Have you ever worked so hard to reach a goal and the result was not what you wanted? A promotion, a varsity team, the “A” grade, a championship game…. I’m confident most of us have had this experience. Regardless of the scenario and the thing we were trying to earn, there’s one element we likely all have in common among these scenarios – our eyes were focused on the prize. The end goal. The result. Life has thrown several of these experiences my way over the years. So much that “It builds character!” became a personal catch phrase at a rather young age. But I truly did not understand nor appreciate the weightiness of the phrase until my walk with the Lord grew stronger.
If you know anything about the Lord, you know He loves us and wants us to prosper. But I’m convinced that God’s economy is not centered on the currency of what I do or do not earn. Rather, He’s focused on my heart and the journey along the way, or how I go about earning it. Do I seek the Lord in the planning and preparing, and the working hard or playing hard? Do I honor Him along the way? In God’s economy, the things for which we are striving do not define us; rather it’s the character displayed in the journey that forms us – regardless of the ultimate outcome. The Bible tells us in Romans 5:3-5, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” He is a God of character-building, not prize-winning.
This weekend, my hometown Cincinnati Bengals are going to be playing in the Super Bowl for the first time in 33 years. (For loyal Bengals fans, that is a long time to wait!) And you better believe there are eyes on that prize! But I guarantee you if they win, the stories that draw us will not be about how big that trophy is or how shiny the rings are, but rather how they got to this point. The trials and tribulations they endured along the way. Their family lives. The kind of people they are. Because it’s those things that got them to where they are today. We all know that getting to this point in a winning season doesn’t just happen; it is a culmination of these things. And this year it was a culmination of a lot for the Bengals. Their quarterback, Joe Burrow, tore his ACL just last year, and the team lost 11 games. However, he recovered from that to lead the team to this point when just a few months ago in the pre-season, they were at 15,000-1 odds of winning the Super Bowl. And I’m convinced that a Super Bowl championship is not what is going to define this team of players. What will define them in God’s economy will be the character shown in earning (or losing) the prize. Some of us are already taking notice of the focus and humility of the quarterback, the faith and confidence of the kicker, and the encouragement and friendship among teammates. And when the media tried labeling the team as an ‘underdog,’ they outright refused to accept that identity. Rather, the quarterback proclaimed the identity of a team who has worked hard to get to where they are, who recognizes each brings unique giftings to the game, and who displays the character and drive to focus and play the game that’s in front of them. That feels a bit more like God’s economy, doesn’t it?
So how might we embrace our own journey while keeping our eyes on the prize? Here are some lessons I’ve learning watching our young quarterback (and reflecting on my own life experience):
- Focus ahead. While you may keep your eye on the ultimate prize, 100% of your energy needs to be towards what’s right in front of you.
- Learn from failures. They don’t define you. They refine you.
- Pay attention to others. Knowing, empowering, and leveraging the unique talents of those around you is critical to success. And giving credit where credit is due and building into others is what being a good teammate is all about.
- Pray. But don’t just pray for the win. Pray for the hearts of those around you. Pray for strong minds and bodies. Pray that the work is honoring to the Lord.
- Celebrate. Regardless of the outcome, celebrate the work that it took to get here. And if the prize is won, well the celebration might just be that much bigger and sweeter!
- Remember. God’s people often mark moments and days to remember His goodness during their difficulties. This helps us to be strong in the new challenges.
God’s economy is a lot different than ours. And the more we can operate in His economy the sweeter the wins are when they come, because we have put our hearts into the journey, and we see that we gained way more than the prize at the end. The excitement around our home team is palpable. Whether we win or lose the Super Bowl is not going to be what defines our team or our city. Rather what will be remembered is how our city shined on each other throughout the season – HOW we won or lost. A win will certainly be amazing, but no one can take away the hopeful spirit, the anticipation of a championship, and a city who came together to support their team and each other. Indeed the long journey to get to this point, and just being in the Super Bowl this year, gives hope for the future!
There are many believers on both teams. Will God favor one over the other? I believe He doesn’t care who will be wearing the Super Bowl rings; but He does care about the hearts of the players, the coaches, and the fans. May the Lord be glorified on Super Bowl Sunday. May the posture of the players be such that they shine His light. May the game played be honoring to Him!
Dear Heavenly Father, I’d be remiss if I did not pray for You to please bring Cincinnati a Super Bowl win! But more important, I praise You for each one of the players who takes the field – for they each have a testimony and story that is part of Your bigger story. I pray that You are glorified this Super Bowl Sunday and in the stories that are shared beyond that. You are so good. Thank you that Your economy is farther reaching and more glorious than the world’s. May we all be beneficiaries. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.