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Glorious Failure

When I am in a race, it is hard not to think “P.R.” (personal record in case you’re not one obsessed with times and performance). Like my kids, it is also hard not to have winning in mind, even if that means age group winnings rather than the whole race. The same is true of applying for a job, to a school or for some sort of contest or grant. I enter with the hopes of “winning” what it is I am after. After all, if I am not going to get the thing, what is the point? So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 1 Cor. 10:31 This is the kind of verse that is often used in a way that makes me roll my eyes. It sort of seems like the consolation prize for getting or doing what we really want to do, which is win or be famous or break a record. And yet, the truth is pretty profound: we are invited to lose, to fail, to be average, to be middle management for the glory of God. How anti-American dream is that? How counter that notion is to all my impulses to chant “I’m #1!!!” in every way. Yet, it is so filled with grace and freedom and life. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. Phil. 3:7-9 When I am obsessed with winning, it is all that matters. Should I lose, my well being in stripped away. Should I lose, my dignity is diminished. Should I lose, my efforts and time spent are in vain. If I am not elevated to #1, my existence does not count. My hope is in my success, my recognition and my accomplishment. All else exists to serve me and my need to be served. It is insatiable. There was a time when I was surrounded by Christians who constantly advocated “excellence for Jesus” as a way of promoting Him to the watching world. The implication was that God is perfect and always a winner, so that should be our aim to impress others with their need to be a perfect winner with Jesus also. God is not a sloppy, lazy, loser, so we shouldn’t represent Him as such. Sadly, this reduces the person and work of Jesus to a winning lottery ticket rather than Redeemer and Restorer of all things.

Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 2 Cor. 11:24-30

There is a strength stronger than winning, safety and good health. There is a peace that is present in the midst of storms and trauma. There is a joy that persists even in the face of disappointment and loss. This strength, peace and joy are compatible with pain, sadness and fear just as they are of God whose love and goodness are consistent with circumstances that expose my weakness, ignorance, failure and humanity.

If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 1 Peter 4:11-14 What freedom to fail, to lose, to be rejected or overlooked “for the glory of God”. How is God glorified? Well, for me, just to have my own heart find its refuge in Him rather than in a trophy or membership or acceptance glorifies God to my own heart. When He is returned to the throne of my heart as sole provider of all good and necessary things for life, His glory increases before my eyes. Conversely, my body and possessions can be damaged but my identity and security as His child and beloved representation cannot be diminished. As I take greater delight in this untouchable reality, my running both more fun and surely more glorifying to God than the white knuckled, must win approach. Engaging in community has redemptive value through the process regardless of the visible outcome. The hard work involved in an application or contest or attempted endeavor has value because of the redemptive purposes and accomplishments of the Spirit in me through the process, which often makes the product irrelevant. God is glorified as I begin to reflect Him more accurately, not in the prizes I amass or the surface perfections I display. Compassion, patience, love, forgiveness, mercy, faithfulness, perseverance and so many more of His attributes are rarely developed without muscle aches or heart aches. But none of those losses compare to the greatness and glory of knowing Him more. As I become more convinced of my limitations and inability, I become more dependent upon and confident in His strength and victory.

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