Defeating Discouragement

Promise of Deliverance

After about 400 years of being in Egypt, God sends Moses to deliver the Israelites. The Egyptians respond to Moses’ announcement by increasing the work the Israelite slaves had to do each day.

After this, God tells Moses to remind the Israelites that He promised to deliver them. He tells Moses to remind them about His covenant with them (Exodus 6:2-4). Unfortunately, the Israelites do not respond positively to this reminder.

“So Moses told the people what the Lord had said, but they wouldn’t listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the increasing burden of their slavery.” (Exodus 6:9)

Their present circumstances so discouraged them, they could no longer hear God.

Defeated by Discouragement

We too can become so discouraged (beaten down in spirit) because of what we see as impossible burdens that we cannot hear from God anymore.

An unsaved loved one. A rebellious child. Bad luck. Lack of progress. Physical illness. Mental illness.

The circumstances of life can wear us down and often lead to us no longer hearing God. As the discouragement increases, we sometimes become convinced it will never end.

Or, we might still hear God speaking, but we let those who are discouraged impact our response to His voice.

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go back to Pharaoh, and tell him to let the people of Israel leave Egypt.’

‘But Lord!’ Moses objected. ‘My own people won’t listen to me anymore. How can I expect  Pharaoh to listen? I’m no orator!’ (Exodus 6:10-12)

To many, staying enslaved seems easier than going through the process leading to freedom. Getting out from under discouragement is hard work, and the unknown often feels more uncomfortable than the known even if the known is not good.

Defeating Discouragement

When we get too easily taken up by our troubles that we no longer believe God’s promises, discouragement has the upper hand. But Scripture offers several steps for getting out from under the blinding burden of discouragement.

  1. Admit dependence. Realize you can do nothing without God. (John 15:5 & Psalm 62:5)
  2. Focus on facts over feelings. Feelings are often blind guides. Refuse to indulge them and always remember that focus determines reality. (2 Corinthians 1:20 & 4:17-18)
  3. Receive comfort. Don’t deprive yourself of the comfort God makes available through His Word and His divine care and direction. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 & John 14:26)

The fact is that discouragement often grows before it dissipates. That’s life. It’s also why we cannot depend on ourselves or our feelings to relieve our discouragement.

“In the process of deliverance, things often get worse before they get better. ‘Anguish of spirit and cruel bondage’ (Exodus 5:9) often restricts us from hearing and receiving what would help us live.” (Dick Brogden, Live Dead Joy, January 19th)

Refuse to let circumstances steal your focus. Refuse to let feelings dictate activity. Choose to live based on the secure and enduring promises of God.

Make Becoming Christ-Like Your Goal

In Should Assertiveness Be Your Goal? we talked about how some people often feel like doormats but struggle with becoming more assertive. We came to the conclusion that becoming Christ-like, which sometimes involves being assertive, is really the better goal. Let’s look at how to move toward that goal.

Make Becoming Christ-Like Your Goal

Christ was certainly assertive, but he was also humble. This truth is evident throughout Scripture, especially in the Gospels. His life illustrates the perfect balance between confident aggression and humility.

Knowing Christ more and becoming more like him is the key to knowing how we should live and interact with others. It’s the key to knowing how to be assertive and humble at the same time. It’s the only way to know when to go the second mile and when to voice our plans, preferences and desires.

If the goal is to become Christ-like, not to simply be more assertive, we must first realize that one blog post, book or sermon (or even 10 or 20 or 100) cannot cover all of how that happens. Instead, we can begin our lifetime journey of progress toward perfection. We can start by looking at a few basics to create a foundation to becoming Christ-like even when our flesh or the world encourage us to focus on being self-confident.

Almost any part of the New Testament can guide us in becoming more Christ like. We find a terrific example of how this works in Ephesians 4.

Walking Worthy

Right away in Ephesians 4 we find a list of how “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called… humility… gentleness… patience… tolerance… love… unity…” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

Throughout the chapter, we receive instruction on how to live this out. With just one or two readings through Ephesians 4, quite a few pieces of instruction jump out for how we  “learn Christ” and are “taught in Him.” In other words, how we become more like Christ.

  1. Be equipped.

    This is why we have pastors and teachers. They help us understand and apply the instructions given in God’s Word.

  2. Speak the truth in love.

    Essential to maturity and unity in Christ. Also a sign of stable growth. Learn to talk through difficult stuff and to do so in a loving way.

