Sharing Our Victories or Our Struggles?

Many years ago, I met with a Christian leader who had influenced me in my youth. As we talked, he offered to give me input on a recent sermon series I had preached. A month later, he shared a few positive comments, and then he added this critique: “I think you share your weaknesses too much. People need to hear our victories more than our struggles.”

I think he is mistaken.

The gospels overflow with the deficiencies of the disciples who act like puppies that aren’t housebroken: they fail to understand the parables of Jesus, they argue about which of them is the greatest disciple, they cannot cast out an evil spirit, they correct Jesus for predicting his own death, they miss the meaning of the transfiguration, and they abandon and deny Jesus.

And remember, the gospels were written by these very same weak disciples or by people who heard them tell their stories. The gospel writers hid nothing of the failures of the disciples.

And those struggles encourage me. I don’t need leaders who tell me of their great victories; at least I don’t need them as much as I need leaders who share God’s great victories even when they themselves are clueless.

In the spirit of those “gifts of victory,” let me share (again) of my failure in a current struggle.

I Keep Doubting God’s Goodness

I know: you’ve heard a lot (maybe too much) of the struggle my wife and I have with finding a new house. Please let me share a bit more, to show how thick-headed I am. We listed our old house almost two years ago—in a seller’s market—and for twenty months we got silence.

Late last May, we finally got an offer, but the buyers wanted us out of the house by August 10th.

We searched and searched, but couldn’t find the right house for ministry, so we looked at rentals as we continued to look for a house. In mid-July, another buyer offered us more money for the house, and they said we could stay in it through year-end; the first two months for free, and the next two months we’d simply pay their mortgage.

I had been asking God to help us find a temporary rental; instead he let us stay in our house without the bother of moving. I thanked God for answering a prayer I didn’t even ask.

And the next day I woke up and doubted God would give us the house we want for ministry.

Undeserved Grace

We signed with the second buyers and kept looking for houses. We were grateful for the two months rent-free, but the rental price beginning in November was high, so we began again to look for a rental.

Last Friday the new owners of our old house stopped by. They can’t move into the house until spring, and they suggested we stay in the house through March. To make it more attractive, they cut the rental by more than 50%. It was cheaper than any other rental we found, and less than half of their mortgage!

Again, God answered a prayer I didn’t even ask for. I wanted a good rental at a reasonable price, and God let us stay in the house we love without having to move at all.

The next morning—just last Saturday—I woke up and I again doubted God would give us a house that works for ministry. This morning I read in Isaiah:

Therefore, the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. (Is. 30:18)

I cannot share with you my great victory because I keep failing to wait on God. But I can share His great victories as he continues to wait on me.

Sam

P. S. God wants to speak to us in our prayer times, on the way to work, and sometimes he speaks to us even in his silence. To nurture that conversational relationship with your Father, I suggest you read Hearing God in Conversation.

After all, it is not that God is silent; we just haven’t learned to recognize his voice.

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What do YOU think?

16 thoughts on “Sharing Our Victories or Our Struggles?

  1. Part of that self-awareness journey I have been on has been discovering how we all struggle with, particularly me self-contempt. Its why we are always acting on our own, thinking ourselves not worthy and so working to prove contrary. It is why dependence is so difficult for us. It’s why we look for God in the extraordinary and miss the present ordinary moments. This journey has also made me aware of something deeply true, but do not think there was as much of a heart connect before. We must admit, accept and often shout from the rooftops our weaknesses in order to claim grace,

    Good thoughts

    • Pat, I especially love your last line: “We must admit, accept and often shout from the rooftops our weaknesses in order to claim grace.”

      We keep forgetting that the nature of “grace” is that we don’t deserve it. If we deserved it, it would be called a “paycheck.”

      So, the more we shout our helplessness, the more we can receive grace; while the more we shout our own heroic-ness, the more we are seen as proud, arrogant, and stuck-up.

      Thanks

    • Patrick,

      Read Sister Wendy Beckett’s meditation here – strike a chord? It has been helping me for several days now.

      Martha’s Need To Be Convinced
      of Her Helplessness

      Here are areas where you truly try—yet you fail. Why? Because the desire is too surface—the “yes” to love isn’t coming from the very depths of you, and so, when taken unawares, lack of love peeps out. What can you do?…

      The great agony of being unregenerate man is precisely that: we just can’t. Our will isn’t enough “ours” to be all gathered up in one total act whenever we want to. But, when we are wholly convinced of our helplessness—and that’s a tremendous grace and we have to suffer and struggle to learn it—then we have the first condition for holiness….

