I’ve heard it said that “second place is just the first place loser.” It sounds harsh, but there’s truth to it. In a world that tries to make everyone a winner, we’ve lost sight of the reality of losing. Losing is a thing, and it can be a gift. When we win, it’s easy to take the credit for doing it right this time. When we lose, we have to face the reality of our weakness. We learn from losing. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve been losing lately.
In larger churches it may be more difficult to notice a 10 person dip in attendance. In a church of 60-80 people, that’s a huge drop off. In our church we’ve seen the attendance average drop from 90 to 60. That’s a 33% decline. Likewise, the giving has dropped off with it. It feels a lot like losing and I’ve discovered it has everything to do with second place.
My wife and I took some time alone together this past weekend. We got to vent some things that are bothering us and by the end of the discussion God had brought us back to ourselves. It’s easy to complain about what other people are, or are not doing. It feels so safe to bring our complaints and frustrations to God, and it should feel safe. Our problem, most often, is that we bring our complaints to God without expecting that he will answer them. Typically, in His answer, we see our struggles through his eyes and realize that they have a lot more to do with us than we’d like to believe.
Conviction is a beautiful thing. As my wife and I discussed our frustrations, God brought out a very simple, but very powerful truth. He was second place. In other words, we were excelling in putting duties, tasks, obligations, ministry, busy work, our own expectations and goals first instead of God. I’ve been coming into the office, sitting down, and getting to work keeping God as a shadow in the back of my mind rather than coming before his throne of grace and laying everything down before him, allowing him to lead me through the mess of the day. No wonder I feel overwhelmed. No wonder I feel fruitless. No wonder I feel frustrated because God “frustrates the plans of the proud.” I’ve been proud, and trying to fulfill my calling by my own talents, strength, vision, and wisdom … which is utter folly.
Maybe you feel the same way? Your church is small and seems to be shrinking; you feel like you can’t do “this” because you don’t have “that”–lacking time and resources to get things done; you feel like maybe you’re being led out of your ministry for lack of fruit even though there is no pull toward something else. People are becoming a burden rather than those you care for and, like a shepherd, lay your life down for. Check yourself! Do not assume that all is well, but bring it all to God and let him walk you through it. Is God really first, or has the daily grind, the rat race, trained you to go through the motions rather than to receive his mercies, from his hand, which are new every morning? Maybe you need to lay every duty, obligation, plan and project down and let God tell you what, if anything, you are to pick back up. Don’t hear him quickly enough? Then maybe you just need to pray and wait on him. After all, it’s His church, not yours. He said He would build it, not you. You feed sheep, and you can’t do that when you are starved yourself. Don’t feel like all you’re supposed to be? Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you…” Let him make you who he knows you need to be. Spend less time chasing your goals, and more time pursuing the person of Christ.