Good Winners & Good Losers

When we think of winners and losers we usually think of sport. And we all know what a bad loser looks like; a tennis player throwing his racket, a footballer kicking the corner flag, and their tantrum accompanied by a barrage of abusive language aimed at either the opposition or the poor referee. Bad winners are no better. They mock those who lost to provoke them and make them feel even worse after the beating. But it doesn’t just happen in sport, it happens wherever there is competition; be it at work, at home or somewhere social.
In Kenya last week we voted for a new president and the results have been challenged so we are now awaiting the decision of the courts, but as the battle has intensified supporters emotions have risen and the temptation to be a bad winner or loser has been strong. But God’s people are not to succumb to this temptation; we are to be salt and light in the middle of the tension. Today we are going to look at four characters in the Bible: a bad loser, a good loser, a bad winner, and a good winner.
Cain was a bad loser (Gen 4.2-11). He and his brother Abel made offerings to God, but God rejected Cain’s and accepted Abel’s. Cain was angry, his face was downcast – a storm was brewing inside him. He was offended and jealous; feeling like a loser while his brother was a winner. But God encourages him saying that he will be accepted if he just does the right thing. Obviously God had told both Cain and Abel what that was. But does Cain do what God says? No, he kills Abel instead! Why? Because he failed to deal with the offense in his heart; he allowed it to fester. This is always a problem; a festering heart is like a bomb waiting to explode, all it needs is a trigger. Kenyan’s remember how violence erupted around the country during the 2007 elections. Bitterness was festering in people’s hearts and suddenly it was triggered. It is up to each one of us to make sure there is nothing in our hearts that can go bang!
John the Baptist was a good loser (Jn 3.25-30). He had baptized thousands and was a national figure. His disciples were excited about the progress they were making, but suddenly they discovered that Jesus and his disciples were getting more followers than them, in fact some of John’s men had changed camps and joined Jesus. John’s disciples felt they were losing, and they complained to their leader. Of course John knew that Jesus was the Messiah and that he was to become greater, but it’s one thing to know this and quite another to watch your ministry dwindle as another ministry benefits from it. Imagine if a church started next door to yours and all your members started going there; what would you feel? You would be worried even if you knew God was in both places. If ever there was a time for John to get offended this was it, and if there was any bad stuff in his heart it would have erupted. But John was clean, and he told his disciples, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven…He (Jesus) must become greater; I must become less.” Ouch, what humility! We can all learn from John; he was a good loser.
The Unmerciful Servant was a bad winner (Mt 18.23-30). This servant was in terrible debt; in fact he was told that he and his family were to be sold as slaves along with all their possessions to pay for it. So he did the only thing he could; he started pleading for more time. Then suddenly everything changed. The man he owed was filled with so much compassion that he cancelled the entire debt! That’s like winning the lottery! You can imagine the servant skipping home to tell the good news, but on his way he meets someone who owes him a small amount and instead of being compassionate he has him thrown in prison. That’s sick, it’s so selfish. But it is the way a bad winner behaves. Bad winners live for themselves and are insensitive to those who are losing; they gloat over the loser’s misfortune. As I write we are not yet certain who won the Kenyan election but the country has been told to be cautious in its celebration so that those who lose are not provoked. This is good advice. We must win and lose gracefully.
Zaccheus was a good winner (Lk 19.1-9). But he started out as a loser. His community hated him because he collected tax for the Roman government, and like most tax collectors back then he usually took more than he should and pocketed the excess. So Zaccheus was seen as both a traitor and a conman. He was an outcast in his own community. But Jesus told Zaccheus in front of everyone that he wanted to eat at his house that night. Suddenly Zaccheus was a winner. People could not believe it. He was getting what they all wanted! This was God’s grace to a rejected man, just like the cancelled debt was God’s grace to the Unmerciful Servant. But look how differently Zaccheus responds. He is so moved by Jesus’ actions that he vows give half of what he owns to the poor and to pay back anyone he has cheated four times what he owed them. God gave Zaccheus favour and Zaccheus extended that favour to all who hated him.
This reminds me of Nelson Mandela. He went from being a prisoner to being a president in a very short time. He won and this worried those who had rejected and imprisoned him; namely the white people of South Africa (I generalize). But did Mandela use his new position and power against them? No, in fact he offered them positions in his government. And he went even further. Many people will remember pictures of Mandela wearing a Springbok rugby jersey at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, but not many people will know the significance of that. In South Africa rugby was considered a white man’s sport – white schools played rugby and black schools played soccer – so black South African’s considered the Springbok jersey as a symbol of the whites. Yet Mandela wore the jersey to show everyone that he accepted the whites and wanted all races in the country to unite. Mandela won, but he did not keep what he won for himself or his people; he passed it on to all South Africans and the benefits for the country have been huge. Good winners have clean hearts, they do not take revenge; they are thankful to God for their good fortune and share the blessings.
So whether we are winners or losers, we are good or bad ones based on what is in our hearts. So how is your heart? Is there stuff brewing there that needs to be dealt with before it explodes? If so the following points may assist you.
How we heal the heart:
1) Recognize there’s a problem: If you keep reacting badly in certain situations or when people say certain things, know that there is stuff in your heart that needs to be dealt with.
2) Ask how the stuff got there: It could be from a hurtful experience or be the programming of parents or peers (e.g. being told a certain tribe is bad). Knowing the source can be helpful in healing.
3) Confess it to God: Pray to God admitting the problem exists, repenting of it and asking for his forgiveness. This is the beginning of taking responsibility for it.
4) Get healing or deliverance: It may be necessary to get prayer for healing or deliverance from an experienced Christian minister if the problem is really bad.
5) Act opposite: Start to act the opposite to what you used to under the same conditions. So if you always spoke badly about a certain person when their name was mentioned, start to think of good things to say about them. This can be the hardest part of the process, but stick with it because it’s usually the thing that heals you the most. Remember that your words steer your thoughts and your heart is full of your thoughts. You decide what your heart is full of!
This is the bottom line: God’s people must be good winners and good losers. Let’s take it to heart!

Other Illustrations used: “You call yourself an umpire!” | Thieves and mob justice – exploding hearts

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