In the days of the Roman Empire, military commanders who had been victorious in battle were given a triumph-that’s where we get that word. A triumph was a civil ceremony celebrating the commander’s great victory, whereby he rode a gleaming chariot drawn by four white horses through the streets of Rome, surrounded by the cheering, admiring throngs, preceded in the streets by his army, the captives from his battles, and the spoils of war. Only the emperor could grant a triumph, and the commander so honored was treated as a king, or a god, for a day.
In the commander’s chariot, standing directly behind him, was a slave, called an Auriga. One purpose of the Auriga was to hold a crown of laurels over the commander’s head. But, the second purpose was even more important: throughout the triumph, the Auriga would whisper constantly into the commander’s ear, “Remember you are only a man. This will all end tomorrow.” The Auriga was there to keep the commander grounded. Even the Romans, who were not Christian at the time, knew the importance of maintaining humility in victory.
We all know that God teaches us tremendous lessons through defeat and suffering. I’ve written on it often here. While we probably don’t learn as much through the victories and triumphs in our lives, how we handle them is really a good barometer of the state of our souls. Do we celebrate graciously and think, “Wow. What a gracious blessing from the Lord! If not for all of the abilities and opportunities He’s given us, we wouldn’t be in this position right now!” Or, do we think, “Man, I’m kind of nailing this life thing right now. It’s about time somebody recognized my gifts and talents.” Chances are, we know we should feel the former, but probably feel at least a little of the latter.
This week, the Department of Education announced that Grace Community High School is one of its National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2015. Out of 32,000 private schools in the country, 50 schools are on that list this year. Whether it’s this honor, a big win on the field, a job promotion, a sizable raise, being asked to serve on a board or committee, or just being complimented for a job well done, all are huge blessings from the Lord, intended as great gifts, and encouragement for diligent work.
But, Satan loves to use these things as vehicles to work our pride, to take our focus off the Giver of all good things and attribute them to us, to our efforts. In what may be an apocryphal tale, Charles Spurgeon, the great 19th century London preacher, had just given a brilliant sermon. Afterwards, one of his parishioners ran to him, pumped his hand, and gushed breathlessly that it was a magnificent sermon, the best the man had ever heard, and that Spurgeon was a brilliant orator. “I have already heard these things”, Spurgeon replied, “Satan whispered them to me only a moment ago”. If Spurgeon was vulnerable to pride in victory, so are we.
Even in victory, God is gracious. Last week, before the Department of Education’s announcement, I was painfully reminded on several occasions of my shortcomings in three of my roles: leader of this school, husband, and father. Last week was a rough week. Although it was a beat down, it was a fierce, loving mercy of God, with the Holy Spirit serving as Auriga, gently whispering, “Remember, you are only a man.” God was so gracious to remind me of my frailty and need of His power and grace in my life, and my reliance upon Him. What’s true for me is true of this school, and true for our families.
As dads and moms, leaders of our home, how crucial it is that we model and coach our kids through handling victories in a redemptive manner- with grace, humility, and as an opportunity to praise God, rather than to beat our chest and call attention to ourselves? That in no way means don’t celebrate- God wants us to enjoy and celebrate those great moments in life. But, shouldn’t we celebrate, all the while showing our kids that all good things—great food, love, friendship, victories- are a loving gift from a gracious God, an opportunity to worship the Lord who gave them to us? It’s a powerful, powerful way to experience a greater, deeper level of enjoyment than those who don’t know Him. God gives victory, but He gives so much more; He gives meaning, more important than oxygen. Celebrating life’s victories well not only makes our children more winsome and testifies to God’s glory, but it also helps them more deeply enjoy and appreciate those victories. It’s really cool how God wired it that way.
So, we’ll celebrate this Blue Ribbon award. We’ll tell others about it, and tell them the story of this school. We want others to know about Grace, because we believe that “teaching Jesus” is a good thing for kids and families, and that other kids could really benefit from it. But, don’t think for a moment that telling others about it equates to thinking we did this. If it’s due to brainpower, God gave the brains; if due to hard work, God gave the work ethic; if based upon education or opportunities, or just dumb luck, guess where all that came from? “In Him, we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17). Amen.