Category Archives: defeat

Weary yet pursuing

“So where you on the Richter scale, babe? How are you on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Jessica asked me this question the other day, and it wasn’t nearly as easy to answer as it might initially sound. I had to answer it on multiple levels.

I had to answer it practically. Practically, experientially, I wasn’t doing great. If life is a series of peaks and valleys then I think I was scraping the bottom of a valley somewhere. From a practical, factual perspective, I probably logged in between a 2 or a 3.

I also had to answer it emotionally. Surprisingly, my emotions were significantly higher than my factual reality—probably somewhere around a 6. However, before you conclude that I’m too out of touch, or living in a dream world, I should probably mention that my emotions were tied to my third answer.

I also had to answer Jess’ question positionally. I told her, “My circumstances are a 2.5; my emotions are a 6, but my determination is a solid 10. It’s true that I’m a little weary, but my posture, my position—my commitment to keep on running—has never been higher.”

There’s precedent for this in the Bible. After Gideon and his troops routed the Midianites in Judges 8:4 they were described as “weary yet pursuing” and something interesting happened. Divine strength found them as they ran.

Sometimes we can Sabbath (we can regroup, recoup, and withdraw), but sometimes life requires us to run all night. If you are in a running season, please don’t stop and don’t despair. God’s grace knows how to find you even while you run!

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The Man in the Arena

cliff-scalingA recurring theme in Theodore Roosevelt’s writings and speeches was “the man in the arena.” Here is one of his classic quotes about such a person—hopefully a man or a woman like you:

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the grey twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

That’s it for today. Some truths are best absorbed through brevity. May Mr. Roosevelt’s words ignite a noble fire in your soul!

William’s 400-meter failure

EUGENE, OR - JUNE 23: Bryan Clay reacts after getting disqualified in the men's decathlon 110 meter hurdles during Day Two of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 23, 2012 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)During the past few months I have been volunteering as the assistant track and field coach at my daughter’s high school. I’ve loved it, and it has been the fulfillment of a dream I’ve carried ever since I first met Pat Stahl, the track and field coach who profoundly shaped my life in high school.

Part of why I love track so much is that its lessons speak so profoundly to our spiritual journey. To spend a day on the track is to witness lessons about perseverance, work ethic, mental preparation, and hitting the wall. It is a sport about running with comrades and also running alone. It’s a tremendous sport that is jam-packed with spiritual truths and metaphors.

I experienced one of those lessons last week when William failed in the 400 meters.

He didn’t actually fail; he just thought he did. Leading up to our last track meet, William (not his real name) was about one second shy of qualifying for league finals in the 400-meter dash, and I was convinced that with some extra training and inspiration he would be able to qualify.

He worked incredibly hard all week, he ran the best race of his life in the meet, but he still failed to qualify. I was proud of him, I commended him for setting a personal record, and then I watched him slump under weighty feelings of personal failure and shame.

I am a competitor and I hate to lose so I understand the post-failing emotions that accompany a moment like William’s. However, after he apologized to me for the 10th time for failing to qualify I realized that something was wrong. He didn’t just feel failure; he felt a sense of shame.

As I spent the next thirty minutes trying to reinforce truth and liberate him from shame I realized that we do the exact same thing. Sometimes we work hard, do our best, fall short of our personal expectations, and then get taken out by shame.

I’m sure my words to William would echo God’s words to you: “I’ve seen your effort…I’m proud of you…you’re doing better than you realize…you’ll do even better next season…you are not a failure…now kick this shame to the curb because WE’VE GOT ANOTHER RACE TO RUN.”

Taking your ball and going home

take your ball and go homeHave you ever had a Jeremiah day?

A Jeremiah day is one where we question our calling, resent the various sacrifices that we have to make in our lives, get angry at God, but then lament our inability to actually walk away from Him.

Jeremiah the prophet hit such low ebb in his ministry that he literally longed to die. He felt tricked and manipulated by God, he cursed the day of his birth, and he wished desperately that he could call it a day and take his ball and go home.

His calling trapped him; however, and refused to let him quit. He said, “If I say, ‘I will not mention His word or speak anymore in his name,’ His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9).

Then two verses later, something changed. He must have seen a glimmer of light or sensed a whisper of God’s presence or word, because Jeremiah went on to say, “But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior.” Other translations say, “But the Lord is with me like a dread champion…like a mighty terrible one…like a fearsome warrior…like an awe-inspiring warrior…like a powerful giant…like an awesome mighty one.”

Do you need to see God in that role? Do you need to know that you’re not walking alone, but that a mighty dread warrior walks beside you? Jeremiah would tell you to carry on; keep walking; don’t quit. Your champion is still with you, and even though the storm might be obscuring His form right now, you too will have moments when the clouds part, the weariness lifts, and you see Him clearly again.

