I passed a billboard the other day – it doesn’t matter where – and saw a billboard advertisement for a church – it doesn’t matter which.
It proclaimed in large, bold lettering that this was a place “Where winners worship, and God is praised.”
But it started me thinking, “So where do the losers go to worship. And is God praised when they do, or do you have to win for it to count?”
You see, despite my winning smile, my winning wit, and my many other winning ways, I spend a fair amount of time feeling like a bit of a loser.
I lose stuff regularly. Sometimes, I feel as though I’m losing my mind, or my grip. I can’t win a game of chess against my son, an argument with my daughter, a raffle, a coin toss … Some days, I can’t win against my self. For instance:
Me: Self, today we are going to get up early, to pray, exercise, and eat breakfast in a leisurely and focused fashion, instead of getting in a rush; for once, we are going to start the day off right!
Self: Shh, I’m going back to sleep.
Me: But –
See? What a loser.
Okay, so I know that there’s nothing wrong with winning. I like doing it (but I try to hide it, in a very British, demure sort of way), even though it rarely happens (or because it rarely happens?). But many – maybe even most of us – do not feel like consistent – nor even habitual – winners.
I get the aspirational thing. Who wants to go somewhere that advertises itself, “Where losers gather and God is implored?”
I get that Saint Paul uses the imagery of one who runs to win a race, to win a prize, to win, to win, to win …
But he also acknowledges that it is Christ who wins the race for us. Any winning we do is by grace; we are not to boast, except in our weakness, because the victory is not ours, but has been won for us by Jesus, God with us.
Jesus, who said, “The one would save life loses it; and the one who loses life for my sake, will save it.”
God, who accepts the sacrifice of a broken spirit; who does not despise a broken and contrite heart.
I do not doubt the good and gospel intentions of a church where winners worship and God is praised. But I also give hearty and humble thanks that our God is one who will let the ninety-nine winning, safe sheep wait there quietly praising while our Shepherd continues to go out, with the persistence of a champion, searching diligently and lovingly for the loser, the last lost sheep.
Because I need that God. And I praise Her/Him.