It’s pretty common to look around these days, see the hype and massive build up for some cultural event about to happen: comments and press, crowds making plans, competitors making preparations … It doesn’t matter whether it’s a debate (election, anyone?), your band competition, Olympics commercials, or your local Friday Night Lights.
But me being from the south and it being “happy fall y’all,” I’ve been thinking a lot about how this relates to football. The SEC has seen some epic games already (notably Tennessee’s string of nail-biting, last second wins… and now a loss). You know the huge run-up to game days: the news coverage, the rallies, the tailgating, the near-celebrity-status of players, the high-pressure on coaches and teams, the crazy fun student sections, the hype videos and highlight reels, the fickleness of fans who want the win. And I continue to see that trickle down to your high school level in more and more ways.
I get it: we love a winner and we all long for that #oneshiningmoment with its ecstasy of victory. As David Brooks writes, we do live in the culture of the “Big Me.” The problem arises when the hype and the promotion come at the cost of a humility of character and a true perspective on weakness.
Students, I realize that there is a ton riding on what you say and do every day, every week, and whether you win or lose. The pressure is real, and it can be a killer. You live in a world that rewards winners (“your name in lights, for all to see”) and abandons losers to the dustbins. It values strength and despises weakness; it promotes pride and passes over any whiff of service.
And you’ve probably seen the religious overlay to all of this: players praying before games, taking a knee in end zones, and post-game interviews where people credit God with the “W.” But here’s what I’ve been thinking about more and more: Jesus is for the “losers,” too.
What do I mean?
At the core, I am weak where it counts the most. I am lost where I most need a win. I’m talking about what it takes to be put right with God. In a “winner takes all” culture, the gospel shouts that you are accepted not by your skills, accomplishments, or hyped-up awesomeness. You are accepted into God’s Kingdom simply because of what Jesus accomplished for you. God comes to us in the person of his Son, Jesus, and He wipes out our losses, our weakness, and He plants Himself firmly on our side. The only thing that counts is that Jesus comes to us when we are lost, when we are at our weakest – and He makes us into a new creation. That’s the win – everything else is a loss.
A Big, hyped-up “ME” tends to have a very little god. But, dear student, we know that our Big God chose to make Himself nothing and to humble Himself – He sent Jesus to become one of us, to take on all our weakness and sickness, our pain and suffering, and bear it to His death on the cross. By the world’s standards, Jesus was not a “winner,” and nor were His followers. Christ’s last meal wasn’t a banquet in His honor, but an opportunity to demonstrate His humble love as host by serving his friends and washing their feet.
Again and again you can see Jesus taking the downward way, the way of humility. That doesn’t diminish our God or make Him a less-than or also-ran. In fact, it reveals His glory and splendor and victory (Philippians 2:1-11).
Here’s what I want to say to you: That joy flushing through your veins when you shouted for triumph earlier? He knows that. That rush of blood in your face when you hang your head in defeat right now? Jesus felt that, too. Here’s what else Jesus knows: He lost everything for the sake of reconciling you to God, so that no win or loss in this world has the final word on your life. You are more than any loss or victory. You are a son or daughter of the Father who says to you in Jesus, “everything I have is yours.”
His grace is for you, right now.
In the meantime, cultivate the humility you see in Jesus rather than becoming the hype that we drool over and celebrate. Don’t get lost in a portrait of self-promotion, but come to Jesus again and again for what He says about the real you. It’s alright to practice your heart out on the field, and to ask God to help you play your best; but don’t ever think he’s abandoned you in defeat. Jesus is for the losers; and we are all – every last one of us – weak and fragile losers when all that hype fades away.
Give thanks and praise God in victory. But praise God even more when you suffer and lose and know weakness, for there His grace shows most sufficient for you. And for me. And for all of us. And whether you win or lose, in strength or weakness, give Him all the credit and the glory because, like Colt McCoy at the end of the 2010 BCS Championship game, you are standing on the rock.
Much love –
Grace and peace
For parents listening in: pay attention to the words you use around your kids when they perform. Do you value the build-up and partake in the hype so much that when the inevitable loss comes, your kid might honestly wonder if he or she has let you down? Remember two things: 1) help students grasp that, win or lose, may Jesus have the glory in all way say or do, and 2) these six words might be a great way to celebrate your real kid, rather than joining the hype: “I love to watch you play.”
To those of you in the trenches of student ministry, ask yourself this: Do you move more toward the cultural “losers” or the “winners” in your ministry? Are you shepherding those on the outside, as well as those in the inner ring? Take your cue from Jesus and what He valued, not our world. In ministry, our “wins” are never due to our strengths. May we boast more about the reality of Christ’s strength in our weakness.