Distracted on Saturday depressed on Sunday

punching-bag discouragementPreachers, teachers, and pastors often express a nearly universal weekend sentiment: they are distracted on Saturday and depressed on Sunday. The pre-preaching preparations start to settle over them by mid-afternoon on Saturday, and the post-preaching depressions start kicking in shortly after their services end on Sunday.

This isn’t always the case of course. Indeed some of our Saturday nights are peaceful and fun, and some Sunday mornings leave us feeling bold and inspired. Unfortunately though, that’s not usually the norm. Usually for us pastors, varying levels of distraction and discouragement mark our weekends.

The distraction and discouragement aren’t inherently bad things—after all, we’re excited to preach and we want to positively impact our hearers—and they can be useful tools to help us grow and draw us deeper into God’s presence and perspective. However, if they’re allowed to gain too great a hold on us, they will inevitably take us out. We will turn too much of our focus inward and we’ll lose precious time with family and friends. We will be present but absent at the same time, and instead of celebrating what God is doing, we will end up fixating on ourselves.

Fortunately, there is a remedy, but you have to love boxing to understand it. It’s called the counterpunch, wherein a fighter throws a swift, countering blow right into the middle of his or her opponent’s barrage. It’s how Evander Holyfield KO’d Mike Tyson back in 1996. A 25 – 1 underdog, Holyfield counterpunched Tyson into submission, ultimately scoring the greatest upset in boxing history. It’s how Floyd Mayweather Jr. has remained undefeated in 49 professional fights.

The counterpunching strategy is simple. When hit, hit. When pushed, push back. Pray. Read a Scripture. Speak truth to yourself. Say out loud that you are rejecting the discouraging lies of the enemy. Pray for someone else. Go for a run. Do something to shake the wet blanket of distracting discouragement, so you can get back in the saddle and carry on.

Although directed at a pastoral dynamic, this post applies to all of us. Whatever your vulnerability is and however and whenever you get hit there—hit back. Counterpunch. It’s the path to boxing upsets and victory in spiritual warfare.

Winning, losing, and the Christmas story

boxersSometimes in life it is difficult to tell who is winning and who is losing.

Consider Joseph’s stint in slavery, the three Hebrews’ stroll in a fiery furnace, and our Lord’s own trial and crucifixion. Each of these events shouted defeat for God’s purposes, and yet each of these defeats became a doorway to a greater victory.

Sometimes defeated moments of extreme anti-climax are actually tipping points.

From all natural perspectives the birth of Jesus Christ was the greatest anti-climax in human history.

  • His entrance in to the world was not with the splendor of a world ruler bent on global conquest.
  • His arrival wasn’t marked by dignity and fanfare.
  • No one would have peeked into the stable and thought, “Surely, a king has just been born!”
  • Rather His nursery smelled like cow manure…his crib was a feeding trough…and his only attendants, shepherds.
  • Everything about His birth was a giant anti-climax.

Yet in that disappointing moment something else was happening and all of heaven knew that the most glorious of victories had just been unleashed. Immanuel, God with us, had come near.

What looked like anti-climax was the tipping point for the universe.

Christmas reminds us that things aren’t always as they appear. Don’t be too quick to judge and label the defeated moments in your life. God might see them as portals to a greater victory.

Weary Warriors (The End of the Trail)

 

end-of-the-trail-slideDoes this statue look like you? Are you a weary warrior, fighting to stay atop your equally weary mount?

This sculpture, called The End of the Trail, was created in the late 1800s and it gripped my heart the first time I saw it as a child. I was fascinated by this slumped and swaying warrior, and I wanted to know what had crushed his spirit so badly. Had he been injured in battle or was he merely bowed by exhaustion or grief? How had such a noble soul come to such a defeated, broken end?

I didn’t realize that my life would often resemble that statue.

Yours probably has too.

We’ve all ridden toward the horizon, ready to win the day, only to come to the end of the trail, hurting, lonely, dazed, and confused, and wondering how it all went wrong.

When we come to the end of the trail and droop like this valiant warrior, there’s only one lasting cure for our soul—the presence and nearness of God. Max Lucado calls that place of God’s presence “the sweetest spot in the universe.”[1]

The Gospel story is one of simultaneous expansion and narrowing. It’s expanding toward the furthest reaches of the known world, but it’s also honing in on individuals like a heat-seeking missile.

God wants to draw close to you. His very name, Immanuel (God with us), says so.

In this week’s installment of our summer reading program, Lucado expounds on this idea of God drawing near. That nearness—more than any other place in the universe—is where life becomes sweet and the common life is truly cured. Let’s lean into that space until we sense His presence and His Spirit makes us whole.

 

Summer Reading Program: The Cure for the Common Life Chapter Seven “Come to the sweetest spot in the universe.”

[1] Max Lucado, The Cure for the Common Life (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN: 2005): 70.