I live in a small rural town in South Carolina. It’s a place where churches are on every street corner and every household at least claims to be longstanding members of some congregation.
And yet, it is a place where defeatism reigns. Churches teeter on the edge of financial collapse. Most of the aging buildings are filled with a few faithful, aging congregants. Christians in these parts have all but given up. You hear the despair in their voices:
“People just don’t go to church like they used to.”
“We’re just trying to keep the doors of the church open.”
“Our government is taking prayer out of schools, the ten commandments out of our courthouses, and Jesus out of our Christmas displays. They’re taking God out of our country.”
They can feel that Christianity is in decline across the nation. They see it playing out in their own families as the children they raised in church fail to take their grandkids to Sunday service. They see progressive agenda advance in the courts. They see the sexual revolution steamroll across society.
But they see no answers. Conversations about the state of the churches in our little town are conciliatory: “We’re all struggling. We’re all small. It’s just not like it used to be–when everyone from the neighborhood went to work and church together.” There are many gentle head shakings, understanding nods, sad acknowledgements.
When was the last time these Christians felt victorious? Their offerings fall short every week. Their memberships are in decline. They feel like their nation has been hijacked. They see a different morality overtaking the next generation.
Christians in our little town are beaten down with defeatism. Maybe this is your town as well–Christians gathering Sunday after Sunday in small traditional sanctuaries to sing “Victory in Jesus” in the most hollow of tones. When was the last time they felt like victors?
National Days of Prayer, Christmas cantatas, and church revival services still generate some excitement and positive energy in our community. When a movie like God’s Not Dead comes to theaters, they flock to cheer and experience even for a fleeting hour or two the exhilaration of victory. It’s an escape from reality, sure. But at least it presents a more compelling vision for society: where Christians are the victorious heroes in the end.
Into these circumstances comes a man who promises to make America great again. He promises to revitalize Christianity and return America to a better time. He promises to make America win again. And this is the thing that Christians in our town thought was impossible–they want more than anything to feel like winners again.
And against all odds, despite the media, despite attacks from the opposition, despite doubts, somehow this man won.
To many Christians, it feels like genuine victory. It feels like this man will roll back everything that has happened in the past 25 years. It feels like churches will once again be filled. It feels like progressive moral agenda will finally halt and reverse. It feels like the nation will do an about face. It feels like Christians are once again in the driver seat.
And this is what I believe Christians in our little town are hungriest for: they want to feel different. They’ve felt like losers for so long. They want to feel like winners again.
I think deep down, most of the believers in our town know that Donald Trump can’t actually do all of the things they want to happen. He can’t keep the doors of their churches open. He can’t undo the moral depravity of our culture. He can’t convince their children or grandchildren to abandon their drug habits. But at least for a fleeting moment they feel like anything is possible. They feel victorious.
But what happens when that feeling dissipates, as we all know it will? What happens when the president-elect takes office and realizes that there are laws and structures in place that prevent him from waving a magic wand over our nation? What happens when what is going on in Washington D.C. has little to no effect on smalltown, U.S.A.?
The feeling of victory in this election will be short-lived, I’m afraid. Moreover, as Christians what we should truly desire is not the feeling of victory, but actual victory. Perhaps we should consider whether the reason we feel defeated all of the time is because we have define victory wrongly.
Does victory mean having a “pro-Christian” president in the White House? Does victory mean high church attendance numbers? Does victory mean everyone in our nation abides by conservative morals?
Have we considered that these are rather hollow victories? Have we further considered that these objectives are outside of our control? These goals are unachievable for smalltown Christians. Perhaps this is part of the reason they feel constantly defeated. They are playing a game they are powerless to win.
What if we redefined victory?
What if true victory was a vibrant congregation of believers who loved Jesus Christ, His Word, and the fellowship of their brothers and sisters? What if true victory was a small-town church with compassion for its neighborhood? What if true victory had nothing to do with other people’s marriages but your own marriage? What if true victory was measured in how faithful you are teaching, loving, and discipling your own children? What if true victory was opening your home to others? What if true victory had nothing to do with the direction of our nation–but with how faithfully our little churches are preaching the Gospel to ourselves and others? What if true victory was a small group of Christians reaching across the lines of race, class, and background in their town with the love of Christ? What if true victory was gauged by your own growth in passion and pursuit of the glory of God through Jesus Christ?
May we as Christians not settle for “victories” that can never satisfy. Somehow, in the midst of a pagan culture that persecuted Christians and hated the Gospel, Paul was able to write: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). Brothers and sisters, let us not settle for feeling like winners. Let us press on toward true victory:
“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:57-58)