      And the second is to realize that, in proportion as we see that we can’t, we must believe that God can, and will, and longs for nothing more.

      But, third condition, we must ask him to transform us, holding our helplessness up to him constantly, which, in turn, we won’t have the incentive to do so long as we feel we can fumble along well enough as we are…. So really, what I feel God wants so passionately to do in you is to have you see, open-eyed, your weakness, and turn with constant trust to him to be loved and so made loving.

      Sister Wendy Beckett

    • Hi Rob,

      Thanks for sharing.

      Of course, we need discernment when sharing our struggles. We don’t tell our best friend, “I’m tempted to think you are an idiot.”

      Maybe a way to help is some self-reflection: Who is the hero is this story of mine? Me? Or God? Who am I trying to give glory to?

      Too many of my victory stories simply try to get others to respect me. Whereas, when we share our struggles, others can relate; and when they see God act despite our foolishness, it gives them hope for themselves.

      Thanks again,

      Sam

  2. Well, aren’t you the one for pithy phrases! “I cannot share with you my great victory because I keep failing to wait on God. But I can share His great victories as he continues to wait on me.” I love your writing, Sam. Your insights and the way you express them often seem organically and inextricably linked.

    Thanks for your good, honest words. And I totally agree with you. I do need to hear about the victories, because I need that hope. But the triumphs of great kings and warriors, prophets and saints, only encourage me when I know those men and women’s humanity–the fears they’ve faced, the weaknesses they’ve wrestled with, the tears they’ve wept, the losses they’ve endured, the failures that have broken them. Superheroes don’t inspire me; heroes do. In your own way, Sam, by being a truth-teller, you are one such hero.

  3. Paul said he boasted about his weaknesses that the power of Christ might be seen in him. There’s a way in which people need to think, “If God can use ________, he can use me, too.”

    • Exactly!

      I used to have a friend who was fabulously, and naturally, gifted in self-discipline, and he wanted everyone to be exactly like him. But the problem was, we didn’t have those same natural gifts.

      But we can ALL catch supernatural gifts of love, patience, kindness, etc. Because those come from the life of God in us.

  4. A few extreme examples come to mind of testimonies of defeat, as it were.

    I read recently somewhere on Patreon of a couple who were moved to take a girl to be a foster child. She turned out to be a bad seed, masterfully manipulative by her own confession. It was a colossal ordeal that stretched over several years, and bankrupted this couple, financially, emotionally, and spiritually. Eventually the girl went back to the institution and the couple tried to pick up the shards of their shattered faith and lives… all this after having gone through seemingly all the proper channels of guidance.

    After the demise of his wife Joy Davidman, CS Lewis wrote A Grief Observed. It was a gut-level account of his struggle not to discard his faith out of bitterness. It is as intense a thing as I’ve ever read.

    And of course there is Psalm 88, which has no customary note of triumph at the end, unlike other Psalms.

    Therefore, your candor is a source of frequent encouragement.

  5. Dear Sam,

    Thank you for being transparent about your shortcomings.

    I agree, it is an encouragement to read Jesus’ tender admonishments, as well as His rebukes to His disciples, because he never gives up on them!

    When I was a teenager, I attended a church where they had “testimony time”. This time was for people to share their victories over sin and the devil. Thinking back, I can’t recall a single time when someone confessed their failings. Oh, there were the usual prayer requests, later on, but I can’t think of a single time when one of these folks admitted they fell short. Growing up in that environment turned me away from following Christ, because I honestly couldn’t keep up with them.

    It was only after I was convicted of being very far from God, thirty years later, that I picked up the bible and read these wonderful truths about these simple human forerunners of the faith. I think the holiness folks I grew up with set a standard too high for themselves to reach, but couldn’t admit it. They forgot that we are told to “confess your sins to one another so you can be healed”. I loved that you shared that scripture which affirms God is glorified through our weakness (not our sin), which serves to reveal His strength and gracious mercy.

  6. I especially enjoy hearing the honesty of the men sharing here. I lived with a father that was afraid to be “real,” that is if he was even able to understand what his real feelings were. This transparency has always been important to me and helps me to better understand God’s grace and desire for our dependency on him and how he shines through our weaknesses. Thanks to all of you for your sharing here.