The Win/Lose Scenario (Or, When I’m Worried About Being A Loser)

What do you do when success for someone else means failure for you? David had to ponder this question a number of times, starting as a boy, when he fought off lions and bears to protect his flock.

This became a refrain in David’s life. Once he was anointed to be the next king of Israel, this roused King Saul’s jealousy, and Saul made numerous attempts on his life. The Philistines didn’t much care for David either. Sometimes his own people — even his own officials — betrayed him and fought against him. Finally, his own child, Absalom, came against him and drove him from his throne.

In each of these situations, there was no intention of creating a win/win scenario. Former friends and family members turned into mortal enemies. And for them to win, David had to lose. So David had to learn how to handle his fears, sustain his hope, stay strong in faith, and be courageous in battle.

If you read the Psalms that were composed during these periods in his life, a pattern begins to emerge in David’s prayers. He would often follow a version of this pattern:

  1. Lord, I see my situation. I am going to be real with you, God. This situation frightens me. It keeps me up at night. It gives me an upset stomach and high blood pressure. I struggle to calm my troubled thoughts, or to get this situation out of my head, or even to think about anything else.
  2. Lord, I see you. I know you are my God. You are my powerful Deliverer. You are my shield from harm. You have promised to be my Savior from sin, my protection in danger, and my hope in death.
  3. Lord, I see your goodness. We have a track record with each other, God. You have always been kind to me, and sheltered me from harm. You gave me strength to slay the lion and the bear when I was still a little boy — with my bare hands! That was not me, Lord. That was you. Remember what you did for me when Goliath came at me? You sent that very first smooth, round stone into Goliath’s forehead. Remember Saul? Or that time with the Philistines, when they were attacking me? Each time, you helped me. You protected me.
  4. Lord, I see your victory. Others may have their plans to see me fail — to see me stumble and fall. But you have victory in store for me. It may be earthly victory, Lord, if that’s your will. Or it may be eternal victory, if that’s your choice for me. One thing I know about you. You love me as your child. You have a special place in your heart for those who have been humbled. And you will see to it that in the end, justice is done. Because I am your child, I will rise victorious and your name will be glorified.

What a great pattern for any of us to follow when we find ourselves in our own win/lose situation. If you find yourself in that set of circumstances right now, can I urge you to find a quiet place, take several deep breaths, close your eyes, maybe even count to ten, and say,

“Lord, I see my situation… Lord, I see you… Lord, I see your goodness… Lord, I see your victory…

…May your name be glorified, Lord!”

“O LORD, I say to you, “You are my God.” Hear, O LORD, my cry for mercy. O Sovereign LORD, my strong deliverer, who shields my head in the day of battle — do not grant the wicked their desires, O LORD; do not let their plans succeed, or they will become proud… May slanderers not be established in the land; may disaster hunt down the violent. I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. Surely the righteous will praise your name, and the upright will live in your presence.” (Psalm 140:6-8, 11-13, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, December 11, is Esther 1:1 – 2:18, Revelation 2:18 – 3:6 and Psalm 140:6-13.

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Rend Your Heart

It’s the most unnatural thing in the world. “It” is saying we’re sorry for something wrong we’ve done.

There are so many other “better” approaches to wrongdoing — to sin. Or so it seems to us.

There’s denial. “I didn’t do it.” Or, “I didn’t know that it was wrong.” Or, “I didn’t understand what I was doing.”

There’s cover-up. Pointing the finger. Comparing yourself to someone who’s done something “much worse.”

For many of us, confession is not good for the soul. Guilt and shame don’t even make sense. Why should we pummel ourselves? Won’t that just bring us down? Isn’t it just unnecessary negativity? Won’t it destroy my self-esteem and self-confidence?

The Bible contends for another path to understanding our worth. The real way to self-esteem and self-worth is via a healthy relationship with God. And how does a relationship with God become healthy?

One word. Forgiveness.

Are you ready to recognize your need for forgiveness? In the time of Joel the prophet, that was the appeal he made to the children of Israel. Return to God. Recognize that your loving God has only created his laws to bless and protect you. He wants to see you thrive.

Be broken over your sins. They are going to wreck you if you stay on your current path. So, instead, recognize your wrong-doing, and take your guilt and shame to God so that he can forgive you. Simply turn back to your compassionate God and to his ways.

“Rend your heart,” as Joel puts it.

He is kind and merciful. You don’t need to earn his love. He loves you even though you are sinful. And he will always be patient with you. No one wants your relationship to be restored more than he does.

