The victor’s timetable and my personal agenda

olympic-games-1608127_1280I’m not a big sports fan. Never have been. Something about being naturally clumsy and the least competitive person on the planet. But, oddly enough, I do enjoy watching the Olympics. This year was quite a year for Team USA, and not just for our swimming (that Katie Ledecky, man) and gymnastics teams.

We’ve got over 100 medals, around 40 of which are gold. That’s outrageous. Granted, the U.S. had more than 500 athletes competing this year. That makes a difference. But that doesn’t change how cool it is to get to hear the national anthem so many times in so many different sports.

Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, and Simone Biles

Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, and Simone Biles

What I find most interesting is that after I watch the U.S. win at the Olympics, I often feel like a champion. But the athletes are champions. They worked hard. They sacrificed. They risked everything they had invested to put their skills to the test against the top athletes in the world, and they came out on top. They deserve the medals they wear. So how does that translate into me feeling like a winner?

Every Team USA athlete who competed in the Olympics this year was a representative of his or her country. He or she went to the Olympics to represent me (broadly speaking). So when he or she wins, America wins. I win. We send the best of our best (and this year, I feel like I can actually say our best truly are the best and not just in their physical skill but in their character as well), and when they win, we get to claim the victory with them, even though they’re the ones who did the work.

Faith works the same way

That’s basically what God did. There was a battle that needed to be won, and all our futures hung in the balance. So He sent His best—His only Son—to fight for us, to take our place and our punishments. And Jesus won. So because He won, we all won (Romans 8:37). Or, at least, we all have the opportunity to win. There is the matter of choosing a side, of course.

It’s done. It’s over. The war is finished, and the victory is God’s, and by extension ours, if you are a follower of Christ. But that doesn’t mean we won’t still face daily battles.

All those Olympic athletes had to come back to the real world after Rio. They had to leave behind the battle fields they were used to and forge into an unknown future, possibly in areas and fields they know little about. Even the G.O.A.T. has to pay bills.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Even though it feels like we’re the ones fighting, victory is always God’s.[/su_pullquote]

Every day is still a battle. But does that mean we’re on our own? Never. (Deuteronomy 31:8) God says over and over again that He’ll never leave us. He’ll never make us face our battles alone. But there’s something we’ve got to remember, folks. Even though it feels like we’re the ones fighting, victory is always God’s.

He gives us the strength to face the challenges of the day. He gives us the energy to keep fighting when we feel like we want to quit. He helps us stand up when we fall down, and He gives us a reason to keep pushing long after our personal motivation has run dry. He’s the only one big enough to turn the tide of a battle in His favor.

So because victory is His, that means we have to wait for Him to achieve it.

Victory doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t win an Olympic medal on a whim or by accident. Competing in the Olympics takes years of practice and hard work, strategy and intense concentration, and fierce, intentional choices. Do you think winning a battle is different? It takes time. It takes effort. It takes dedication, passion, and, yes, sometimes even failure. Or maybe it just feels like failure, because often failure is just another opportunity to rise to the challenge.

Because of Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, Simone Biles, Tianna Bartoletta, Amanda Elmore, Virginia Thrasher, Helen Maroulis, Connor Fields, Brady Ellison, David Boudia, Daryl Homer, and so many others who won a medal (or medals) at Rio, I can say I am a citizen of a winning country. I belong to a nation that allows people to chase their dreams, to work hard to make their dreams a reality. And even though I’ve never swam a competitive lap in my life, never ran any distance, never shot with any accuracy, and only mastered the belly flop as a form of diving, I get to enjoy victory because all those people and others achieved it for me.

micah7-7Because of Jesus, I’m a citizen of Heaven. I’m a child of God, with free access to His throne, invited to approach Him whenever I need Him. I don’t have to worry about tomorrow. I don’t have to fear what I don’t understand. Jesus won my battles for me.

But Michael Phelps didn’t swim faster because I asked Him to. Virginia Thrasher didn’t hit those targets with her air rifle because I told her it was time. All of those athletes competed at their own speed, their own rates, and according to their own plans. So why do I think Jesus is going to be any different?

Victory isn’t mine. It’s His. And that means I have to wait for His timing instead of pushing my own agenda.

[su_pullquote]Victory isn’t mine. It’s His. And that means I have to wait for His timing instead of pushing my own agenda.[/su_pullquote]

I don’t like waiting. Once I know the direction I’m pointed, I want to forge ahead without looking back. And while that may be an admirable trait at times, when victory isn’t up to me, that sort of impatience can spell disaster.

