Tag Archives: Defeat

The “Bitter Defeat Blues”

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Give us aid against the enemy,
    for human help is worthless.

Psalm 60:11 (NIV)

Anyone who knows me and Wendy or who has followed this blog for any length of time knows that we love baseball. In particular, we’re Cubs fans, but the truth is that we really enjoy the game. In fact, when we’re at the lake during the summer I love going out on the deck, turning on the audio of the game, and then filling out my scorecard while I have a pint and a stogie. I’m such a geek.

What is ironic is that I was terrible at baseball as a kid. I was always relegated to the outfield, which we all know is purgatory in pee-wee little league, or else I was on the bench. I once considered writing a Cubs blog entitled Sliver Butt with the tag line “from benchwarmer to bleacher bum.” Another irony is that it was while I rode the bench while I played for the Pirates in Beaverdale Little League that I sat next to one of the coach’s wives who had the scorebook and she was keeping score. I was mesmerized by all the marks, symbols, and secret code she used to keep track of the game. I only got one hit that I can remember in two years of little league, but hey, I learned how to keep score!

The other major memory I have from my two-year career in Little League was the devastating loss my pee-wee team suffered. I played for the pee-wee Cardinals, which was a bad omen in and of itself, but we were terrible. There was this one game when we were playing one of the best teams and we were ahead by a ton of runs going into the final inning. I remember being so excited that we were finally going to win a game against a really good team, and then they rallied in the bottom of the final inning and beat us. I remember breaking down in tears in the backseat of our Volkswagen on the way home. I was convinced God hated me.

You’re probably wondering where on earth I’m going with this.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 60, is a song of lament that David wrote after suffering a bitter defeat. The song was intended for the entire nation to sing the blues.

If you listen to my podcast Time (Part 1) I made the case that I think the entire Great Story, the whole of human history, is like one giant, spiritual life-cycle. On this macro-spiritual level, humanity went through its own version of infancy, terrible twos, childhood, pre-adolescence, and etc. As I read David’s “Bitter Defeat Blues” this morning it read a bit like a kid in pee-wees crying in the back of mom’s Volkswagen, convinced that losing was a sign that God hates me, God has abandoned me, and God is punishing me. In retrospect, I know that’s not true, but I had to work through that. I had to grow. I had to mature in my understanding.

One of the other things David’s “Bitter Defeat Blues” had me thinking about this morning is Wendy and our daughters. Being the only male in the household for many years, I have come to appreciate that there are certain sections of the Great Story that just don’t resonate with women. While most guys can easily read passages about battles, banners, and the blood of enemies and it resonates in our wild-at-heart spirits, I’ve learned that most women simply go, “ew” and then skip over to be captivated by the story of Ruth or Esther. I get it.

Nevertheless, from this waypoint on Life’s journey, I find David’s song today is less about an actual battle than it is about feelings of loss, defeat, and despair. Those can be found in infertility, the disintegration of a relationship, a divorce, the death of a loved one, being unemployed, an appliance breaking down, or the cheesecake you made for a special guest falling. Everyone has “Why me God?” moments and they come in sizes from individual travel pack small to mongo Costco-sized huge.

At the end of David’s song today, even in the midst of defeat, he is already beginning the process of moving on. He is moving past the loss. He’s already proclaiming confidence that this defeat is not the end and God will help him and nation process the pain, press on, fight another day, and put this one in the review mirror.

That’s a lesson for me crying in my pee-wee little league uniform, but it’s still a lesson for me today in my company’s logo-wear. As I journey through life the defeats grow in proportion with me. I still have to process the pain. I still have to find the faith to press on to the higher, deeper, and more mature things God is calling me to seek and to find.

“Buck up, Tommy. Mom’s got lemon cake waiting for you at home.”

Have a great weekend, my friend.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Oracle

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Your hand will find out all your enemies;
    your right hand will find out those who hate you.
Psalm 21:8 (NRSVCE)

In the movie The Matrix, the protagonist Neo is told that he must visit “The Oracle” who is the person who will tell him if he is “the One.” I love how the movie builds up suspense about the identity of this powerful person only to find out that it’s a chain smoking African American grandmother baking cookies. Brilliant.

The word “oracle” comes from the Latin word meaning “to speak.” It’s same root word from which we get the word “oratory.” Oracle could refer both to the person and the message he or she uttered. Oracles in the ancient world were considered portals through which the divine spoke, typically predicting what was going to happen. An Oracle was different from a Seer, who interpreted signs kind of like the reading of tea leaves.

There is evidence of a specific type of oracle in the ancient world that was specific to battle and it was the “oracle of victory.” It was a prediction given to the king of what would happen in the battle. For the Hebrew people, prophets served as oracles and would predict the outcome if the king was proposing to ride out to battle an enemy.

