Pastor's Column: The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat
February 25. 2014 12:27PM
If you have been watching the Olympic Games you may have noticed, as I have, that a big part of the assent to the gold medal is the agony of falling or having a bad run. With the ski runs slippery from ice forming atop the snow, there were some pretty tough crashes. Yet there is a lesson here which has its root in Biblical principle. Victory often comes only after defeat.
I recall the Olympic Games of 1980 in Lake Placid, N.Y. It had been a tough year for America. Fifty two Americans had been held hostage in Iran – an event that would last 444 days. Interest rates had skyrocketed to around 15 percent, contributing to a crisis in Savings and Loans, and inflation reached a high of 13.5 percent. We were in a cold war with the Communists, with both America and Russia stockpiling nuclear weapons at increasing rates. It was a time filled with fear and concern for the future.
Americans were optimistic going into those games, except in one sport – hockey. The Russians owned that sport. They had shown themselves to be the best for more than 20 years. Their team was more experienced than team U.S.A. In the exhibition game, played just 13 days before the Olympics, the Soviets stomped the U.S. team 10-3. So no one was surprised when near the end of the first period of play the Soviets were ahead 2 to 1. Nor were they surprised at the end of the second period when they were up 3 to 2. But in the third period the Russian team couldn’t get a score. Mark Johnson shot at the goal and tied the score 3 to 3. Seconds later Mike Eruzione sent the puck into the net, bringing the U.S. team into the lead for the first time, 4 to 3. With 10 minutes left to play, the U.S. team blocked the shots of the Russians right up to the famous countdown words from the announcer, “Eleven. Ten seconds. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”
It would be known as the Miracle on Ice. That win propelled the U.S. team to beat Finland 4 to 2 for the gold. The thrill of victory was heard across the country. After almost two decades of defeat, U.S. Hockey had won the gold. For almost two decades the U.S. team had trained and gone to the Olympic Games for nothing. The team could have given up. How easy it would have been to quit training and just stop coming to the games in hockey. But the thrill of victory was born out of the agony of defeat.
The US Hockey team taught us a great lesson that day. Victory often comes only after defeat. In the face of disheartening circumstances in our lives we can come through to a victorious ending if we persevere and don’t give up. There may be the agony that comes with defeat, but our defeats don’t have to be the final word.
Are there places in your life that you would like to see victory? Have you wondered if there is any hope? Have you almost given up? Have you decided there is simply no point in trying? Are there places where you have invested years of blood, sweat and tears, only to seemingly see it all come to nothing? What are your agonies of defeat? We all have them. Whatever threatens to defeat you, know this: Perseverance is the only path that turns defeat into victory.
Jesus gave us an example of this. He was acquainted with the agony of defeat. Isaiah 53:3-4 (NRSV) tells us, "He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.” Jesus knew rejection. John says, (John 1:10-11 NRSV), “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” He started his ministry by going to his own synagogue in Nazareth where he grew up and the people wanted to stone him after his first sermon. He told his followers that he would go to a cross, be broken like bread, and people started to leave him in droves. His selfless love led him to a lot of pain and suffering.
Perseverance for Jesus meant going through the ridicule, the rejection, the beatings and the cross. It meant dying. But was this seeming failure the last word? No indeed. It meant going through the agony of defeat in order to get to the victory. That’s the message of the gospel. (I Corinthians 15:54b-58 NRSV) “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”. . . But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
Where is your agony of defeat? Move in God’s grace to the thrill of victory! There is nothing that you are going through that is beyond victory in Jesus Christ if you persevere. May you find the grace to press on to the thrill of victory from the agony of defeat.