In the early hours of Wednesday morning, President Trump made a short speech, claiming that he had won the US Presidential election and accusing his opponents of attempting to steal the election. On Saturday night, with all States now called, it became clear that in fact Joe Biden had won. Normal protocol is that the loser then speaks first to concede defeat and congratulate the victor. At that point, the winner is free to speak, to declare victory and to be magnanimous to his or her opponent. Except, this time round the President had made it clear that there would be no concession.
So Joe Biden went ahead and made the traditional acceptance speech where he committed to serve all Americans and to heal and unite a divided country. Then we were treated to the spectacle of the President boasting about his vote share, once again threatening legal action and accusing Joe Biden of being quick off the mark and premature in claiming victory.
What a shocking turn of events. In this case, it is not only bad form but fundamentally undermines a core principle of democracy that the result is accepted and that handovers of power are peaceful. Once the candidate starts challenging the legitimacy of results and refusing to co-operate, all bets are off. So, I hope that the theatrics will quickly stop and the peaceful handover will take place for all our sakes.
Now it is unlikely that most (any?) of us are going to be in the position of losing a presidential election. Yet throughout life, there are going to be occasions when we will lose, when we will not get what we desire and where someone else will be preferred over us. This will include going for a job and not getting it even though we are convinced we are the best candidate, similarly when we get passed over for promotion. Sadly, in the current climate, some of us will be chosen for redundancy.
Then there will be the decisions in church life that don’t go our way. As a church, we’ve had to make some big decisions over the past ten years. These include, purchasing our community café building, moving to multiple congregations, taking a congregation off site, appointing new employees and purchasing land for a building project. Sometimes the answer to those questions has been yes and sometimes no. The leaders don’t always get their way which is crucial to genuinely congregational church government.
Whether you are a leader or a member of the church, how you respond matters as much as the outcome. I am forever grateful and learnt much from the example of a small group of members who voted no to us moving to two services. There had been a clear majority with 80% plus in favour of the decision but to me this did not feel like a simple question of majorities. So, I spoke to those who had voted “no.” Were they happy for us to continue. Each of them said “yes.” They wanted to make clear their opinion on the idea in the members’ meeting but now a decision had been made all they wanted to do was to work together as part of the church family in order to see it work.
I wish that such graciousness was always possible in church life. But it doesn’t seem to be does it? So how can we work towards consistently responding in such a way? Well, I’m sure that there are lots of practical helps here. However, fundamentally it comes down to this. Our attitude to winning and losing is often linked to our view of our own status and security. We find our value in our successes and worry about what will happen if we lose. We take defeat personally as a slight on our character and gifting. So, the answer is that age old one. It’s about constantly coming back to the Gospel.
Win, lose or draw, I’m a child of the king. My status and identity is in Christ. I’ve received undeserved blessings, I have been forgiven my sin. I am justified, right with God. The Gospel prevents me from having an over high assessment of myself. I don’t deserve to win, I don’t deserve anything, all I receive in life is because of Grace. The Gospel prevents me from spiralling into gloom, my circumstances cannot take away God’s love from me.
Be encouraged that whatever happens today, your value and identity are safely hid in Christ. Losses will be painful but don’t let them overwhelm you. Defeats will be joyful but don’t lose perspective. Keep your eyes fixed on Christ. That’s the secret of graciousness in both victory and defeat.