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Bruised Reeds, Second Chances and Finishing Well Part 7: What’s the Win?

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 (NIV)

My family knows that I am not much of a game player because I hate playing games that I can’t win. My children can tell you about a time I quit in the middle of game against them because I was losing. While I have tried to school myself to enjoy the time spent with them, I know the desire to win is just under the surface.

People like to win. It’s not just about the drive to have the most points at the end of the game. It is the nature of all human interaction. And it is hard to program out, in spite of myriad programs which seek to teach collaboration over competition to the next generation. Innately, we humans feel that some things we hold dear are too important to allow the other side to win.

We have just seen this played out in the U.S. political world. While we long for civility and evenhandedness over the naked display of aggression, when the stakes are high enough, no tactic for winning is off the table. That’s because winning is about power and control—who has it and what do we have to do to get it for ourselves.

Why am I talking about this aspect of human nature? I do because this goes right to the heart of our mess. Winning is pride raising its head within us. We must be right. It matters to us to be right. And it is important that those who have it wrong acknowledge our rightness, whether we are speaking about politics, sports’ rules, work ethics, personal behavior or religious belief. The win is that others bow to my rightness—and sadly, I speak from personal experience in this kind of thinking.

So we win and others are left in the dust, punished, shamed, made non-entities, banished. Or we win, but the very thing we valued gets lost in the fight. I think about this in light of bruised reeds. Our failure to define what is true winning has often misshaped our handling of messed up people.

What the Bible reveals as the win is the glory of God. The core of what it means to return under the reign of God is to share in His glory. It is the theory of everything. It explains the creation. It explains the cross. It is the focus of Jesus’ prayer in John 17. His glory is what we boast about—“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God” Romans 5:1-2 (NIV). It is what Paul declares should undergird everything we do, even our eating and drinking.

It is a win when the question of ‘What would reflect God’s glory?’ guides us in how we handle bruised reeds. For example, does exposing a bruised reed to public shaming reflect Gods glory? Do power plays reflect God’s glory? The answers to these questions are not a straightforward yes or no. The answers often are much more nuanced and humbling than that.

But when the question is not even in play, lots of people get hurt for no eternal purpose. We succumb to tactics that may get us the win, make us look like the hero, but leave people who Jesus loves and would have restored with no way back home and maybe, no desire to come home.

I have a clear picture of a bruised reed whom God placed in my circle years ago. He came out of a background where he was admired, but he had a number of broken life habits and beliefs that he needed to be discipled over. I brought him into my circle because I saw in him a person that God would use—was already using—as he was being healed and freed by the Spirit.

But some of the team took exception to his presence. They took exception to him being a partner in our work together; publicly pointed out his neediness; refused to consider him our responsibility and drew some lines in the sand because they could not get beyond their reforming ways of thinking. They missed seeing how far God had already brought him because his brokenness overwhelmed their seeing the glory of God at work. Try as I did to reason with them, the fact that I ‘championed’ him led to the eventual breakup of the circle itself.

He never recovered. Oh, he hung in there with me for a while. But he saw no acceptance or compassion in their words and actions. He became a broken bruised reed. For what purpose?

Certainly, not for the glory of God.

More to come . . .


-Steve Smtih