David Jeremiah — Trying Not To Lose
As years go by, we're tempted to slow down or stop, but no matter where we are in life, we should be making the most out of each day. With God's help, this New Year could be your best year ever. This isn't the year of just getting by. Checking the box of "good enough" won't do. It's time to stop living your life trying not to lose and discover a life beyond amazing.
In the world of sports, it's usually obvious when a team is playing with all they've got to win a game or if they're simply trying not to lose. You can see it in the level of passion and commitment and joy that they show. Likewise in life, we all know people who are all in, who approach each day as another exciting chance to serve God and their fellow man, another chance to get that much closer to their goals. So what about you? Are you living your life just trying to avoid trouble or disappointment, or are you in it to win it? I'm David Jeremiah and in this message for the New Year I want to challenge you to stop trying not to lose and start striving to win. You may discover doing that can make all the difference. So please join me as we start the New Year off right together here on "Turning Point".
I grew up in Ohio in a rural area called Cedarville. When I moved there I was in the seventh grade and I was really excited about the game of football. I had started to play some of the early stages of football that you can play in grade school and I was looking forward to moving into junior high and high school but when we moved to Cedarville that dream ended because Cedarville was so small they didn't have a football team. And so I had no other choice than to become a basketball player. And become a player I did. I don't know how good I was but I know that nobody practiced more than I did. You see, I had the keys to the gym because my father was the president of the college there. And I used to play in that gym over and over again, just by myself when nobody was around. And I ended up being able to play 4 years of varsity basketball in high school and I got a scholarship to play basketball in college and played 4 years of college basketball.
But if you are anywhere close to where I am in life you know that basketball back then was different than it is now. First of all, there was no three-point line which really disappoints me as I think about it because that's where I shot from most of the time. And the other thing that was missing back then was the shot clock. If you know the game today, you know that in high school you have to shoot the ball within 35 seconds or it goes over to the other team. We didn't have that. And you will remember what basketball was like before we had the 35-second clock. If you played the game during that era you know that often when you were ahead of a team in the third quarter you would have a time-out and your coach would tell you to slow the game down, and if you were ahead eight to ten points in the fourth quarter we would be told to pull the ball out. That meant go to a four-corner offense and just pass the ball around and don't try to score. It was like "keep away" from the other team. We didn't try to score but since we had the ball the other team couldn't score either.
I hated it when we did that 'cause that meant I couldn't shoot. And truth be told, it wasn't always very successful. When we pulled the ball out and stopped trying to score, we often made mistakes and let the other team back into the game. As I remember it, we lost a lot of the games when we tried not to lose instead of trying to win. The basketball fathers saw it that way as well. They changed the rules to eliminate that strategy. Can't do that anymore. You see, nobody wants to pay good money to watch a team try not to lose. What we do in sports we sometimes do in life. And I wanna go on record this weekend by saying that I don't think God created us to live our lives trying not to lose. He created us to win and to live our lives each day with that as our goal. You see, when we're trying not to lose, we're living out of fear. When we're trying to win, we're living out of faith. And do you know what the Bible says? The Bible says that, "Without faith it is impossible to please God".
This weekend, as we begin the New Year together, I wanna encourage you to live by trying to win and not by trying not to lose. There are many individuals in the Bible whose lives model this principle but my favorite of all is a man by the name of Caleb. There's only 30 verses in the Bible about Caleb but those 30 verses leave us a legacy that is so powerful that it literally will change our lives. Caleb, as you know, is the less celebrated friend of Joshua. And if you know the Old Testament you remember that Caleb and Joshua were among 12 spies that were sent from Kadesh Barnea into the land of Canaan to find out what was going on in there. They were to go in and spy out the land and bring the report back to the people of Israel. When Caleb and Joshua went into the land they saw it through positive eyes and they believed that they were ready to seize their inheritance but, unfortunately, the other scouts, the majority party, the ten, they came back and they counseled the Israelites to fear the giants in that land, to keep away from that land.
You see, they were afraid of losing. They wanted to try not to lose. And the way they thought about it was, "If we don't go into that land, we won't lose. 'Course, we won't win either but at least we won't lose". They came back with a negative report. Here is their report, recorded in the book of Numbers: "And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, 'The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and we were that way in their sight as well'". Well, the people of Israel heard that report and they decided to believe the trying-not-to-lose majority. And the lack of faith cost them an entire generation of restless wandering before they were allowed to go back into the land that God had already promised to them.