After all, he gave his one and only Son to make that restoration and reconciliation possible. The cross equals certain forgiveness for hurting sinners.

“‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity'” (Joel 2:12-13, NIV).

Lord, I am sinful. I have wronged you and I have sinned against my neighbor too. I have transgressed your laws in my thoughts, my words, and my actions. Please forgive me. I want to return to you. I long for your grace and compassion. I know that true peace is found in your sure love for me, a sinner.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 1, is Joel 1:1 – 2:17, Hebrews 3:1-19 and Psalm 119:137-144.

Header image based on "Red Heart" by Brandon Zierer, CC By 2.0

3 Things God Plans for You

Have you ever felt “banished”? Or “in captivity”? Or perhaps, “exiled”? The Israelites were far more than feeling this. They were experiencing it.

God’s chosen had been banished to Babylon as discipline for their sins of idolatry, lovelessness and injustice. They were in captivity and the Babylonians told them what they could do and not do. They were exiled and could not go home to the place they loved.

It would have been a major temptation to think, “God no longer loves us. He plans to punish us here forever, and we have no hope of ever escaping this. All we can expect is more pain, more trouble, more defeat, more loneliness.”

In times of trouble and hardship, it becomes really easy to believe that God only wants to bring us hurt and harm. We lose our optimism about the future. We feel like we’re just going to be held down and beaten up. We throw planning out the window. “Why plan?” we think to ourselves. Some disaster is just going to happen and demolish our plans anyway.

That’s why Jeremiah 29 is so important. In this chapter, Jeremiah sends a letter to the exiles in Babylon from Jerusalem. And he reassures them that God’s plans for them are loving plans, plans to help them prosper, plans to give them a wonderful future.

Hope is so necessary, and so powerful. And we all need a message of hope from time to time.

That’s why Jeremiah 29:11 is a great passage to take with you wherever you go in life. It’s a great passage for the dark times. We can use it to remind ourselves that — no matter what current events seem to be telling us — we have a God who gives us hope.

So, never forget. God plans three things for you. You have a God who plans 1) to prosper you, and 2) to give you hope, and 3) to give you a future.

And never lose sight of this, either. God loves to have you seek him out through his word. He promises that when you do that, you will find him — and find your hope again!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:11-14, NIV).

Jesus, thank you for your sacrifice for sins, and for your resurrection. This tells me you always intend to reconcile with me, and that there is always hope and a future. Help me to trust that you always want me to prosper in the end. And especially help me to trust this when I am undergoing tough times in life.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, October 13, is Jeremiah 27:1 – 29:23, 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12 and Psalm 119:25-32.

Header image based on "hope" by pol sifter, CC By 2.0

Christian Gladiator Race

He created you in the first place. Then, after you were sold into slavery to sin, he bought you back at the cost of his own life. Finally, he personally summoned you by name to be his own.

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit collaborated as one (because they are One!) to make you a child of God, bought with the blood of Jesus Christ.

He is your Savior and Redeemer. Now you can be fully confident that you are God’s child. You belong to him. And he will afford you his full protection.

It’s a good thing because life is a lot like one of those “gladiator races” you see on TV.

Life is full of obstacles. Problems and heartaches may threaten to flood you. And you may even get “wet” from those floods.

And life is full of challenges. Adversity and opposition may lick at you like flames of fire. And you might get “hot” from those flames.

Nevertheless, you and I can run that race confident that we are his.

“But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3, NIV).

Lord, I know that life is full of obstacles and challenges. Problems and adversity are just part of the deal. Help me to run my race confidently, knowing that I am yours, and that you have promised me your divine, supernatural protection.

Our Bible reading for Friday, September 18, is Isaiah 43:1 – 44:23, Galatians 3:26 – 4:20 and Psalm 108:1-5.

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Coached Up!

Every now and then we need to be “coached up.” It’s never a pleasant experience. Having your coach confront you and point out corrections that need to be made can be tough.

It’s usually not that great for the coach either. But what makes it all worthwhile for the coach is when he gets to witness his coaching bear fruit. When positive changes get made, and people line up with the right way of doing things — well, then it’s really rewarding for everyone concerned!

Kudos go to the apostle Paul, the “coach” of the Corinthians. And praise also goes to the Corinthians for taking the apostle’s coaching in the right way.

Instead of becoming angry and petulant about the coaching Paul had given them, they took it in, made the necessary changes and came back stronger than ever. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves and retreating into their shell, they came out fighting and successfully put their house in order.

