Being an Ottawa Senators fan can be discouraging. The best you can say is that it is an up-and-down experience.
Last night’s game was an example. The Sens started the game full of enthusiasm against the high-flying Tampa Bay Lightning. They outshot the Lightning in the first period and were leading 1-0 when the period ended. The Sens were playing like a team who believed that they could win the game. They looked as though they were in it to win it.
But then, little by little, the Lightning began to exert their superior speed and skill. First they tied the game, then they took a 2-1 lead.
Up until this point the Sens had still been competitive, but once the Lightning began pulling in front, and especially after their third goal, the Sens began to look as if they knew the game was lost. Although there was still enough time to turn things around, they were no longer playing like a team that believed in themselves. They were still exerting an effort, but you could tell they were frustrated and discouraged. Predictably, they lost.
What happened? The Lightning knew that if they didn’t get rattled, but just kept playing their game, they would win. And they did. Of the two teams, it was the Lightning who were in it to win it. The Senators wanted and needed to win, but (from my perspective at least) didn’t really expect to.
If you see it differently, I won’t argue with you, because my point isn’t really about last night’s game. It’s about the nature of hope, and how it functions in our lives to keep us motivated.
The Bible frequently depicts our life in this age as a battle with the forces of darkness. At times (like the Senators) it seems as if we are destined to lose. It seems as if the powers arrayed against us are far greater than our ability to overcome them.
This is how the Israelites felt when they faced the Philistines in the days of King Saul. The Philistines had weapons of iron, and horses and chariots – none of which Israel had. The Philistines also had a great champion, a giant of a man. His name was Goliath. Who could stand against him? The situation was hopeless. Or at least, so it seemed. Yes, God had delivered Israel from Egypt centuries before, and led them into the Promised Land. Yes, he had given them the promise that if they were obedient and faithful He would always be with them to deliver them, and that Israel would be the first of nations through whom all the earth would be blessed. But all that seemed far away now. They knew they hadn’t always been obedient and faithful – far from it – and their enemies had gotten the better of them. The situation was hopeless. They saw themselves as a beaten people.
But in the midst of that time of despair, God raised up a champion in the person of the young boy David, the youngest son of Jesse. Against all odds, David defeated Goliath in what has become a classic metaphor of the underdog stealing victory from the jaws of defeat.
Why was David successful? Because he knew his God, and he expected God to give him the victory.
We, of course, have a far greater champion than David. We have Yeshua (Jesus), Israel’s Messiah and the Redeemer of the whole earth. Like his ancestor David, against all odds He faced death on behalf of his people – and won. But the victory he purchased was not just for that time alone. It was for all people of all places and times.
Yesterday Marion and I, along with hundreds of others, were richly blessed as we shared in the memorial service for Teresa Narraway, a wonderful woman of God who left this life earlier than most. She died of cancer at age 58. But although she succumbed to death at an earlier age than her family would have hoped, she lived like one who expected to win the race of life. In fact she knew she had already won. All she had to do was stay in the battle, and keep her eyes on Jesus. Marion and I weren’t close friends with Bob and Teresa – our paths parted after only a couple of years in the same church family – but as I followed the saga of Teresa’s final few months on Facebook, and then heard story after story at yesterday’s memorial service, I was deeply moved at the testimony of a life well lived.
It wasn’t that Bob and Teresa never made any mistakes. But from the time they met Jesus, His life became their life, and His victory their victory. There were still ups and downs, but they knew the victory was theirs in Christ, and they followed wholeheartedly wherever He led. Throughout their lives they have served Christ through serving others, and they have done so with all their heart.
That is why Teresa’s memorial service was such a celebration. Yes, there were tears, but there were also many hugs, much laughter, singing, dancing and many wonderful stories. Why? Because she lived her life like the winner that she was.
That’s how I want to live my life too. Thanks, Bob and Teresa, for being such a wonderful model to so many. The story is not over. Your legacy – and your reward – will be greater than you know.