I know you're familiar with that part of the story concerning Caleb, just the mention that he and Joshua were the two positive spies. But I wonder if you know the rest of the story. Joshua and Caleb have now lived through that 40-year hiatus and they're ready to settle the land. Joshua is very old. He's finishing up the process of parceling out the land of Canaan to the various tribes of Israel and Caleb, we are told, is 85 years old and he's approaching Joshua to ask for his own inheritance.
Now let me stop for a moment and explain that what was going on here was this. Almighty God was going to divide up the land of Canaan between the 12 tribes of Israel and each of them had a responsibility to settle a portion of land that was assigned to them. Their instructions were very clear. Almighty God wanted them to go in and settle their land and drive the inhabitants who were living there out. We often read that and wonder why would God do such a thing. It's very clear as you study the history of that particular time that the Canaanites were vile, evil, wicked people. If you were to class all the inhabitants of the earth who have lived from creation until now, they would be in the top ten of the worst people ever walked on this earth. They were wicked, cruel, ungodly people, and Almighty God knew that if he left those inhabitants in the land, brought his nation of the Jews into that land, that they would corrupt the nation, that they would be compromised in their walk with God, and so his instruction was in these early stages of the nation of Israel: "You have to drive the inhabitants out".
After 45 years of wandering in the wilderness, the promise of God was still the obsession of Caleb. It was in his heart and he was not going to forget what Moses had said all those years before. He was ready to go into Canaan. He was ready to take his possession. He was ready to settle his land. The bottom line is Caleb was a different sort of person. He obviously was uniquely different from at least ten of the other spies. And the question that you have to ask as you read a story like this is what made him different? Why was he so uniquely poised to take the challenge of the land and the other ten were afraid? Why was he willing to try to win and the other ten only wanted to try not to lose?
And we don't have to wonder about the answer to that question because it is given to us in the story of Caleb. In fact, let me give you an interesting bit of information about this story. As I mentioned, Caleb is in the Bible and his whole life is recorded in 30 verses. That's not many verses. But in those 30 verses, 6 times Almighty God gives us the secret of his life. Now, I don't know if you know much about how the Bible's put together, but let me tell you something. If God says something twice, you sit up and take notice. If he repeats it two or three times, you know this is really, really important. If God says it six times, shut down everything you're doing, get a piece of paper and write it down. You don't wanna forget this.
And God is gonna tell us why Caleb was able to be the winner that he was. He was first of all enthusiastic about life. That's the first reason. Notice verses 10 and 11. This is how Caleb described himself - oh, I love this passage - at 85 years of age: "And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, as He said, these 45 years, ever since the Lord spoke this word to Moses while Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, here I am this day, 85 years old. And yet I am as strong this day as I was on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in".
Now let that settle in for just a moment. This guy's 85 years old and he says he is as strong and filled with vigor as he was when he was 40. It was clear that he had as much passion as he had and the question is, where did it come from? It certainly wasn't the product of an easy life because, if you read through the story, you understand that Caleb's life at the age of 85 could be summarized with 3 Ds: the Desert, Death, and Discouragement. All of his contemporaries were dying. You see, Almighty God said that the whole generation had to die off because they didn't believe God. And God says, "If you don't believe I can give you the land, you will never see it". He sent them into the wilderness and they had to wander around out there for 40 years while all of them died off. But Caleb and Joshua weren't a part of that curse. They were gonna be given the land but they had to wait until the whole generation died.
Caleb grew older and he waited through the decades, checking the obituaries every day, seeing the last of his old friends die off. Now, I don't know if it's true everywhere but it seems to me that in our world today, along with age comes a discouragement about life. And that's certainly understood. There's a lot more challenges, as you know. I read someplace that after you're 45 years of age it takes twice as much exercise to maintain the same amount of fitness. That would discourage the average person, and just say, "Forget it," amen? Who needs that? All of these things come at us but Caleb didn't let them take control of his life. He allowed his life to continue and he was enthusiastic about life. He had a passion for life.
Secondly, I notice as I read this story that Caleb was excited about the future. No one questioned Caleb's pulse. Forty years earlier he had done some incredible reconnaissance work. Where others saw opposition, he saw opportunity. He based his recommendations as he went through the land of Canaan to bring back his report not on the problems that he saw but on the provision of God that he knew was available. In fact, let me just read you his speech. I read you the negative naysayers trying not to lose bunch. Let me read you Caleb's speech. The speech of just one of two who came back with a positive report. It's found in the book of Numbers in the 13th and 14th chapter. Here's what it says. "Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, 'Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.' And they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: 'The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land which flows with milk and honey.'"
