Each year on June 18 the great Battle of Waterloo is recalled in what is now Belgium. On that day in 1815, Napoleon’s French army was defeated by a multinational force commanded by the Duke of Wellington. Since then, the phrase “to meet your Waterloo” has come to mean “to be defeated by someone who is too strong for you or by a problem that is too difficult for you.”
When it comes to our spiritual lives, some people feel that ultimate failure is inevitable and it’s only a matter of time until each of us will “meet our Waterloo.” But John refuted that pessimistic view when he wrote to followers of Jesus: “Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).
John weaves this theme of spiritual victory throughout his first letter as he urges us not to love the things this world offers, which will soon fade away (2:15-17). Instead, we are to love and please God, “And this is what he promised us—eternal life” (2:25).
While we may have ups and downs in life, and even some battles that feel like defeats, the ultimate victory is ours in Christ as we trust in His power.
The St. Olaf Choir from Northfield, Minnesota, is renowned for making beautiful music. One reason for its excellence is the selection process. Applicants are chosen based not only on how well they sing but also on how they sound as part of the whole. Another reason is that all members agree to make the choir their first priority and commit to a rigorous rehearsal and performance schedule.
One of the things that intrigues me the most about this choir is what happens during rehearsals. Whenever members make a mistake, they raise their hand. Instead of trying to hide the blunder, they call attention to it! This allows the conductor to help each singer learn the difficult part, and it increases the likelihood of a flawless performance.
I think this is the kind of community Jesus was establishing when He told Nicodemus that God sent His Son into the world to save it, not condemn it (John 3:17). Shortly after this conversation, Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman at the public well. He made it easy for her to admit failure by promising her a better way of life where she could enjoy His forgiveness (John 4).
As members of Christ’s body on Earth, we should not fear admitting our wrongs but welcome it as an opportunity to together experience and rejoice in the forgiveness of God.
Chad Pennington is a former American football player who has suffered multiple career-threatening injuries. Twice, his injuries forced him to endure surgery, months of physical therapy, and weeks of training to get back onto the field. Yet, both times he not only returned to playing but he also excelled at such a high level that he was named Comeback Player of the Year in the National Football League. For Pennington, his efforts were an expression of his determination to return to football.
Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, spent 40 years helping people hear and understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. When he died in April 2012, one newspaper article carried the headline, “Charles Colson, Nixon’s ‘dirty tricks’ man, dies at 80.” It seemed surprising that a man so transformed by faith should be identified with things he did as a politically ruthless presidential aide decades earlier before he knew the Savior.
As I strolled through Chicago’s O’Hare airport, something caught my eye—a hat worn by someone racing through the concourse. What caught my attention was the message it conveyed in just two words: “Deny Everything.” I wondered what it meant. Don’t ever admit to guilt? Or deny yourself the pleasures and luxuries of life? I scratched my head at the mystery of those two simple words, “Deny Everything.”
On January 18, 2012, the longest winning streak in US intercollegiate varsity sports history—252 consecutive victories—ended when Trinity College lost a squash match to Yale. The morning after the team’s first loss in 14 years, Trinity’s coach, Paul Assaiante, received an e-mail from a friend, a prominent professional football coach, who wrote, “Well, now you get to bounce back.” Ten days later, that football coach’s team lost in one of the most widely seen athletic events—the NFL Super Bowl. All of us must cope with defeat.
When my daughter Debbie was a little girl, she took ballet lessons. One dance exercise involved jumping over a rolled-up gym mat. Debbie’s first attempt resulted in her bouncing off this hurdle. For a moment she sat on the floor stunned, and then she began to cry. Immediately, I darted out to help her up and spoke soothing words to her. Then, holding her hand, I ran with her until she successfully jumped over the rolled-up mat. Debbie needed my encouragement to clear that hurdle.
Life is a risky enterprise. Sometimes we fly high, enjoying great success. But then suddenly we fall into deep disappointments and the haunting reality of failure, leaving our hearts wondering if there is anything worth looking forward to.