  3. Be angry without sinning.

    While we can appreciate that anger isn’t forbidden, it’s important to realize that we cannot let it linger whether justified or not.

  4. Monitor what you say.

    Avoid saying anything unhealthy and destructive. Instead, words should edify and build up.

  5. Be kind.

    Forgive as Christ forgave you. Be tenderhearted, sympathetic and compassionate. Often, we must show kindness even when it’s undeserved.

You can find these habits progressing in the lives of Jesus’ disciples in the New Testament as they spend time with him during is earthly ministry. They’re even more evident as they spread the Gospel after receiving the Holy Spirit. Even many individuals (Joseph & David, for example) in the Old Testament provide examples of these principles being progressively lived out.

Most importantly, you can find all of these habits exemplified in the life of Jesus during his 3-year ministry as well as implied in his life before then (Luke 2:52). Pick any Gospel and read about Jesus’ life on earth, and you’re sure to spot these habits carried out in perfection.

Our Helper

Jesus was certainly meek and mild. He balanced love and truth with courage. He was also proactive and commanded respect while also being humble and loving. His example shows us how to be assertive without becoming self-focused and over-aggressive.

As we seek to become more Christ-like, a lifelong endeavor to be sure, we can place our confidence in his desire to help us. Not only can we get this help in the pages of Scripture, but we have supernatural help us as well.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” (John 14:16)

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26)

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26)

Progress Toward Perfection

As we progress toward perfection, we can have confidence knowing we have a perfect example to follow. We have imperfect ones too that can also help us in our goal to becoming lie Christ.

Consider the following posts to help in your effort of progress toward perfection:

Should Assertiveness be Your Goal?

Feel Like a Doormat?

Ever made plans, got organized and fully prepared to follow through, only to have them changed by someone who already agreed to those plans? Do the same people seem to do this to you often?

What about making plans only to having someone who isn’t a part of those plans insist you change them to accommodate their plans, preferences and desires? Do your plans often seem less important?

Perhaps you usually keep your plans, preferences and desires to yourself because you fear others might not listen or will get offended because you don’t agree with what they want. You feel others simply don’t value what’s important to you.

When these types of situations happen and you fold to others once again, do you wonder if you are simply a doormat? Do you think you’re always taken advantage of by others because you don’t speak up for yourself? Maybe you’ve just decided you’re simply a pushover, and that’s your lot in life because you’re afraid to speak up for fear of hurting people you care about.

The problem for you could even be that you believe “turn the other cheek” as well as “walk the second mile” (Matthew 5:38-42) mean you should always give in to the plans, preferences and desires of others and disregard your own. Plus, Scripture talks so much about humility — thinking of yourself less — and you really want to live this out.

Should Assertiveness be Your Goal?

At times, maybe you decide you’ve had enough, and you’re going to become more assertive. You’re tired of being walked on and don’t want to put up with it anymore, not even from those closest to you. So, you decide to become more assertive.

Even though you’ve made this goal, you still fear becoming assertive because you don’t want to seem aggressive and selfish. You also don’t want to offend others. Plus, maybe you just don’t have an outgoing personality that seems to support assertiveness.

Mixed in with all of this is knowing that the way you feel now isn’t what God desires either. You don’t believe he meant for you to feel overlooked all the time. He doesn’t give you ideas and desires only to have them continually disregarded, right?

Maybe assertiveness is the right approach. After all, everyone thinks assertiveness is good, right? At the same time, it just doesn’t feel quite right for some people. What is the right choice?

Focus Determines Reality

Assertiveness certainly shows up in Scripture. In fact, Jesus often showed a confident aggression. For a couple of examples, read about how he talked to the pharisees in Matthew 23:13-36 and about how he showed is  anger in the temple courts in Matthew 21:12-13. Jesus definitely sets an example of assertiveness.

The second part of the definition of assertiveness, the “self assured” part, hangs me up though. Scripture just doesn’t support basing your confidence in yourself (Philippians 3:3), which is where assertiveness places the focus. Instead, as we focus on Christ and who He is, we better see how to assert confidence that comes from who He is and what He has done for us.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” (Psalm 37:4-6)

With that truth in hand, the goal really then focuses on becoming Christ-like, not being assertive. Being Christ-like means committing your ways to him and trusting him to work in your life instead of relying on your own efforts. It may involve assertiveness, but it does not make it the ultimate goal.

We’ll look at how to Make Becoming Christ-Like Your Goal in next week’s post.

