Glory in Defeat

Five Ways We Win When Our Team Lost

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I love sports, at least in part, because of the feeling of sharing in the glory of my team’s victory. As a sports fan, I get a real high and feel a deep joy when my team wins. Sports are all about glory. It’s also about the team and their fans joyfully sharing in that glory. Because sports are about glory, it’s also about God. All glory belongs to God, and the glory of sports is no different.

When we share in the celebration of our team’s victory, we share in the glory. And as Christians, this kind of glorying should not be removed from our glorying in the goodness of God.

But what about when your team loses? You fall from the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat. It’s easy to immediately shift from wanting to watch all the videos analyzing the game and series while your team is winning, to shutting out all sports media when they’ve lost. Frustration overwhelms. The frustration can even linger and distract us throughout the day.

But can we glory in the goodness of God in these moments, too? Is it possible that even in our team’s heartbreaking loss, we can still taste and see that the Lord is good? Here are five thoughts to help us glory in God when our team loses.  

1. Learn by identifying with a losing team.

There’s no specific precedent for it in the Bible, but I prayed before a recent game that my team would win by six points. God said, “No.” It was his will of decree that my team would lose. In everything I pray, God calls me to pray with the spirit of, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

Since we know God is good, sovereign, and wise, then I must believe that the reason he said “no” to my prayer — however small or seemingly insignificant my prayer — is because he has something good planned for me (Romans 8:28). It was his will of decree to deny my request, and that I’d identify with the losing team. It was his will that I would experience some of the bitter agony in defeat. And he has decreed my eternal and tangible good, even in vicarious defeats. I can trust him for that. And, as a Christian, I can go a step further, and be bold enough to glory in it.

2. Give credit to the winning team and the glory to God.

Humility is hard to cultivate. It’s difficult to give credit to the ones we despised just a few moments earlier, in the heat of competition. But learning humility is learning to draw near to God (James 4:6–8). And it glorifies God to humble oneself. It also glorifies God to see his glory in the greatness of competitors who were victorious at our team’s expense.

3. Engage in life’s real fight and competition.

Sports bring out a competitive fire in me. There is satisfaction in winning and imposing your will on an opposing team. I love seeing my team do that. It’s glorious — and agonizing when it’s done to my team.

But what’s the real fight? It’s against the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:10–12). It’s against high-minded arguments and thoughts raised up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:3–5). It’s against my sin and laziness (1 Corinthians 15:10). It’s against the constant temptation toward unbelief and coasting. It’s against losing people to their condemnation and missing out on salvation (1 Corinthians 9:23–27). It’s against selfish comforts that hinder us from investing and entrusting to faithful men what has been entrusted to me (2 Timothy 2:1–5).

So compete, and cheer, and fight, and be fully invested in your team. Just make sure the most important team you invest in is your local church, the men and women sent to disciple one another, our neighbors, and the nations.

4. Remember the things above are infinitely more significant.

When I feel upset and downcast that my team has lost, this verse calls me to worship: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2–3).

It’s hard when it seems like the referees made some bad calls and my team didn’t play well. Complaints, frustrations, and hypothetical endings repeat in my mind. But God calls us to meditate and set our minds on other things, namely on Jesus Christ, his kingdom, his commission, his cross and resurrection, and his return.

We should be more passionate about the things that are most significant. It’s amazing to personally experience how passionate and invested we can be in a game or toward a particular team. We soar with eagles one moment, and wallow in the pit the next.

But when was the last time we felt really down because of our sin? Or the sins of others? Or the unbelief of our neighbors? When was the last time we celebrated with a fist pump the evidence of God’s grace breaking through a sin pattern in a fellow church member’s life, or giving others a moment of victory in the midst of a streak of defeats? Why is our passion so low for the things that matter infinitely more — eternal rings and trophies — than for a fleeting championship in sports?

5. Guard the heart against idolatry.

The bottom line is that sports are a good gift for the way it teaches us to treasure God, win or lose. When we don’t treasure God because we treasure our team’s win more than God and his kingdom, we commit idolatry. And when I’m more disappointed and saddened by my team’s loss than my own sin, the sins of others, the ideas that enslave them, or the spiritual forces that oppress us, then idolatry is functionally captivating my soul.

The Lord gives us a gift, an opportunity, to repent and guard our hearts from false gods and short-lived pleasures. This opportunity is usually missed when we win because we’re too busy celebrating. But when our team loses, and we need relief from the pain, God exposes what our hearts want most, and strengthens us to weaken and destroy idolatry. And that is a far bigger win.

(@pjtibayan) is the pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Bellflower, CA, where he lives with his wife Frances and their five children. He blogs at gospelize.me and helps lead The Gospel Coalition Los Angeles Regional Chapter and the Los Angeles Southern Baptist Association.