Friday, October 23, 2009

No Point in Defeat

What gain is there in my destruction, in my going down into the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness? (Psalm 30.9)

Impossible Odds

As some of you know, I earn my keep developing and directing corporate sales events. Especially during periods of economic uncertainty—i.e., today’s environment—sales leaders beat the bushes to find someone whose story of defying impossible odds will inspire their people. Seldom are these speakers connected to the company’s business or the sales profession. Over the years, I’ve worked with intrepid mountaineers, prisoners of war, imperiled astronauts, AIDS activists, deep-sea explorers, dedicated teachers, quadriplegic artists, and more sports legends than I can remember. Despite each account’s unique twists and turns, it always reaches the same conclusion. Had the speaker given in to defeat, there’d be no point in telling the story.

The will to survive is a force of nature, while the drive to succeed reinforces our determination to survive. Most of the time, their combined strengths provide ample power to withstand defeat. But ever so often life throws us a curve unlike anything we’ve experienced. Crises like sudden tragedy, financial ruin, prolonged illness, and unprovoked violence overwhelm us. Our trust in God and self-confidence teeter on collapse. We deny faith’s reality to accept fear’s reasoning. Waiting for answers increases our comfort level with living in defeat. We discount Christ’s promise: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16.33) Instead, we overestimate Nietzsche’s premise: “That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Granted, faith ignores all natural instinct, drive, and logic. But faith’s most unnatural extreme can’t rival Nietzsche’s absurd notion. How does settling for failure give rise to strength? Why would enduring defeat ever end in victory? All this gets us are feelings of inferiority—the sense we’re too weak to conquer defeat.

Lost in the Dust

In Psalm 30, David tells us there’s no point in defeat. “What gain is there in my destruction, in my going down into the pit?” he asks. “Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness?” Ah, now we get it. If we spend our lives rationalizing our insecurities and ignoring our Creator’s existence, Nietzsche's logic makes sense. In contrast, if, like David, we ignore our insecurities and anchor our existence on faith in our Creator, we understand why defeat is not an option. If we lose, God loses. Sinking into defeats leaves His praise lost in the dust. The moment we meet impossible odds, He begins strengthening us to rise above them for His glory. What did Jesus say? “Take heart! I have overcome the world.” Our powerlessness gives Him occasion to prove His power.

Though the latest crisis looks more impossible than any we’ve seen, it’s wise to consider a few things before doubting we can survive it. First, nothing we face in life is new. Our circumstances may be unique, but their underlying cause isn’t. Solomon tells us, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1.9) Because of this, we realize God’s seen our crisis play out in every conceivable way. There’s not a thing we can do to shock or worry God. Regardless how difficult we make things by panicking, questioning, and interfering with what He wants to do, He already knows how to fix us so He can fix our problem. In 1 Corinthians 10.13 we read: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” God finds no glory when we lie down in despair. Getting us back on our feet is how He gets praise. There’s no point in defeat.

Strength to Survive and Succeed

Overcoming impossibilities won’t always mean solving the crisis that creates them. Sometimes God receives higher praise by teaching us to live with our problems and still refuse defeat. Contrary to Nietzsche, our weaknesses—not our crises—give us strength to survive and succeed. Paul lived with an unidentified, tormenting problem until he died. He begged God to remove it. But God refused, telling him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12.9a) Many times God gains greater glory when we—and others around us—know we’ve got a serious problem that can’t defeat us because we invest total trust in God’s faithfulness and strength. Once Paul got this, his crisis became his crown. He writes, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (v9b)

Instead of fretting over his weaknesses, Paul gladly boasts in them. David does likewise in Psalm 30. After seeing no point in defeat, he distances himself from the problem to make room for God. “O LORD, be my help.” (v10) With that, he too is overcome with gladness. “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” (v11) Did God fix the problem? David doesn’t say. But He certainly fixed David’s feelings about it. The poem closes with a vow: “O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.” (v12) Praise is the point in every struggle we face. And since there’s no praise in defeat, there’s no point in it either.

Getting us back on our feet is how God gets praise. He finds no glory when we lie down in defeat.

(Tomorrow: Keeping Track)

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