The Only Solution to Worry

Worn Out from Worry

Couldn’t sleep the other night. Worry consumed my mind. Racing thoughts kept me awake even though fatigue pulled at my eyelids.

The next day, worry destroyed my schedule. All-consuming thoughts stole my focus.

As a result, I became completely worn out from worry.

Worry Stones & Dolls

You can buy small, oval stones called worry stones. They’re smooth and just the right size to hold in your hand and stroke with your thumb. The idea is that this activity helps reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.

The Guatemalans created worry dolls as a remedy for worrying. Mayan legend says a person who couldn’t sleep would tell their worries to worry dolls, and then place the dolls under their pillow. The dolls supposedly took the person’s worries away to allow for restful sleep.

I get the idea behind worry stones and dolls. It fulfills the need to release nervous energy. While I don’t have a stone or a doll to easy my worries, I do turn to cleaning and exercising in an attempt to push them away.

Problem is, this activity only puts a band aid on the problem. They help, sure, but they do little to actually remedy my habitually worrisome mindset.

The Only Solution for Worry

When I am discouraged and bogged down by life’s cares, I begin to worry in an attempt to avoid or solve anticipated threats. As a result, I only meet with frustration and uncontrollable negative thoughts.

Eventually, though, I do hear the Holy Spirit’s voice through the noise and am led to the only solution for my worry.

“Do not be anxious (do not worry) about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6, NASB)

“Cast all your anxiety (worries) on him (Christ) because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7, NASB)

“Cast all your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” (Psalm 55:22, NASB)

In both the Old and the New Testaments, we find the only solution to worry (anxiety) spelled out. We’re told time and time again (also see Matthew 11:28-30 and Philippians 4:7) that we don’t have to carry the weight of our problems and cares.

We’re promised…

God will sustain us. He cares for us and will never let us fall.

Scripture tells us that God is able and willing to be our strength and support mentally, physically and spiritually. It also tells us that his care (love) for us is His motivation for doing so.

A Common Struggle

Though we often feel alone in our struggles, especially when worry runs rampant through our minds, we have to realize at some point that this simply isn’t true.

“No temptation has overtaken you but such is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NASB)

The temptation to worry is a common struggle.  Fortunately, we are given ways of escape and endurance. We simply do not have to succumb to the temptation to worry. And while we can’t directly change how we feel, we can change our thoughts. Our feelings, which are products of our thoughts, then change too.

“Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart]. ” (Philippians 4:8, AMP)

“Set your mind on things above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2, NASB)

We have a choice where we allow our thoughts to focus. We simply do not have to allow them to dwell on negativity and worry.

How to Cast Your Worries on Christ

The only way I know to truly cast my worries on Christ and to direct my thoughts towards that which is excellent and worthy of praise is to…

  1. Pray often. Often means frequently throughout the day.
  2. Read God’s Word. Fill my mind with truth daily, and more so as struggles amplify.
  3. Meditate on God’s Word. Let it become the compass for my thinking.

Worry pulls at your mind the more you give into it and let it consume your thinking. But as you take steps, however small, to direct your thinking toward God’s goodness, mercy and grace, your thoughts transform. And as thoughts transform, feelings do too.

Persevere & Refuse to Give Up

These small steps — praying, reading & meditating on Scripture — add up over time to make a huge — a transforming — difference in a person’s life. Keep taking those small steps.

Persevere through the temptation to worry. Refuse to give up and give in to negativity. Pursue truth and excellence and loveliness and purity and wholesomeness.

Healthy Holidays & Beyond

For many people, the holidays mean overwhelm and overload. From shopping and family pressures to expectations of joy from self and others to eating too much and staying up too late, the holidays certainly can wear on a person.

Will this year be any different?

Or, will an underlying melancholy Blue JOY Ornamentonce again leave many people just getting through rather than celebrating and enjoying the season?

I’ve been to the place of feigning enjoyment while tension and depression cloud every interaction. I’ve felt sick and constantly tired during the holiday season. And I’ve struggled with the disappointing interactions and failed connections with friends and family alike.

I now live on the other side of simply surviving the holidays. Yet, I remain all too aware of how a lack of diligence will result in a return to a force-fed festivity during my end-of-year celebrations.

Focus Determines Reality

The holidays have aGreen JOY ornament way of reminding us of strained and failed relationships. We must face these while at the same time battle the temptation to self-medicate with food and drink. 

Within this struggle lies the sense that a focus on the glitter and glitz of material connections will fade in the coming weeks. When it does, we’re once again left feeling lonely and disappointed.

