a loss, we just think it is. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. Sometimes things don’t go our way because we are ripped off, exploited, or are lied to.
Sometimes life is grossly unfair, but that is life outside of the garden. Sooner or later, we will lose. And if you are reading this and you are thinking “Well praise God, that has never happened to me“. Just give it time, because it can happen to you. So often life consists of both peaks and valleys. One day, we can be at the summit — enjoying the views that life is giving us. Whilst, the next day, we can be hurtling down the slopes of loss, grief, pain, despair, unfairness, injustice, and defeat in order to find ourselves in the valley of shadows.
Here are several things that, by God’s grace, I try to remember when things don’t go my way:
God knows – Not only does God know everything about everything. He knows me better than I do myself. I recently read a very insightful comment from a sermon by an Anglican Priest in the USA named Matt Kennedy. He was preaching on James 4 and talking about how God sometimes says no and this is what he said:
“I think I’m asking for fish. But because God knows me, he sees that I’m really asking for a serpent. And he says no because he is my good Father who only gives good gifts. Of course, you may really have asked for a good thing with the right intentions. You are physically sick and want to be healed. It is good and right to go to your Father and ask that he might make you well. But he may want an even better thing for you that you’re not aware of. He may want to bring you to himself through your physical death. He may be using your physical suffering to drive you more fully into the arms of his Son. But it may also be that when you do not get what you ask for that you’re asking for something that will corrupt you. It could be that that the longings that pull you to your knees in fervent prayer, are things your good Father could never give you. You may tell yourself you want more money to afford this or that necessity. But God sees that accumulating more money is an obsession for you, that money is your god. Don’t expect God to help you worship another god…”
As foreign as this is to my thinking, when things don’t go my way it is because the thing I want to go my way is not in line (for whatever reason) with God’s way and with God’s will. When things don’t happen the way I want, or things don’t turn out the way I want them to, it is because God in his sovereignty does not want them to.
Honouring God – This is tough. I remember hearing, or reading, the story of a church where change was being proposed. I am going to type three words now:
Change & Church
It seems rather incomplete don’t you think? That is because there are two words missing, two words that sadly belong with those three words:
Change & Church &Conflict
This story had all three, I cannot recall what the change being proposed was, I think it may have been the changing of the name of the church. One lady in particular was very fired about the proposal and was dead against it. She spoke up, loudly, passionately and consistently. In the end she lost. Things did not go her way. The vote came and all those in favour said “aye” and the ayes had it and the motion was carried. But after the results were read out, the woman was very gracious in defeat and the minister went over and thanked her. Some even expressed surprise at how well she was taking it and her comments were very telling:
Well I had my say, I was heard, I was listened TO. I went through all the church mechanisms and I lost. But We all lose sometimes but i believe what the Bible says about submitting to your elders. So I will continue to love, support and pray for those who have authority in our church. I still don’t agree with the decision, but that is ok. That is life. We don’t always get what we want.”
What a remarkable response! But should it be? Should her response be the norm? Yet how often do we hear of churches where the response of God’s people when things don’t go their way is to say:
I am leaving!
Or perhaps less obvious but just as damaging to the body of Christ is to respond by poisoning the well, spreading discontent amongst the body of Christ, because a decision did not go their way.
There is such a thing as godly losing, of losing in a way that honours God and honours Christ. Godly losing does not mean that we don’t express grief, or sadness. Godly losing does not mean that pretend that we like the fact that things have not gone our way. But Godly losing does mean that we continue to take the call of the Lord Jesus Christ seriously when he tells us to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and following him. (Luke 9:23)
Some years ago my family and I went down to Wollongong and I remember walking past a permanent house that was in the caravan park where we were staying and in the garden was a sign that said this:
‘It is all about family.’
It is a very common thing to say. It is a very Australian thing to say. But according to the Lord Jesus ‘it is not all about family’; according to the Lord Jesus, ‘it is all about him’. Yet, the Lord Jesus does not stop there, if we are to be disciples of him we are to love him more than our own lives. As per what Jesus unpacks in Luke 14:27:
Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
(The preceding verses are also very challenging and counter cultural as Jesus demands our absolute loyalty).
To understand the Jesus’ words here, it is helpful to place our minds into the time and place of where he lived. Jesus lived in a world that was ruled by Caesar – by Rome. Crucifixion was a common occurrence, it was the worst form of execution carried out on the worst criminals. To the 1st century people of Jesus’ time and place, the cross was not a symbol of mercy, of grace, or of God’s love — which is the message it conveys to us. Rather, the cross was the symbol of degradation, of excruciating agony and suffering, and of humiliation and death. The cost of following Jesus is cross carrying – it means dying, dying to the right we think we have to live our lives outside of the authority of God; it means dying to living our lives as if we are in charge.
This goes against everything we are taught, everything we observe, and even our natural, selfish, inclinations which states: “I will live my the way I please”.
For many Novacastrians, 8th June, 2007 was a day they will remember. It was the day that the Pasha Bulka was run aground on Nobby’s beach and the weekend of the huge storm that hit. When friends came to see us in Newcastle, we would take them on a tour of the city. And it was packed with people. One of the things I noticed was that the authorities had placed exclusion zones around the ship. Now exclusion zones are areas that are marked off, where people are not allowed to enter. They are off limits, generally for safety reasons. Now exclusions zones are everywhere, schools have them, police use them, but there is one exclusion zone that we can set up, it is one of our own making in which we attempt to keep Jesus out. This happens when we buy into the world’s view and definition of what freedom entails. Yet, according to Jesus, true freedom is found in cross carrying – in serving the Lord Jesus Christ. True freedom, true life, is found in giving life itself up for the Lord Jesus! But when we swallow the world’s understanding of freedom, we set up exclusions zones around areas of our lives in order to keep the Lord Jesus out.
Are there any areas of your life where you have put up an exclusion zone when it comes to Jesus? Are there parts of your life where you are telling Jesus stay out?
- Your time commitments (i.e church, meeting with God’s people);
- How you work, and your attitude to it;
- Your singleness;
- Your marriage;
- Your parenting;
- How you treat your parents;
- What you watch and also what you think;
- Your retirement and your attitude towards it (i.e. how you will spend it)
Jesus is Lord of our losing; He is Lord over the things that don’t go our way. He wants all of us to lose in a way that honours him, and he wants us to act in a way that is consistent with whom we are, as members of God’s family, when things don’t go our way.