The great temptation in ministry, or any sort of earthly work for the glory of God, is to begin believing that we somehow are the ones producing the victories. Even those of us who staunchly declare the glory and sovereignty of God fall into this. It is subtle sometimes, overt other times.
David, however, recognized that even though He had strength in His own arms, God gave the victory:
We have heard with our ears, O God;
our fathers have told us
what you did in their days,
in days long ago.
With your hand you drove out the nations
and planted our fathers;
you crushed the peoples
and made our fathers flourish.
It was not by their sword that they won the land,
nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm,
and the light of your face, for you loved them.
You are my King and my God,
who decrees victories for Jacob.
Through you we push back our enemies;
through your name we trample our foes.
I do not trust in my bow,
my sword does not bring me victory;
but you give us victory over our enemies,
you put our adversaries to shame.
In God we make our boast all day long,
and we will praise your name forever.
Now, the Israelite warriors knew how to handle their swords. They had been trained and tested in warfare for a long time. But “It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory…“. Yes, they used their swords in battle. Yes, they were the ones standing in the midst of things, charging and standing over fallen enemies. But the victory was not theirs.
The temptation for us, when we serve God, is to begin thinking, “My sword, my victory. My bow, my triumph.” when all the while “…it was [God’s] right hand, [God’s] arm, and the light of [God’s] face…” that was victorious. As David says, “I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory…”
The victory does not belong to you and your talents and your gifts and your effort. The victory is not yours, even though you are the one holding the sword and sweating and pushing forward. The victory did not come from your decision or your attempts. The victory is all of God.
And perhaps you recognize this…but ever so subtly, these thoughts creep in under the guise of thankfulness or glorifying God:
- “God, thank you for giving me the strength so that I could accomplish this.”
- “Praise God, He really helped me get this done.”
And thus we make God our helper, our second-in-command, our servant. Yes, the Scriptures call God our “very present help”, and “our helper”. But this is different. This is the sense that “Man, I was allllmost there, and God just gave me that little nudge I needed.” The Scriptural sense of “helper” is: “I was dead in my transgressions, lifeless, nothing. God, my Helper, have given me life, and breath, and everything.”
Here’s a great way to test whether or not you’re giving yourself credit for the victories: study how your heart responds to defeat.
If you have walked obediently, and by the Spirit have sought to carry out the acts prompted by your faith, if you have been faithful to do what you feel God has led you to do: how do you react to defeat? Do you beat yourself up? Do you mope and apologize to God? Do you feel like a failure?
If you answer “yes”, then you are not giving God the victory. If you take credit for the defeat, then you apparently think that the balance of victory or defeat depends on you and your effort. It doesn’t.
God gives victory. The triumph is His.
Be faithful, and allow God to use you for His own purposes and glory, whether that means victory of defeat. The glory is His.