Then comes the hope brought by the new year and the attempt to convince yourself this year will be different. At the same time, you know deep down it likely won’t.

Admitting these yearly struggles is the first step in obtaining victory over them. So, let’s acknowledge them and point-blank stare them in the face and declare, “No! Not again this year! This year, I’m going to change my focus.”

An Unexpected Journey

Red JOY Christmas OrnamentLet’s journey toward moving beyond survival and into living true joy that will extend well into the next year. Perhaps it will even butt up with these same confessions  and quite possibly a declaration of victory over them this time next year.

This journey requires addressing physical struggles. It involves setting goals.  The journey also traverses through relationships and takes a look at spiritual health.

The following posts are meant to help make that journey successful:

This year can be different than past years. Change begins with a single step and becomes increasingly secure with each additional step. These small steps add up over time to make a huge difference. Choose to take that first step today.

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Focus on Christmas

This roundup brings you many of the Christmas posts published on Struggle to Victory over the years. They all focus on some aspect of the Christmas story found in Luke 1 and 2.

It was the Christmas When…

Journey to a Joyous Christmas

A Wise Men History Lesson

Not Just a Baby in a Manger

Making Room for Christ

Enjoy these posts as a reminder of the many ways Christ’s birth impacts our lives. May they help you focus on how He has changed your life.

Pursuing Truth

Solving the Problems of Flight

The Wright Brothers hit a standstill at Kitty Hawk in 1901 and almost gave up because they could not solve the issue of predictable control. They eventually realized they were relying on false data from others, so they built a wind tunnel and collected their own data. This led them to one of the greatest achievements in human history in 1903 — flight.

Had the Wright Brothers given up instead of pursuing accurate data, flight would likely have been delayed many years since no one came close to their achievements until four years later. And they only did that using data from the Wright Brothers. Perhaps man would not have went from the first airplane to a trip to the moon in one lifetime had the Wright Brothers not decided to obtain their own data.

If we approach our spiritual lives as the Wright Brothers did achieving flight, we’ll also see progress without borders. If we choose to pursue truth rather than take in information without question, we’ll discover how to live with unshakeable integrity. For an example of this, look no further than the Bereans.

Noble, Receptive & Eager

truthThe Bereans resided in Berea in Macedonia, and Paul and Silas preached to them during their second missionary journey there. This account is recorded in Acts 17:10-15, but we only need a couple of these verses to learn a great deal from the Bereans.

“Now these people [the Bereans] were more noble and open-minded than those in Thessalonica, so they received the message [of salvation through faith in Christ] with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. As a result many of them became believers, together with a number of prominent Greek women and men.” (Acts 17:11-12)

There are three aspects of the Bereans’ character we can cultivate in ourselves to help us grow spiritually by discovering truth. They Bereans were…

  1. Noble.

    In this context, noble means “exalted moral or mental character or excellence.” In other words, they focused on high-minded pursuits and did not let pettiness distract them from pursuing truth. They weren’t gullible but were willing to learn. They discerned truth amidst false data because they used God’s word to confirm or disprove what they heard.

  2. Receptive.

    The Bereans approached knowledge with an open mind. This doesn’t mean they accepted everything they heard as truth; instead, it means they listened first before passing judgment. They then sought truth based on God’s word and allowed it to shape their beliefs. Their moral character combined with their open-mindedness led them to see and understand the truth of the Gospel.

  3. Eager.

    In addition to being noble and receptive, the Bereans were also eager. These three qualities combined led them to not only protect Paul, but to one of them eventually accompanying him in his missionary work (Acts 20:3-4). Their eager pursuit also led to many others becoming believers. Godly morals and open-mindedness, when combined with eagerness, creates an unstoppable force.

There are many examples of individuals who followed the Bereans’ example, who let these same three qualities live and work in them and as a result advanced the Gospel. Check out the stories and writings of J. Warner Wallace, Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel for modern-day Berean examples.

What If…

what-ifWhat if more skeptics and doubters, both within and outside of the Christian church, pursued truth like the Bereans?

What if, instead of dismissing the Bible’s claims because they are difficult to understand, more people stayed open-minded and examined them thoroughly?

Dismissing the Gospel message because it’s difficult to understand is nothing new, though. Consider this…

“When many of His disciples heard this [Jesus teaching about himself as the bread of life], they said, ‘This is a difficult and harsh and offensive statement. Who can [be expected to] listen to it?’… As a result of this many of His disciples abandoned Him, and no longer walked with Him.” (John 6:60, 66)

What if, instead of avoiding something because it’s difficult or because it offends us, we instead pursue noble character and decide to listen to our pastors and other mature Christians with an open mind?

