Everyone talks about “winning.” The motivational, self-help sphere is awash in books on how to “be a winner in life” You can have your choice of titles – here’s but a random sampling.
- Winning Every Day: The Game Plan for Success
- Extreme Winning: 12 Keys to Unlocking the Winner Within You
- Stop Whining, Start Winning
- Winology: The 48 Laws of Winning
- If Winning Were Easy, Everyone Would Do it
Books like these have some value. They are chock full of tips and techniques for effectiveness, getting things done, taking action, and advancing toward goals. Please don’t mistake me for saying that these things are bad in of themselves. However these books usually lack a definition of “winning” itself. You have to supply the definition. It’s about your goals and about your dreams and your aspirations. You define winning.
All well and good, perhaps. But herein lies the problem. Most of us are pretty bad at defining “winning” well. We all have lots going on. Life comes at us fast and we don’t believe that we have time for philosophical navel-gazing. So we pick up definitions of winning from around us by osmosis. Our culture marinates in vague assumptions that winning is about financial gain, prestige, or power, and these assumptions leach into our minds and shape our thinking.
Don’t settle for these vague definitions of winning!
Look to the time tested wisdom that has been handed down to us in scripture.
When the Bible talks about “winning,” it uses the much more interesting term “Blessed.” Early in the scriptures, Deuteronomy 28 for instance, “Blessed” seems to mainly convey ideas of wealth and prosperity. Yet later, in the psalms (such as Psalm 1:1-3) and the prophets (such as Jeremiah 17:7-8), we see “Blessed” is used more metaphorically as the idea of fruitfulness, soundness, and wellbeing like a well-watered tree. We might think of it in terms of “true fulfillment,” “meaningful existence,” or “abundant life.”
Then Jesus comes along in the Sermon on the Mount, his manifesto for living as His follower, and re-casts “Blessed” in shocking, powerful, and insightful ways. Just think about if we restated this opening salvo in terms of winning:
To be a winner you must:
- Have your pride broken (be poor in spirit)
- Recognize the wrongness in yourself and in the world in general (mourn)
- Control your strength out of consideration of others (be meek)
- Earnestly desire right relationships with God and other people (hunger and thirst for righteousness
- Relinquish your right to be aggrieved (be merciful)
- Genuinely desire blessing for others rather than self-gratification (pure in heart)
- Work to end hostilities (be a peacemaker)
- And be willing to suffer for living in right relationship with God and others.
Not too much there about having a vacation home or private jet. Not a lot of talk there about achieving roles in society or earning titles.
This way of viewing blessing/winning totally upends the vague notions that float around in the world. Winning, it seems, is all about how we relate to God and how we relate to others. If this is true (and it is), then we need to do a massive cultural re-think of who we exalt, emulate, and celebrate. This challenges me to seriously reconsider my behavior and priorities.
Perhaps, just perhaps, we’d better re-evaluate our goals and aspirations in light of Jesus’ definition of “winning”, lest we come to the end of our days and realize we’ve frittered them away chasing things that turn to ashes in our hands. Why not start with one on the list and prayerfully consider every evening for a week how you can grow more in accord with Jesus’ measurement of winning? What might that do to your way of approaching the week?
Soli Deo Gloria
About the cover image: Back in 2015 I took a nostalgia tour of the student center of my Alma Mater, Wake Forest University, where I came across this painted wood relief. It is Herbert Singleton’s “Jesus in the Temple,” which the Student Union acquired the year I graduated. I think thematically, it fits with how Jesus upends our contemporary understanding of “winning.”