Has defeat ever smacked you in the face?
You’ve worked hard for something. You’ve poured time, money and energy into the project. You felt called by God. Then, in one instant, you faced the defeat of watching all that effort shrivel into nothingness.
- Three surgeries later, the doctor tells you nothing can stop your chronic pain.
- Despite growth and success, you get fired from your job.
- The promotion you deserved gets handed to a less qualified person.
- Your child turns their back on all your teaching and enters an ungodly lifestyle.
- One major illness wipes out your savings for retirement.
Defeat that shouldn’t have happened is often the hardest to accept. It hurts. You find yourself asking.
- What did I do wrong?
- Is there anything I could I have done better?
- What was I thinking? Was I too big for my breeches in wanting to reach so high? Maybe I should be content with less. The higher you reach, the harder you fall, right?
I know defeat
Disappointments from defeat have handed me the pink slip. I’d worked hard. I was open to learning and growing in the project I pursued. I thought this time , success would be within my reach. With one word, my hopes were dashed. NO!
I watched Preacher Creature pushed away from what he thought God had called him, no, called us, to do—work in an urban setting to make disciples and reach people for Jesus. In less than two years, thirty people committed their lives to Jesus. In less than two minutes, leadership pushed us away from it all and we were told to never come back.
I wish I could say that, in my moment of facing failure, I dusted myself off and got back up on the horse called Success. The truth is, I twiddled with the reigns, adjusted the stirrups, and buried my head, weeping a few extra tears. Dashed dreams hurt.
I discovered I’m in good company. I always thought Moses’ successor, Joshua, had a blameless character, but I think I found his Achilles heel. In his moment of defeat, he tore his clothes, fell face down in the dirt, and blamed himself. At least my clothing is still intact.
Here’s Joshua’s story.
After destroying Jericho, the Israelites were pumped. God had brought a great victory. They were ready to claim this Promised Land. Next on the hit list was the small town of Ai. Easy-peasy. We can do this thing. We don’t even need to send the entire army.
But the smaller brigade tucked tail and ran in retreat with the men of Ai in hot pursuit. It was a devastating defeat.
Joshua cried out to the Lord.
“Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! (emphasis mine.) Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?”Joshua 7:7-9 NIV
Joshua, I can relate.
What’s wrong with me? Maybe I should not have reached so high. What glory will God get when I waste my time with things that don’t work out? All those people that have prayed for my success and read my Facebook posts—what will this do to their faith?
God gave Joshua four recovery steps to move past defeat.
“What are you doing down on your face, Joshua?” God asked (v.10). Perhaps Joshua felt ashamed, that’s why. So ashamed, he didn’t want to make eye contact with anyone, including, especially with, God, the one who had given him the orders and the promise in the first place. He was a failure with a capital F.
Joshua fell into the dangerous dustbin of the If Onlys and Should Haves. He should have been content to stay on the eastern side of the Jordan, he whined. But Joshua forgot one important fact. Crossing the Jordon River was God’s idea, not his.
Look at what you see as defeat. What has God called you to do? Did you do it? If you did what God asked you to do, you have succeeded. The outcome is not under your control. As Don Piper, author of 90 Minutes in Heaven, said at a conference I attended, “God cares about our obedience, not the outcome.”
Evaluate with honesty.
God was blunt. “Israel has sinned.” Then God sent Joshua on a truth quest, unearthing the backdrop of Israel’s failure to conquer the town of Ai. One man named Achan had disobeyed the Lord’s command to reserve valuable plunder for the Lord’s storehouse and destroy everything else. One rotten apple spoiled the efforts of the entire Israelite nation. It was Achan, not Joshua, who brought on the calamity.
Sometimes we cause our own disappointment. But sometimes we don’t. Sometimes, we are the innocent bystanders, recipients of unintended consequences. The choices of one can strongly impact a wide circle of others. God’s message to Joshua was straight-forward: this isn’t about you. Other stuff is going on that’s far bigger than you, Joshua, and I’m on it. You’re not part of the problem, but you are part of the solution, so let’s work together on this.
Much happens behind everyday life scenes that we simply don’t know about. When defeat knocks you down, order yourself to stop the emotional naval gazing and blame game. You may be facing forces that are out of your control, God is dealing with it, and, as God, He doesn’t need to tell us what He is doing to solve the issue.
Our job is to stay faithful and not let our disappointment tarnish our trust in the One who has called us to follow and obey.
Go on to the next thing.
I love the quote I recently heard:
“Don’t focus on what you should have done: focus on what you need to do now.”
What did God tell Joshua next?
“Then the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land. You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king, except that you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. Set an ambush behind the city.’”Joshua 8:1,2 NIV
Did you catch God’s directions? Unlike His commands for the destruction of Jericho, this time God told Joshua that the Israelites could carry off the plunder and livestock and keep it for themselves. Joshua! Now that you’ve learned obedience and trust, I’m going to bless you. Not only will I give you victory; I’m giving you a bonus check.
I see another difference between the two battles at Ai. The second time, God told Joshua to involve the entire army. Together, the Israelites conquered Ai. Like Joshua, I can’t do what God calls me to do with only part of my resources. I need to give it my all and I need to involve other people. God’s work is best accomplished when God’s people work together and support each other. As someone else has said, we’re a team, a family, not competitors.
Give God the glory and renew your commitment to Him.
In Joshua 8:30-35, we read that instead of whooping and hollering about his success, Joshua used the victory as a chance to immerse himself and his people in the law of God and to recommit themselves as a people of God. What a powerful moment that must have been.
Take an honest look at your moment of defeat. Step away from self-doubt and look God in the face. Ask God to help you discern between your emotions and the facts. Gather a support team. And when you do experience that sweet success, set aside time to immerse yourself in the word of God, praising Him for what He has accomplished, and committing yourself to God’s next project.
Don’t look back at what you should have done.
Ask yourself and, more importantly, ask God, “What do I need to do now?”
Only God knows what great and glorious success He has waiting for you!
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