What if we use Scripture to regularly examine what we hear, regardless of who we hear it from?

What if we decide to eagerly pursue truth of our own accord instead of simply relying on what others — parents, teachers, pastors — tell us?

The Flight of Faith

Whatever your maturity, let me encourage you to pursue a life of noble character (righteousness). Approach Scripture with an open mind. Examine it regularly, collecting your own data. Let your faith take flight as you get to know Jesus and learn how much he loves you. Refuse to let other people decide the depth — or maybe even the existence of — your relationship with Christ.

Discover Encouragement and Determine Reality

sticky-notes-1159958Discussing Discouragement

Lack of progress. Politics. Stupidity. Illness. Aging. Unemployment. Failure.

These things continuously discourage me. If I dwell on them too often and too deeply, I become depressed. Before I reach that point, though, I try to focus on what Scripture says about encouragement.

My visits usually begin here:

“Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:6-9)

If we focus on remembering God’s activity in our lives, on what His Word tells us and on His promises, we too receive encouragement from the Lord just as Joshua did.

Discovering Encouragement

sticky-notes-1159969God gives us encouragement in countless ways. We choose to be a part of it simply when we accept it.

Encouragement from God comes through…

  1. Prayer, scripture and progress. (Psalm 138:3, Romans 15:4 & Philippians 1:6) Prayer gives us strength to live as God desires and refocuses us on the encouragement He offers. God’s word offers encouragement through stories, guidance and hope. And the progress He works in us keeps us motivated for continual growth.
  2. Remembering. (Joshua 24:16-17Do you regularly remember what God has done in your life? Scripture certainly sets that as a necessary pattern for the lives of men. Through it, we see that God never changes, and that certainly is encouraging.
  3. Reflection in our eternal hope and our position in Christ. (1 Peter 1:6 & Philippians 2:1-2Think about what the Bible says God has in store for us. Exciting and encouraging, right? Plus, belonging to Christ encourages in a profound way as we regularly experience God’s grace and mercy.
  4. Through visible faith. (1 Thessalonians 3:7)
    How often does seeing another person’s faith in action encourage you? The reverse is also true. Look around!
  5. Through other Christians. (1 Thessalonians 4:18, Romans 1:11-12,
    1 Thessalonians 5:11, Acts 14:21-22 & Hebrews 10:24-25
    We can help each other refocus on eternity. We can gather regularly encourage one another through faith. Encouragement also comes as we strengthen and motivate one another.

When you are encouraged in these ways, doesn’t it feel like anything is possible? That’s kind of the point, actually.

Determining Reality

sticky-notes-1159963When I seek encouragement because I feel sorry for myself, I’m always disappointed. Doing so just focuses me more on my own discouragement and cultivates depression.

When I let God encourage me, I’m never disappointed. When I purpose to encourage others, I’m also always encouraged.

Focus determines reality, after all. When I seek out encouragement, I focus on myself. When I let God encourage me and when I look to encourage others, I focus outside of myself. One results in regular discouragement, the other growing encouragement.

Wondering where to start? Not sure how to specifically live this out?

Begin with what encourages you. Do that to encourage someone else. Sure, everyone is different, but we’re a lot alike too. Plus, as the old adage goes, it’s the thought that counts.

A Higher Standard

higher-standard

If you are truly Playing to Win, you must learn to seize God-ordained opportunity, work hard and stay humble, and develop a laser focus for God. Missionary Jim Elliot captured this mindset when he said…

“Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

The Playing to Win mentality ultimately means reaching for the higher standard set by the only perfect person who ever walked this earth.

Jesus set a higher standard. He focused on His purpose, which He received from God, and he never wandered away from that. Interestingly, Satan too has a laser focus, and Jesus placed them side by side when he said…

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Following this higher standard sets you apart. It makes you distinctly different from the world around you. Yet, it’s about progress not about being perfect. Pursue perfection — righteousness — knowing you won’t get there this side of Heaven, and rejoice in the grace of God that fills in the gaps left by your imperfections.

Look to the Old Testament to see this concept played out. Even amidst many, many mistakes, there are lots of examples of individuals pursuing this higher standard.

Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Joseph, Ruth, Elijah, the disciples, Paul and the early church.