We all have a choice when it comes to obtaining victory, even if we’re not the ones fighting for it. You can try to fight for yourself, sure. But that will be like a regular human being trying to race Michael Phelps in a pool. You can try to win, but you aren’t going to. Sorry to break it to you, folks, but that’s just not going to happen.

So if you can’t fight for yourself, you have to fall back on the other option. You have to let someone else fight for you. And that means you have to wait for them to make a move. Waiting isn’t fun, but if the person you’re cheering for has your best interests in mind, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me. Micah 7:7

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Medieval armor on display in the White Tower of the Tower of London, London, England

Grammar that can change your perspective on winning

I don’t really follow popular culture very much, not in comparison to others. There are niche genres in pop culture that I enjoy, but as a rule I don’t spend much time immersed in it. I just don’t see much use for so-called reality television, talk shows, or sitcom rehashes. But every now and then, something from that world crosses over to the news world and can’t be ignored no matter how hard you try. And that happened with Charlie Sheen some time back.

Honestly, I didn’t follow any of it. I couldn’t even tell you what happened. I just know he made somebody mad and they fired him and he spent an inordinate amount of time saying some pretty mean things. Apparently. But one phrase he continually used really took pop culture by storm and before anybody really thought about it, there were t-shirts and flair and bumper stickers with his face and the phrase in capital letters, “Winning.”

From what I understand, it was a phrase he started using to emphasize that even thought studio executives and his own family were trying to keep him down, he kept succeeding, which meant he could misbehave more. Or something to that extent. I don’t know. All I really know is that he’s not in the media anymore, and I’m glad about it.

But what does it really mean to win? To triumph? To have victory? There are a lot of things in my life I want victory over. There are a lot of contests and races I want to win, but I’m pretty sure I’m not looking for Charlie Sheen’s definition of the word.

Medieval armor on display in the White Tower of the Tower of London, London, England

Medieval armor on display in the White Tower of the Tower of London, London, England

Today’s verses are Romans 8:35-37.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

Overwhelming victory sounds good to me. And it sounds like it’s only possible through Christ.

I love the New Living Translation. It’s my go-to translation, but see I learned this verse differently. And while overwhelming victory sounds good too, that wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. The way I learned verse 37 is as follows:

Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

More than conquerors. We aren’t just winners, we’re more than winners. It’s decisive. It’s certain. And it goes beyond victory to that place where there shouldn’t even be any doubt that we’ll win.

But for grins this morning, I looked up the Greek. Now, I don’t know Greek, but this is the age of Google. And cross referencing with Google is pretty easy and pretty cool if you already have a basic grasp of language. But Google Translate stuttered a bit and threw me this word: ὑπερνικάω.

Okay. Google wanted to separate it because it didn’t know what it was. So I just Googled that word, and I discovered something I didn’t know, which isn’t all that unusual. It’s just that it makes this verse even cooler than it was before.

Without going into tremendous etymological detail, let me sum this all up. Click on the link if you care, but the word ὑπερνικάω is a verb. It shows action. And it’s a combination of two other Greek words that mean beyond and conquer. It means a super-conqueror who is surpassingly and overwhelmingly victorious. And this is the only place in the Bible where this word appears.

Yeah. And I thought this verse rocked before.

In the other two translations, this phrase is translated as an adjective. A predicate adjective, of course, but not a verb. Word usage in a sentence means everything. It changes the power of the sentence. An adjective describes; a verb shows action. Yes, through Christ, I am more than a conqueror. But this goes beyond that. According to this, through Christ, I can more than conquer anything that anybody throws at me.

That’s the difference. I am verses I can.

I apologize for the grammar lesson, but this rocked my world this morning. It’s one thing to see yourself as more than a conqueror. It’s one thing to describe yourself as more than a conqueror. It’s something else entirely to live like it. Living like it takes action. Living like it takes doing, taking chances, taking risks–but if you believe this there is no chance, no risk, no danger because overwhelming victory is already yours through Christ. So what are you afraid of?

Whoa.

I fear failure. I fear what people think of me. I fear not living up to my own expectations, as well as the expectations of others. And on the other hand I fear success. I fear not knowing what to do with it. I fear so many things that I can’t control. But why am I afraid? Well, I’m trusting myself to do these things. I’m trusting my own abilities and my own knowledge and my own personality and quick wit to win the victory. But none of those things are what makes it possible for me to have surpassing, overwhelming victory over my fears. The only weapon that can do that is Christ.

So whatever you’re facing today, don’t face it with your own abilities. Don’t try to win with your charm or your intelligence. Don’t try to gain victory with your money or your influence. If you want to win, if you want victory, turn to Christ. He’s your secret weapon. Through Him, you can do anything. Through Him, you can more than conquer. You can live.

Now that’s winning for real.