Losing has never come easy for me. That’s not to say that I don’t lose; I have experienced the “agony of defeat” more times than I care to admit.
I have lost in sports. I have lost in love. I have lost in life. I have lost financially. I have lost emotionally, socially and spiritually. But I hate losing. I hate losing so much that if I know I don’t at least have a chance to win I really don’t want to play.
The desire to win is woven into the very fabric of our nation. We celebrate wins. We try to forget losses. Whether it’s our favorite ball team, or our military battles, or our political debates, we want to come out on top every time.
Don’t misunderstand; there is definitely something good about wanting to win. There is something even biblical about the desire to finish things well. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9.24: “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” But the race Paul in which Paul encourages us to stretch for the finish line isn’t one we run with our feet. It is not the race that promises a laurel wreath, or a gold medal; rather, it promises an eternal prize.
But here’s the thing that is so hard for us. To win this race, we have to be willing to lose.
During Jesus’ public ministry huge crowds of people were drawn to him. He was, after all, a miracle worker. He was one who healed the sick and even raised the dead. His teaching was extraordinary and people would follow him, or at least profess to be his disciples.
Seeing these crowds, Jesus said in Luke 9.24-25, “If people want to follow me, they must give up the things they want. They must be willing to give up their lives daily to follow me. Those who want to save their lives will give up true life. But those who give up their lives for me will have true life.” Translation: in order to really win, you have to be willing to lose. The prize is unbelievably great, but giving up my own will is the cost. Denying myself is the reality.
For many of us, saying no to ourselves is something we never master. We would prefer to be recognized as great, even in the kingdom. James and John’s mother wanted her sons to win the coveted positions with Christ, and asked Jesus for what she wanted.
His response in Matthew 20.26-27 is telling: “Whoever wants to become great among you must serve the rest of you like a servant. Whoever wants to become first among you must serve the rest of you like a slave.” In other words, to lose is to win.
Choosing to be in last (or least) place allows God to put you where he wants you. And that, my friends, is the real victory.
Tim Parish is preaching minister at Maple Hill Church of Christ. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.