All these people developed or were directly given a simple focus, and they seized the God-ordained opportunities presented to them. They prayed for boldness, then worked hard and stayed humble as they made their way toward perfection.

Your Why Makes the How Easy

When you chose to go beyond the minimum, past just getting by and “good enough,” you begin to live to a higher standard. When you push past distractions and decide on a simple, God-ordained focus, you keep the path clear for victory.

In order to maintain this Playing to Win mindset as a Christian, you must know your why. If you don’t, the how gets muddied and weighed down with struggles. But if you know your why and stay focused on it, the struggles simply become the how of reaching perfection.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24)

Make becoming a disciple, serving Christ and letting Him decide your reward, be the overriding purpose for all you do. Let working for the Lord be your driving force and motivation.

This is Playing to Win for the Christian. This is running as if to win the prize.

Playing to Win Instead of Playing to Not Lose

winPlaying to Not Lose

Sports commentators often discuss how teams need to decide to “play to win” instead of simply “playing to not lose.” In football, it’s the difference between going for a field goal or a touchdown. In a high school cross country race, it’s about racing the course and other competitors instead of focusing on running how you feel.

The difference between playing to win instead of playing to not lose? Usually, a mediocre and a winning record.

A playing-to-not-lose mindset involves being driven by fears and protecting what you have. It means reacting to others, essentially letting them decide your game plan, and not taking risks.

As Christians, playing to not lose looks like John’s description of the Laodicean church in Revelation as “lukewarm.” It’s the third worker in Matthew’s parable of the bags of gold. And it’s the person who refrains from the “don’ts” but neglects the “do’s” on Paul’s many lists in the New Testament.

Playing to not lose as a Christian involves just getting by. It strives to simply avoid any bad results. Eventually, the surrounding culture consumes such a person until no one can tell he is even a Christian.

winner

Playing to Win

Scripture directly addresses the idea of playing to win and connects it with our pursuit of righteousness.

“Do you not know that in a race all runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Many habits exist with the playing-to-win mindset. Three jump out as foundational.

Seize Opportunity

Over his high school cross country career, my oldest son learned to race smart. His coach taught him how to put himself in the best position to take advantage of opportunity. The result? My son reached most of his goals, including winning a race and receiving All County and All Region honors.

“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)

Christians put themselves in the best position to seize opportunity when they first make sure the opportunity is God-ordained. Similar to training for a runner, this comes through daily habits. Prayer, Scripture and being Spirit-led set us up to know when God-ordained opportunity approaches and allows us to make the most of them without hesitation.

Also, we need to make sure not to miss God-ordained opportunity because we’re so focused on the forest we don’t see the trees. In other words, we too often miss everyday, small opportunities because we only look for the monumental ones.

Take a look at your daily habits and at whether or not you’ve set your vision too broad. If opportunity seems to regularly miss you, adjust your vision and your habits accordingly.

Work Hard & Stay Humble

A significant aspect of working hard, which sets us up to take advantage of God-ordained opportunity, involves humility. Without both hard work and humility, we’re likely to either not be ready for opportunity or be too self-focused to see it.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:3-5)

Successful teams – the ones that win championships, not just games – consist of humble players. The victory is all that matters. Credit doesn’t. Who gets the ball doesn’t. At the same time, these humble players work hard to make sure the team as a whole wins. It’s the same as the “All In” mentality that won the New York Giants the 2012 Super Bowl.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:23)

As Christians, working hard and staying humble means pleasing God over men. It means preferring others and pointing them to Christ. And it means rejoicing when others win victories over sin and Satan. That mentality involves whole-hearted service and valuing relationship.

Focus

Inherent within every element involved in playing to win is focus.

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” (Qui Gon-Jinn, The Phantom Menace)

In sports, commentators and analysts regularly talk about the importance of focus, whether because of its absence or its role in victory. In everyday life, focus plays an essential role as well, but we often don’t realize it until it’s absent. Simply consider The Toxic Impact of Multitasking to understand how significant loss of focus has become for most people.

The Old Testament as a whole gives us a poignant picture of focus too. It shows a steady and passionate God juxtaposed with wandering and fickle men. Story after story shows men losing focus and God drawing them back to Him.

As Christians, we are either God focused, or we’re not. There is no gray area. No other options.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Choosing simplicity helps us regain our focus. When we let go of the things of this life and focus on the eternal God, we gain a laser focus on that which lasts forever.

These three foundation habits – sizing opportunity, working hard and staying humble, and focusing – found in every person who plays to win, create A Higher Standard that sets a person apart.