What do winners look like? Are they tall or short? Black or white? Strong or weak? I guess it depends on what we mean by “winner.”
I was sucked into the story of one winner this past month as a read a lengthy, but engaging biography of Michael Jordan. The detailed account reminded me why many people’s obsession with him borders on hero worship. Many things can be said about “his airness” but nobody could ever claim he’s not a winner. Did he look like a winner before he got all those championship rings, though?
As you read the book, it seemed clear from his childhood that he would be a champion. Whether that was his outstanding play as a little league pitcher or as a junior varsity basketball player; his high school growth spurt or his game winning shot during his freshman year with UNC.
By the time I got to the chapters about his championships as a Chicago Bull, there were no surprises. The author told his story in a way that made it clear: Jordan was born to be a winner. And that’s what we know him for: winning six championship rings, five MVPs, and 14 All Star appearances (not to mention his unchallenged reign in the athletic shoe game).
This kind of unchallenged reign is what usually comes to mind first when we think “winner.” But I want us to leave room for another kind of winner. The kind of winner who doesn’t have all the makings of a champion. The kind of winner whose weaknesses are more noteworthy than his strengths. The kind of winner who looks more like a loser sometimes.
Conquered, but Conquering
I’ll be honest with you. The last two years have been amazing in many ways, but they’ve also been pretty hard. I’ve enjoyed a strong marriage and the beginning of two little lives. I’ve experience the joy of pastoral minsitry in a healthy church. But I’ve also been plagued with weakness. It’s hard for outsiders to tell sometimes because I seem to be doing so many good things. But if only you could see a little closer.
I have chronic fatigue syndrome. I know, I had never heard of it before either. Maybe that’s why when it hit me it felt more like a sucker punch than an organized bout. In the beginning it really handicapped me— I was only awake for six hours a day, and exhausted for the other eighteen. Over the next year it did get better, but it still left me a shell of what I used to be. I’ve lived the last seven years with a neverending fatigue. I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt rested— like my battery died, but never recharged.
Energy is like the fuel that powers every area of our life. We need it for every task, every conversation, every thought. And when that fuel is low, everything suffers. For some reason, my body won’t let me refuel. Instead my tank lingers right above “E,” and I try to make it through. It’s left me limping through every area of my life.
I tell you all this, not for your sympathy, but to challenge how you think. Some may look at the missed deadlines, the discouraging days, the occasional tension in my marriage, and think, “Man, this guy is losing right now.” It sure feels like losing when I have to change my life plans yet again or tell my son, “Daddy’s too tired to play right now.” I would be lying if I said it wasn’t discouraging and trying. Yet, I still claim my sweet victory.
No, I’m not the superhuman strong kind of winner; I’m actually pretty weak. I’m a different kind of winner. And I suspect many of you are too.
A Different Kind of Winner
I do have victory, but not because my strength has secured it. My victory happens in spite of my weaknesses, even my sins. I’m not the victor who defeated foes and secured the win; I really just received it. I have victory in Jesus.
Paul puts it like this in Romans:
As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:36-37).
Paul quotes Psalm 44, where the Psalmist cries out for God’s help in the midst of trial. And Paul uses that verse to make his point that nothing can undo what God has done for us in Christ.
One of the most striking things is that after mentioning terrible things: being killed, being slaughtered, Paul says even in those things we are conquerors. Even when we lose, we’re winning. Even when we’re being conquered by this fallen world, we remain conquerors through Jesus. The small daily battles don’t determine our fate, because the war has already been won. Doesn’t that bring you incredible hope? If we’re in Christ, we really can’t lose.
Maybe, like me, you’re in a season of great difficulty. I want to encourage you with a few ways I think about this truth.
1. Don’t Just Look at You
When I spend my day focusing on my weakness and grumbling in my heart, I only feed my discouragement and fuel my false sense of hopelessness. When I stare at me I think I’ve lost, but when I stare at Jesus I’m reminded that I win. When he was defeating his foes, he was defeating them on our behalf.
2. Don’t Just Look at Now
If I only focus on today or these past few years, I’m tempted to think this is how it will always be. But Jesus purchased unbelievable things for me on the cross that I haven’t expereienced yet. I know God imperfectly now, but I get to know him perfectly later. He’ll even give me a brand new body and wipe away all my tears.
We can also be tempted to focus on those who seem to be winning now. Those who don’t have the same trials and setbacks that always seem to plague us. But the team that’s winning in the third quarter isn’t always the team who wins in the end. Many people seem to be winning the daily battles, but they haven’t trusted in the One who’s won the war. Don’t just look at now.
Michael Jordan remains one of the greatest and most popular winners we’ve ever seen. But there are bigger wins to be had. And none of us has what it takes to win the war ourselves; only Christ can do that. He’s defeated all of our enemies for us: sin, Satan, and death itself. All it takes to join the team and benefit from his wins is turning from sin and trusting in the Savior. Anyone, even the weakest among us can be winners.
This is the truth that was in my heart when I wrote these words in “Sweet Victory”:
The victor ain’t the one that’s winning seventh inning
Trophies don’t go to the ones that got a good beginning
When I say I win I don’t mean this day I’m in
I mean that day when the gray skies fade out, then I’m winning ’cause I reign with him
Make sure to pick up a copy of “Rise” when it comes out 10.27.14!