Collateral Grace

“Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces enduring strength, and you must let that enduring strength have its full effect, that you be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4

I have a friend whose son is a professional pitcher, working his way through the many levels of the minor leagues in the hope of making it to The Show, Major League Baseball. He’s had all the ups and downs of a young, aspiring athlete. Success in an early level means a promotion to the next level with better hitters and bigger challenges. He’s apparently working hard and has good prospects of success. We’re all pulling for him.

One day I asked my friend how her son was doing, and in the course of giving me a brief run-down she said “His attitude is ‘you either win or learn.’”

Win or learn. I really like that.

How different we might be if we had a “win or learn” attitude for any pursuit in life. In fact, I believe this is really solid theology and goes to the heart of what James had in mind.

When it comes to life, not just sports, I’m fully committed to winning. I like to win. For example, I like good health. When I have some nagging injury (a loss), I go to my doctor or PT (or call my son who is a PT, very good, and totally free) and try to get well (a win). To date, I’ve had really solid success in winning at health.

I like solid professional success. I enjoyed a long career as a pastor (a win) and enjoy my present career as an interventionist and speaker (another win). Now I haven’t always gotten my way, and there have been those rareexceptions of an ornery church member or two (losses), but I’m in a good place professionally (back to winning).

You get the picture. We all want to win these often significant “competitions” in life. They can be as minor as the air conditioner working all the way up to healthy and happy children and grandchildren, for example.

When we lose, our natural and understandable response is to try to get back to winning. We want to fix things, and, for the most part, we’re pretty good at that. But if we meet a trial only with the desire to fix, then we are going to miss a very important principle: we only learn through the losses.

Now you’re probably mentally trying to come up with all kinds of objections, but never try to live by the objections. There is a certain way the spiritual world works. God takes our trials, our setbacks, our sufferings and teaches us something very powerful that we could learn no other way. If we expect nothing but unbroken success, then we risk becoming spoiled children who just really can’t handle real life.

That’s what James had in mind with the staggering verse that we are to “count it all joy when we meet various trials.” No one wins all the time and winning all the time is not even the point of life. Growth is the point. Growth in faith, in love, in joy, in peace. James had learned through a lifetime of being with Jesus that in every loss God includes enough grace to get us through and a blessing that comes no other way. God makes certain that on the scoreboard of eternity, no one ever needs to lose.

You’re either facing or will face another loss. Try to avoid the tendency to curse pain and sink into self-pity. Instead look for the collateral grace and blessing that God tucks into every loss. The endurance and faith you gain are the real and eternal wins.


Dr. Terry Ellis

July 6, 2019