Victories and Losses in Kingdom Perspective
Recently, a group of my friends made a pact to each lose 20 pounds. The rules of the contest define the winner as the first person to lose the full weight, with the prize of a steak dinner from the rest of us at Seattle’s Tony Metropolitan Grill. But the pact commits us to the idea that no one wins until we all win. We either win together, or nobody wins. Eating a steak at the Metropolitan Grill constitutes a win whether you have to pay for it or not.
Recently, the concept of no one winning until we all win became more real to me. After suffering a particular professional disappointment, I let the Lord know I did not appreciate his unwillingness to help me achieve my goal. For Christians, leading an institution or a personal business or other kind of organization always represents an endeavor “as unto the Lord.” We want to see our work contribute to the mission of God. We realize that all our work belongs to God, and we expect God to help us succeed in doing it. Unfortunately, work after the Fall always remains vulnerable to frustration and failure, even when we do it as unto the Lord, even when done with the most selfless motivations and ambitions.
On occasions of griping sourly to God about his refusal to help us win, we should remember how the psalms of lament in the Bible present the most bitter complaints to God (see for example, Psalm 13: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?). God’s response was to canonize those complaints and include them in the prayer book. The Word of God authorizes us to tell it like we see it, to complain as much as we feel we need to do, as long as we also turn our hearts quickly to praise and thanksgiving and faith.
Furthermore, in Revelation 6:10 the martyred souls in Heaven cry out from under the altar, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood.” They have made it to Heaven, for crying out loud, and they are still “crying out loud.” Perhaps we might think Heaven holds no place for tears, nor for crying out in need (Revelation 21:4), but such conditions only apply when the New Jerusalem has come down out of Heaven to the new Earth. In the meantime, the war has not yet ended. The saints around the altar still intercede for us until the assured victory has fully actualized.
Hebrews 11 marvelously catalogues the heroes of faith who on one hand, conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and among other victories, “gained what was promised,” but on the other hand, were stoned to death, sawn in half, and killed by the sword. In the final verse of the chapter, it states: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us that only together with us would they be made perfect” (11:33-40).
So, none of us win until we all win. Short of the eschaton, all personal victories remain incomplete, temporary, or illusional. In the same way, defeat stands total, permanent, or final. In work for the Kingdom of God, both victories and defeats point us to the end. Sometimes God will let us taste victory to encourage us. Sometimes, we will gag on bitter defeat, sometimes even unto death. Anything short of the latter deserves a certain amount of patience before God and a heart of gratitude and faith. Death, on the other hand, only means promotion to the altar, where we may face a time of intercession and, yes, further calling out to God for final victory. But the victory will inexorably arrive.
In leading organizations, it pays to remember that nobody wins until we all win. At Northwest, we try to insist that a big win for anyone is a small win for everyone. We celebrate each other’s successes as if they were our own, because they are. Anyone’s failure constitutes a failure for us all, but only a temporary one. The successes far outweigh the failures, and we do well to keep our eyes on the former rather than the latter.