How do you take coaching from those who care about your soul? Is it tough to take direction and advice? Is it difficult to receive correction? Do you resist admitting wrong, or avoid saying that you’re sorry for sins you’ve committed?

Do you tend to become angry and petulant? Do you feel sorry for yourself and feel a strong urge to retreat into your shell?

Because these are all common temptations for every one of us, Paul carefully reminds us how critically important our spiritual coaches are. And even more, he demonstrates how important our humble attitude is. Godly sorrow leads to salvation. And what could possibly be more important than staying on course to reach that destination!

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter” (2 Corinthians 7:10-11, NIV).

Lord, I thank you for the spiritual coaches in my life who call me to repentance for my sins. Help me to listen to their coaching and allow godly sorrow to rule my heart. Keep me from worldly sorrow and feeling sorry for myself. I want to be earnest and eager, as the Corinthians were, to clear myself of the tangles of sin and always be ready to walk a straight path with you, longing to please you.

Our Bible reading for Friday, September 4, is Isaiah 5:8 – 8:10, 2 Corinthians 7:2-16 and Psalm 105:23-36.

Header image based on "Coach (Dad) Pumps Up the Team" by Jim Larrison, CC By 2.0

Your Will Be Done

David’s own son, Absalom, was rebelling against him. It didn’t look good for David, with his own flesh and blood conspiring to take his throne from him — and then the report came to David that “the hearts of the people are with Absalom.”

All this after David had just shown Absalom an amazing amount of grace and forgiveness! But this is the account of a man who over a long career as King of Israel had learned to seek the Lord’s will in matters.

A thousand years later, Jesus would teach the apostles to pray, “Your will be done,” when addressing their Heavenly Father. But by faith, David knew this was the correct course of action centuries before that.

And how about us, two thousand years after Jesus? Have we learned to pray by faith, “Your will be done,” in the crucible of our own life, when times are tough, when injustice seems to rule, when grace seems to have been wasted?

Do we have the confidence in God that David did? Confidence to say, “If God wants me to make a comeback from this, then I will make a comeback.” Or what about the meekness and humility to say, “If God is not pleased with me, then I am ready. Whatever he thinks is best, that’s what he should do to me.”

Those are words of awesome faith. Those are thoughts that only the Holy Spirit can teach us to think. Hearts like these and courage like this — only Jesus can give that to us.

And that’s the heart I pray to Jesus for you to have — and me to have! It’s the courageous heart to pray daily, “Lord, your will, not mine, be done!”

“Then the king (David) said to Zadok, ‘Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the LORD’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him’” (2 Samuel 15:25-26, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, June 10, is 2 Samuel 15:13 – 16:14, Acts 6:1 – 7:19 and Psalm 71:19-24.

Dear God, grant me the heart and the mind of David. When I am in trouble, treated unjustly, receiving all too little grace in my life, help me to pray with confidence in you, and meekness in regard to myself. Help me always to pray, “Your will be done!”

Header image based on "absalom, absalom" by John Lodder, CC By 2.0

A Bad Day

David was not having a good day. First he got fired from his job. Then he returned to find his home — in fact, not just his home, but his entire hometown — burned down. His family had been kidnapped.

And this wasn’t just David’s hometown and family, but that of everyone who worked for him. And when they returned and found everything destroyed and everyone gone, these men were not happy, to say the least.

David caught wind of the talk. His soldiers were talking about getting rid of him. And I don’t mean just firing him as their leader.

They were ready to put him to death.

We all have bad days, but most of us have never experienced a bad day like this.

In one day… no more job, a major crime committed against you, and everyone is blaming you and saying the death penalty is the only answer.

Not to mention, you’re also physically exhausted from the responsibility of all the people under your care, the travel you’ve just finished, the deep grief of the loss you’ve experienced, and the loneliness of no one coming to your support.

Where will you find the strength to go on in circumstances like this?

Everything and everyone else was against him. David could think of only one person who could give him that kind of strength.

And I hope you will find your strength in the exact same person — especially when you’re going through those lonely bad days and painful crisis times in your own life.

“David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6, NIV).

Jesus, you are my Lord and my God. You are my Savior from sin, my eternal hope, and my strength for this life. I praise you for all the grace you show me day after day. Help me to always seek you for strength, especially on my bad days.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, May 31 is 1 Samuel 29:1 – 31:13, John 19:28 – 20:9 and Psalm 68:28-35.

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