In today’s psalm, David begins the lyrics of his song by praising God for all the God has done for him and acknowledging his trust in God. But then, in verse 8, the voice changes from “you are” to “you will.” The rest of the song is an oracle of victory, a song of faith that God will destroy David’s enemies.

One of the things I’ve learned to look for when reading through the texts of the Great Story is recurring patterns or themes. The theme I’ve noticed in the last few of David’s songs is the fact that the great king and warrior, the famed slayer of the giant Goliath, is intent on making God the focal point. David ascribes his victories to God. David’s oracle of victory is about what God is going to do. While David had every opportunity to bask in the spoils of his position and track record, he chooses time and time again to point all the attention and give all the credit to God.

That has me thinking about my own life, my accomplishments, my successes, my little victories. Do I want the attention on me, or do I want the attention on God? To take it even further, will I still trust God, praise God, and make God the focal point even in life’s defeats? I can’t help but think of the scene in The Matrix when the Oracle surprises and disappoints everyone by telling them what they didn’t want to hear. There’s a very similar story in 1 Kings 22 when the prophet Micaiah gives the king an oracle of defeat. Sometimes life delivers an oracle of victory, and sometimes it gives us an oracle of defeat. Am I willing to accept both, and trust God for the ultimate outcome?

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

The Doorway of Defeat

…for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
Romans 11:29 (NIV)

I reached out to shake his hand as I was introduced. The lights in the room were dimmed but the darkness couldn’t hide the look of defeat. Shoulders slumped, eyes down cast, and the smile that was clearly being conjured by sheer will. I could feel the discouragement. I sensed the fear that God just might be done with him. I also instantly felt an affinity for him. Something clicked deep inside, and I knew that somehow Holy Spirit had connected us for a reason.

I have seen the look of defeat on the faces of some of the most amazing people. I’ve seen defeat come in a myriad of ways. Sometimes it’s moral failure, a personal failure, a relational failure, or a combination of all. Sometimes it’s a life tragedy and the inequities of circumstance. At times it might be some kind of physical or chemical issue wreaking havoc on a person’s spirit. Then there are times when the source of the funk is spiritual, and a rational explanation is elusive.

When defeat descends on a person life gets very small. Vision is reduced as focus turns inward. Interaction is avoided which only tends to extend and exacerbate the symptoms. A person wraps him or herself in layers of self-protection that, ironically, not only serves to deflect further injury, but also prevents any kind balm from reaching the spirit wound. When the individual experiencing defeat is a believer, the person also feels a spiritual impotence that can be so pervasive as to prompt an unshakable belief that this is all permanent.

But, it’s not.

Defeat is never a permanent destination. Defeat is a doorway to deeper understanding. It is through the doorway of defeat that I discover humility’s sweet gifts and where I experience grace’s sufficiency. On the other side of defeat comes the understanding that Spirit power is perfected in weakness.

Resurrection must, by definition, be preceded by death. Redemption’s prerequisite is always some kind of damnifying defeat. This was the grand spiritual paradigm that Jesus ultimately exemplified, yet I always want to dismiss the fact that if I choose to follow He said I have to follow in His foot steps down that same path.

I saw my defeated acquaintance the other day. It’s been a few years since we were introduced. We’re now friends. His shoulders were squared, there was a sparkle in his eye, and the smile on his face was no longer conjured by will. His smile was clearly the effect of an inner joy that radiated off of him. I had the privilege of helping him through the doorway, and watching him discover, over time, what was on the other side.

So good.

Walking Humbly

The Lord Almighty planned it,
    to bring down her pride in all her splendor
    and to humble all who are renowned on the earth.
Isaiah 23:9 (NIV)

The autumn season it a busy time for my business. We begin looking the coming year, preparing proposals for clients, and forecasting what the coming year will look like for us. Over a quarter century I have experienced both the highs and lows of business. For a long time it seemed that our company’s business would continue to grow at a fast pace. I can remember a number of years of continuous expansion when it seemed nothing could stop us.

I’ve learned, however, that things can change in a hurry. It’s amazing how quickly a person can go from dreaming big to scrambling to make ends meet. It’s a humbling experience.

In today’s chapter, Isaiah turns his prophetic eye on the city of Tyre which was a powerful port of trade on the Mediterranean. The trading ships of Tyre did a lot of business, and they had been on a good run for a long period of time. Isaiah prophetically warned them to get ready for a devastating change in the business forecast.

