Conditioned for the Win

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photograph by Heinz Kluetmeier

photograph by Heinz Kluetmeier

Like many of you, I just finished watching the Olympics in Rio a few weeks ago. There were some exhilarating moments and some not-so-exhilarating moments. I joked with a friend of mine at church that I am more aware of my “lack of abs” than ever before after watching the Olympics. But I am always inspired by the work ethic and commitment that it takes each athlete in order to compete in the games. And it was always an added bonus witnessing an athlete display humility after winning the title of “best in the world”. There were others who certainly portrayed themselves as king of the world. They get their reward, but they diminish their character in the process.

Although I took away so many lessons from the Olympics, there is one that continued to rise to the top for me. We are conditioned for the win. No matter what sport is represented in the Olympics, we feel let down when our athletes don’t bring home the gold medal. We are conditioned for that moment of exuberance. We want the experience and we count on their hard work to get us that feeling.

We see it in our political discourse in America. We need to win. We should be winning more. We are letting other countries win more and more.

I’m not saying that winning is bad. I am as competitive as any of you, maybe even more so. I am currently training for a sprint with my wife, my 9 year old daughter and 6 year old son. Where are we running? At our neighborhood park. Why? Because my children think they are Usain Bolt. I’m competitive enough to teach them a hard lesson. That’s why I am willing to pull my both hamstrings to beat them all.

Winning is not the issue.

What do we do in those times of training? The in-between times?
And how do we learn to celebrate all the “small wins” in life? Those are important too.

Recently, I hit a spiritual wall.

I could blame it on being sick for a couple of weeks, losing hearing in one ear for a month, or just being in a situation that challenges me, but that would be superficial. I needed answers. I needed a clear vision.

I’m pretty certain that I am hyper-conditioned for winning, but it took some real introspection to finally be able to see it. Like many of you, I had an incredible childhood that was filled with an enormous amount of competition. Whether it was in the neighborhood or through sports in the community, there was always an opportunity to fight for the win. That, in itself, made life so much fun.

To put things into a little more perspective, I was nine years old when the U.S. beat Russia in hockey during the Olympics. This “Miracle on Ice” became a vision for my life, a standard. It still gives me chills when I see it. 1980 was also the year that my college football team, the University of Georgia, won the National Championship. And the game to clinch the SEC title vs. the University of Florida still goes down in history as one of the greatest plays of all time – Buck Belue to Lindsey Scott. Magical.

These moments proved to me that with enough hard work, anything could be possible.

Here’s my problem. (It may be yours too.)

I so easily forget about the years of practice it took to make one of those moments happen. I quickly forget the pain and tears in between those times of pure joy.

As a believer, I think the enemy can use those mountain top experiences to challenge the validity of our valley experiences. Our valley experiences can make us feel upside down and insignificant.

All of the sudden, we forget that Jesus spent forty days in the desert.
We forget that Jonah spent three days struggling to stay alive in the belly of a great fish.
We forget that Daniel spent time in jail for something he did not do.
We forget that Peter denied Jesus three times even though he saw what he saw and experienced miracle after miracle at the side of the Savior.

What about the orphanage director who struggles just to keep a roof over the head of children who have been abandoned? Or the social worker who feels like quitting every single day because the burden is too heavy? What about the church that is afraid to take on the orphan crisis in their own town because it is so challenging and unknown?

If all we think about is the big win, then we will miss every other little win that God gives us along the journey. And we’ll likely be frustrated along the entire journey.

We all want to be the organization that finally changes the status quo of orphan care.
We all want to be that church planter that is able to see miraculous growth in the first five years of existence. We all want to be a better provider than our neighbor.
We all want to be part of the winning team.
That’s why we fill up arenas with leadership conferences around our country every year.

While we all want to win, let’s acknowledge that along the way, that winning attitude may take our focus off of those who are really hurting around us. That is not God’s design.

I love how Sara Groves writes about “The Long Defeat” (below). She talks about “joining the long defeat, that falling set in motion”. This is a song that the Lord really used to help get my attention back to where it should be.

Winning is not my end goal. Jesus is.
He doesn’t owe me a win. Matter of fact, He doesn’t owe me anything.
All that He’s given me is more than I already deserve.
I rely on His win over my sin.

So relationship is elevated above the process of winning, right? Right.
We’ve even seen that in the Rio Olympics when two female runners tripped over one another and one stopped running to help the other one up. This compassionate athlete didn’t receive a medal in front of millions, but received a “Fair Play Reward” from the Olympic committee just after the Olympics.

When my focus is on winning, I place my relationship with Jesus in a position other than first. When Christ is at the center, I am able to see those who may have fallen to the right and to the left of me and I want to help pick them back up and urge them to keep going.

Don’t get me wrong, God is a victorious God. Eh hem…the resurrection. He gives the victories in His timing, which is always perfect.

How is your world ordered right now? Do you feel like you need an answer, an idea, a vision?

The disciples were frustrated that they were unable to perform a miracle and they came to Jesus to ask him why. I bet, like me, you like to ask Jesus ‘why’ sometimes. Look at his answer in this very short account:
When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. “I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him.” And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. [“But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting”] – Matthew 17:14-23 (NASB)

Did you see that Jesus said that there are some things that are only moved by prayer and fasting? When is the last time you considered prayer and fasting? How desperate are you for answers? I know periodically I get desperate to see God move in me and my circumstances, so that’s where I go.

To experience a right relationship with God is the win. Compared to the presence of God, no Olympic experience or college football game will ever compare.

Can you imagine the pure joy that heaven will be? I think it will be made up of an eternity of pure joy moments. How do I know that? Because in the presence of God there is fullness of joy:

“You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Psalm 16:11 (ESV)

We’ll constantly experience real joy in eternity. Every longing of our soul will fall to the wayside as we experience perfection in the presence of Christ himself.

I think that is what we need to begin to condition ourselves for —eternity. The trappings of this world are real. They are intriguing. They are desirable. But they are short-lived.

Jesus is forever. His eternal joy is forever and we can experience now and forevermore.

This week, look for those small wins as you lift your eyes to the Maker, the Creator, the Redeemer. He won the ultimately victory over the cross, sin and death. Christ’s road was not an easy one, but never forget that there were some pretty significant “wins” along the way.

Don’t miss them in your life.

Steve Gillis

Founder | Exec. Director

www.patchourplanet.org
Song: “The Long Defeat”

Artist: Sara Groves

I have joined the long defeat
That falling set in motion
And all my strength and energy
Are raindrops in the ocean

So conditioned for the win
To share in victor’s stories
But in the place of ambition’s din
I have heard of other glories

And I pray for an idea
And a way I cannot see
It’s too heavy to carry
And impossible to leave

I can’t just fight when I think I’ll win
That’s the end of all belief
And nothing has provoked it more
Than a possible defeat

[Chorus]

We walk a while we sit and rest
We lay it on the altar
I won’t pretend to know what’s next
But what I have I’ve offered

And I pray for a vision
And a way I cannot see
It’s too heavy to carry
And impossible to leave

And I pray for inspiration
And a way I cannot see
It’s too heavy to carry
And impossible to leave
It’s too heavy to carry
And I will never leave

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