I don’t use Latin very often. It’s kind of a presumptuous, former practicing-lawyer thing to do. But, sometimes ideas are so compelling, so rooted in who we are as an ancient people, this millennia-old Body of Christ, that the occasion seems to call for a little dead tongue. Like sola Scriptura, on this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation: the grand, world-changing concept that Scripture, the Word of God, is the ultimate authority on all of life. Or, Soli Deo Gloria: Only to God be the glory.
We all know that God teaches us tremendous lessons through both defeat and suffering. I write often about this topic here (maybe out of fear that we’ll follow this American desire for security and comfort, or, worse, embrace the prosperity gospel, to our peril). While we probably don’t learn as much through the victories and triumphs in our lives as we do the defeats in this fallen world, how we handle victory is really a good barometer of our souls. Do we celebrate graciously and think, “Wow. What a great 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. I am the GOAT!” (If you have a teenager, or an urban dictionary, you know this stands for “Greatest Of All Time.”) Chances are, we know we should feel the former, but we probably struggle with the latter.
Last week, the Department of Education announced that Grace Community Elementary School, like our high school two years ago, was named a 2017 National Blue Ribbon School for being one of the exemplary schools in the nation. Out of 32,000 private schools in the country, 50 schools are on that list this year. Grace is the only private elementary school on the list from the state of Texas. 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, each is a huge blessing from the Lord, intended as one of God’s great gifts, and encouragement to continue onward.
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 urban legend, 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 the great Spurgeon was vulnerable to pride in victory, so are we.
But, even in victory, God is gracious. Last week, the same week as the Department of Education’s announcement, I was painfully reminded on several occasions of my shortcomings as a head of school. Last week was a rough week. Although it was a beat down, it was a fierce, loving mercy of God, with the Holy Spirit reminding me that I am not all I imagine myself to be, and that I live moment by moment by the tender grace of God. God reminded me of my frailty and my reliance upon Him. As much as it hurts, I’ve learned to see His humbling hand as a loving antidote to my persistent pride.
As dads and moms, leaders of our home, how crucial it is that we model and coach our kids through handling victory in a God-glorifying manner- with grace, humility, and as an opportunity to praise God, rather than to call attention to ourselves? This in no way means we shouldn’t celebrate- God wants us to enjoy and rejoice in those great life moments. 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, which is better than victory; meaning is more important to humans 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). Soli Deo Gloria.