Isaiah points out that the coming devastation was intended by God to teach humility. It was another one of the ancient prophets, Micah, who said that what God really requires of us is to “act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly.” I like the image of walking humbly. Humility is not momentary. It’s not like a coat we put on for a chilly day. It’s an everyday mindset for every stretch of life’s journey, both the  bears and the bulls, the peaks and the valleys, the good times and the bad.

This morning I’m thinking again of our nation. Some are feeling smug and assured in victory. Some are feeling devastated in the sting of defeat. Days like these bring out the absolute worst that pride produces in us, both in triumph and tragedy. I am thinking about Tyre in its booming heyday, and impending decline. I am remembering my own pride when I believed nothing could go wrong, and the painful days when it actually did. I am reminded this morning of walking humbly every step of this journey.

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featured image by antrover via flickr

…For 30 Minutes

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged….”
Joshua 8:1a (NIV)

Everyone who knows Wendy and me knows that we are baseball fans. In particular, we’re fans of the Chicago Cubs. Right now there is a lot of excitement in our house as the regular season opens next Monday night. The first game against Anaheim will start at 9:00 p.m. CDT. We will just be getting back from rehearsal. We’ll see how much of it we actually watch before we fall asleep. (Thank God for DVRs!)

Of all the major league sports, baseball’s season is truly a marathon. In the NFL’s 16 game season, every game is technically important, as one loss can come back to bite you when it comes time to the playoffs and home field advantage. In baseball, there are 162 regular season games between the beginning of April and the end of September. The best of teams will lose about a third of their games and occasionally suffer humiliating defeats. Even the worst teams in the league will win a third or more of their games and occasionally beat the best teams.

The Cubs manager, Joe Maddon, instituted a tradition in the Cub’s clubhouse last season. When the Cubs win, there is a party in the clubhouse for 30 minutes. Loud music, disco ball, dancing, shouting, and basking in the joy of the moment….for 30 minutes. Then, it’s back to work thinking about the next day’s game. Likewise, when the team loses, they are allowed to grieve for 30 minutes. Mope, scream, cry, commiserate, and feel the discouragement…for 30 minutes. Then, its back to work thinking about the next day’s game.

Our life journey is more like baseball season than football season. We all will experience our share of victories, and our share of defeats. No one, no matter how good the press and social media make them look, runs the table and is exempt from suffering loss and hardship. Everyone strikes out.

In today’s chapter, Josh and his team have just suffered an unexpected defeat after the huge victory at Jericho. It was the let down after the big game. Reality check. There is a sudden sense of gloom permeating the clubhouse. God, like a good manager, only lets the grief last for 30 minutes. It’s time to get the team’s focus on the next game: “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be discouraged. We’ve got a game against the King of Ai today, and I’ve got a game plan for one you’re gonna love!”

Today, I’m thinking about victories I’ve experienced in this life, and defeats. No matter how bad the loss, there are victories ahead. No matter how great the victory is, I’m going to strike out again at some point. As sure as the sun is going to rise and set. I need to let myself enjoy the victories…for about 30 minutes. Then I get back to work. I need to allow myself to grieve the losses…for about 30 minutes. Then get back to work.

Go get ’em.

chapter a day banner 2015

featured image by yozza via Flickr

Blind Spots

Davids Family TreeWhen King David heard of all these things, he became very angry, but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn.
2 Samuel 13:21 (NSRV)

David was a great warrior, a great general, and a great leader of men. Evidence leads me to believe that he was not, however, a great husband or father. As we’ve read David’s story he has slowly been amassing wives like the spoils of war and the result was many children. But, an army of children do not an army make. A family system and the complex relationships between birth order and gender can be difficult enough for a monogamous, nuclear family. I can’t imagine the exponential complexities that emerge when you have eight wives, ten concubines and children with most all of them.

As I read through these chapters I’ve noticed that we never see David telling his children “no” nor do we see him discipline them for their behavior. David appears to have even had a reputation among his offspring of not refusing their requests. David’s daughter, Tamar, tells her half brother Amnon that if he simply asks Dad she’s sure he’ll let them get married. When Amnon rapes Tamar instead and then turns her away we hear of David’s anger, but he doesn’t do anything about disciplining his beloved first born son. When Tamar’s full brother Absalom plots to kill their half brother Amnon in revenge, Absalom goes to David and presses good ol’ dad until David relents and sends all the brothers on Absalom’s little fratricidal sheep-shearing retreat.

David has a blind spot. He can lead an army to endless victories but his record as leader of a family is a tragic string of failures and defeats.

I cannot point at David without three fingers pointing back at me. We all have our blind spots. Our greatest strengths have their corollary weaknesses. We cannot escape this reality, but we can escape being enslaved to it. What we can do is be honest about our blind spots. We can choose to shine a light of our time and attention to addressing them. We can surround ourselves with others who will graciously help us see them, work through them, and who will patiently love us as we do.

