By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
If you ain’t first, you’re last. If you’re not winning, you’re losing. Second place is just the first loser. These are de-motivational comments from movies and those with a sense of humor. However, we put the same pressure on ourselves without realizing it when we use motivational speak to build ourselves up without understanding some simple Biblical truths.
We know that God only wants what’s good for us but what’s good will serve His plans. When we start chasing dreams without God, we can find ourselves off track and feeling like we’re failing when we’re simple focused on the wrong object: our gold buckle dream and not God’s plan. Sometimes it’s the same. Sometimes it isn’t.
We know that when we focus on God’s plan, it can take us away from our original dreams and set us on something even bigger because it becomes chasing something that glorifies God and not ourselves.
We know that sometimes our gold buckle dream is exactly what God wants us pursuing because His plan it to use that to glorify Him and that His glory gets shown not by whether or not we win that gold buckle but by how we handle it when we win OR lose. We know that losing is okay.
So when our circumstances don’t seem to be going the way we want them to, what do we do?
A bigger understanding of Philippians 4:13 is a good place to start.
Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Some of you have it on t-shirts, some of you have it on tattoos and many athletes know it by heart.
We use the Bible this way to motivate us to succeed and let ourselves think that Christ will help us win at whatever we put our minds to.
But by doing that, we miss what God could really do in our lives when we understand the verse.
To do that, we have to look at the rest of the verses around it and understand what’s going on.
Philippians 4:10-13 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Paul has lived some big extremes from being a wealthy person people feared to a prisoner with nothing, facing death. Paul wrote this letter while in prison. But through it all, he is saying in these verses that he understands how to be content in whatever circumstance God places him. He knows that through Christ, it isn’t that he can do whatever he sets his mind to, it’s that he can get through whatever circumstance he’s in including when it doesn’t feel like it’s going well.
Where pursuing happiness instead of experiencing joy can leave us feeling discontent and unhappy when something goes wrong, learning to be content can help us find joy whether we buck off a bull or have set an arena record in team roping. We can be on a winning streak but still feel discontentment because there’s always another goal to achieve or look to someone else that’s accomplished or succeeded at more. We can learn to be content when we put God first and understand when He’s the biggest part of the dream we’re chasing, it’s okay to lose.
When we use just Philippians 4:13 as a motivational boost to succeed, we’re using it to follow our own dreams and not God’s plan for us and we cheat ourselves out of the good a better understanding of those verses can do for us.
When we use the verse in its whole context, we can learn a skill that helps us succeed at what God has planned for us. It becomes about Him and not us and understanding how to be content helps us face the challenges of winning AND losing. Losing isn’t bad. When our dreams are focused on what He wants for us, we can see how God turns what feels like a failure into a win for His glory. As we learn the difference between chasing happiness or experiencing joy, our joy can grow when we know the part we’re playing in God’s plan and that win or failure can both feel amazing.
Part 5 Chasing Dreams, Chasing God
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
One of the most common pressures on us in our culture is the pursuit of happiness. We’re bombarded with advertising pushing us to buy products and take trips to make us happy. We’re taught to pursue anything in our lives that will make us happy from pot and partying as we see as more states legalize recreational marijuana, as if alcohol wasn’t enough. We see opiode overdoses becoming a leading cause of death as we chase a bigger high. We feel unhappy in a marriage because it was more work than we expected so we chase an affair or dump the marriage to live a single life again because we thought that was what would make us happy.
Chasing our dreams fits right into the pursuit of happiness. When we’re chasing our dreams with our eyes set on ourselves, like those selfish motives James talked about in Part 4 in the series, and we think winning that gold buckle is what will end up making us happy. Then our sights get set on the next biggest championship and finally the PBR. But what comes after we get that buckle? What makes us happy?
The Bible doesn’t promise us happiness. In fact, it promises us trials, struggles and pain. Those are the consequences of the sin that Adam and Eve brought in the world when they chose to disobey God and eat that forbidden fruit. They traded perfect happiness for the temptation of sin and now we all live with those consequences.
Jesus himself tells us that we’re going to face struggles.
John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
But he also tells us not to worry. His death on the cross has overcome the sin that causes us to face struggles. In this world, we’re going to face suffering but in the next, we face a perfect life in Heaven if we repent of our sins and ask Jesus to forgive them. For God to be a just God, sin has to be punished, but Jesus took that punishment so that God could see us as clean and perfect, fit to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
And James brings us to what we need to pursue instead of happiness—joy!
James 1: 2-4 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
When we face a struggle, like being broke, injured and not being able to pay a doctor’s bill, never mind entry fees when our physical therapy is over, James tells us to actually take joy in that struggle. Why? Because God will use it to work out something better in us—to shape us and make us more like Christ.
Joy is basically a Biblical opposite to happiness. It’s considered a fruit of the Spirit which is a characteristic that grows in us when we’re saved through that faith and forgiveness found in Jesus.
Instead of chasing happiness through our dreams, we find ourselves experiencing joy. We can feel it when we make the fastest catch, quickest barrel run or score our first 90-point bull or bronc ride. And we can feel it when we are always one hole out of a check and not sure how we’re going to have gas money to get home. It comes from knowing who we are in Christ and that with every success or every failure on our path to chasing our dreams, we’re one step closer to being more like Christ and we’re one day closer to our perfect life in Heaven.
As we chase our gold buckle dreams and remember that our focus is on doing it in a way that glorifies God, we can take joy in knowing others can see Christ in us when they see how we handle our successes or our failures.
Happiness comes from the false idea that something other than Jesus is going to make us complete or fulfill the holes in our lives. Joy comes from knowing we are saved by Christ and have a hope that those without him can’t know or understand.
When we can find joy in us instead of chasing what we think will make us happy, we can also feel peace and a lot of the challenges we face become easier to deal with.