Today’s chapter seems perfectly timed as I’ve been made painfully aware of a blind spot in my life. If you’re reading this, and are a person who prays, please say a prayer for me as I address it.

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Chapter-a-Day Psalm 44

English: Compact Disc player carousel for thre...

Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep?
    Get up! Do not reject us forever.
Psalm 44:23 (NLT)

Go through almost any CD and you’ll generally find a wide mixture music. A fast paced, energetic song will be followed by an introspective ballad. The next song will have driving intensity and a powerful social message, but the following track will be a sweet song of love. Record producers know that you can’t put together a CD with ten tracks that all sound the same. Variety is the spice of life. As life’s journey contains both peaks and valleys, we need music to express the breadth of the human experience.

When reading through the book of Psalms, we can never forget that it is a catalog of musical lyrics. It was carefully compiled by ancient record producers. Like the CD that slides into the dashboard of our car stereo, the psalms contain a diverse selection of songs which speak to an immense variety of life circumstances.

Everyone experiences crushing defeat from time to time. The greatest sports teams of all time still lose some of the time. Watch the Biography Channel and you’ll see that every person who has reached the heights of success has had to experience tremendous loss on their way up. There is a time for everything under the sun. There is a time for victory, and there is a time for defeat.

The lyric of today’s psalm come out of the confusion and questions which rise up in our hearts and minds after a crushing loss. In those acute moments of despair we remember past victories and when things were good. We feel the injustice of the defeat in light of our self-righteousness. We feel alone and abandoned as if God decided to sleep in and forget about us.

Music reminds us that we’re not alone. Turn up the blues and we find encouragement that others have been there before us. We sing along and our negative emotions find a healthy outlet of expression. Keep listening. Keep singing. The next track on the CD reminds us that these feelings of abandonment and despair are momentary. Better times are just a song away.

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 15

Ticker tape parade. And the people complained to Moses, "So what are we supposed to drink?" Exodus 15:24 (MSG)

Since I was a teenager I've held a number of leadership positions for groups large and small. It's always fascinating for me to watch and experience group dynamics. I've exerienced first hand how quickly you can feel a shift in the winds of popularity and approval. I can see the same thing in today's chapter.

The 15th chapter of Exodus spends 21 verses describing the victory song of the Israelites. Can you imagine how Moses must have felt as the Red Sea parted to save them, then fell in to destroy their enemies? Can you imagine the praise that was heaped on him by the people at the post-game pep rally? Even as the people praised God, they knew Moses was the man God ordained as their head coach. 

"Moses is the MAN!" "Way to go, MO!" "Mo! Mo! Mo! Mo! Mo!"

Then, three days and two verses after the most miraculous victory in recorded history, the honeymoon is over. People are thirsty and the waters of Marah weren't fit to drink. In three days Moses approval rating plummets from all time high to unforseen lows.

Crowds are fickle. Popularity is fleeting. Those who build their lives on the approval rating of their family, friends and peers will experience the life draining insanity of that roller coaster. God's words to Moses at the end of the chapter were a timely reminder for Moses, for Israel, and for us. Whether you are riding a wave of popularity or trudging through a valley of criticism, God's call is the same: Listen to me, and obey.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Jery McNutz

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 5

Where the mountain-top experience begins. Moses went back to God and said, "My Master, why are you treating this people so badly? And why did you ever send me? From the moment I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, things have only gotten worse for this people. And rescue? Does this look like rescue to you?" Exodus 5:22-23 (MSG)

I grew up in a family of swimmers. I started swimming competitively when I was nine and swam year-round through my freshman year in high school. If you were to look back in the Vander Well family scrapbooks, you'd see medals from city, district and state swimming meets. You'd find many blue ribbons from winning various events. There are certificates of acheivement and  a high school letter from when I made varsity my freshman year.

What you won't see in those scrapbooks is a snapshot of me at the age of eight, screaming in fear because I just knew there was no way I could swim across the width of the pool without drowning. You won't see family videos of me groaning about getting out of bed at 5:00 a.m. in the summer to make early morning practice. Nor will you find framed pictures of me crying in defeat, screaming in pain from mid-lap charlie-horses, and frustrated at getting beat out for a spot on the top relay team again.

We tend to think of Moses walking down the mountain with the Ten Commandments. We think of him parting the Red Sea in triumph. We picture him standing defiantly and triumphantly before Pharaoh. Reading the actual story reminds us that before any of those victorious mountain top moments came to be, there were moments of frustration, doubt, pain, fear, and confusion.

Mountain top experiences generally begin standing in a valley staring up at a long, hard climb.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Gone-Walkabout

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