How different that was from the speech of the other guys who came back and said, "It's full of giants. We're dead meat. We can't do this". I've always thought it interesting in the story of Kadesh Barnea that the two reports can be explained on the basis of perspective, and the perspective goes like this. The ten who went in and felt defeated after they saw the giants were comparing themselves to the enemy. Remember what they said? "We are like grasshoppers to them". Joshua and Caleb went in. They saw the same enemies but they compared the enemies to God. The ten who came back with the evil report were probably right when they made the statement, "We are not able to overcome them". But the problem was they didn't have God in their picture. Joshua and Caleb came back and said, "Yeah, the enemies are great but we believe God will help us and we can win".
The ten were trying not to lose. Joshua and Caleb were trying to win. And if only the people had listened to the voice of faith instead of to the voice of fear. In taking counsel, they doomed themselves to a generation of emptiness and wandering, and we do the same thing when we listen to the wrong internal voices in our lives. Caleb waited out the time through the punishment that wasn't his to endure because he had not done anything to endure it but he had to suffer along with the rest of the nation. He kept his heart young and his faith active and now, at 85 years old, he told God what he wanted to do. Joshua 14:12, listen to these words: "Now therefore," he said, "give me this mountain," Hebron, "of which the Lord spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the Lord said".
At age 85, Caleb still had a vision for the future. When you begin to lose that vision, you're already starting the process of dying and there are so many people that allow that to happen and all of us have to fight off the urge to let that happen as we get older. If you've already started that process, it's a little bit like a bit of poetry I read not long ago. It goes like this: "Since I have retired from life's competition, each day is filled with complete repetition. I get up every morning and dust off my wits, go pick up the paper and read the obits. If my name isn't there, I know I'm not dead so I get a good breakfast and go back to bed". That's the way some people end up their lives. Not so, Caleb. I'm grateful for Caleb. He spent his life trying to win and not trying not to lose. And because of that, he accomplished the greatest thing in his whole life when he was 85 years of age.
And then thirdly, Caleb was a man who was energized by his assignment. When you go through the record of what happened in the settling of the land, it's interesting to note that none of the tribes who were assigned the land did what they were supposed to do. After the glorious crossing of the Jordan River, the Israelites left unfinished business in their wake. They were obviously trying not to lose. If they had done what they were told to do and tried to win, they would have driven out the various tribes who were the enemies of God and their future would have been peaceful and secure in the land. Instead, the Canaanites remained a thorn in Israel's collective side for all the years to come. Then there was Caleb. Oh, he refused to let the losing mentality of his younger and stronger brothers affect him. He was a winner clear through the heart, even though he was the oldest of the tribe.
Here's what Joshua tells us about Caleb in chapter 15 and verse 14: "Caleb drove out the three sons of Anak from there: Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai, the children of Anak". No unfinished business with Caleb. He took the hardest assignment, the scariest place to settle, and he went in and he didn't settle for anything but absolute victory. He was a different sort of guy. And you can't help but ask yourself as you read this story, at least I do, what made him that way? Why was Caleb so different? Do you ever do that when you see people that succeed, and everybody does this. You read a book about somebody who succeeds, not necessarily to read about their success but to see if you can figure out why they succeeded. Maybe they will show you something that you can do that they're doing and you can learn? We learn from successful people, from people who do what they do well. I'll be frank. I read everything I can about preachers who are good preachers so I can learn how to be a better one.
And we wanna learn about Caleb. Why was he so successful? And I wanna tell you, we don't have to be in doubt. Here's an amazing statistic. Thirty verses about Caleb's life and in those thirty verses are six expressions as to why he was successful. Now, again, we're back to this repetition thing. If God wants us to know something, he'll say it once. If he really wants us to say it and understand it, he'll say it twice. If he says it six times, you better take note. So I'm gonna give you his secret. "But My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him," we all know that. His spirit was different, he was different from all these other dudes. He wasn't gonna take settling for not losing. He wanted to win. He was gonna do everything. He had a different spirit in him.
Now we're told what that spirit was: "And he followed Me fully". That's what the Lord said. In the 32nd chapter of Numbers, we read it again: "And Joshua the son of Nun," and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, "wholly followed the Lord". We read it again in Deuteronomy chapter 1: "The Lord was angry, and took an oath, saying, 'Surely not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land of which I swore to give your fathers, except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him and his children I am giving the land on which he walked, because he wholly followed the Lord.'" Joshua 14, verses 8 and 9. Here's Caleb saying, "Nevertheless my brethren who went up with me made the heart of the people melt, but I wholly followed the Lord my God. So Moses swore on that day, saying, 'Surely the land where your foot has trodden shall be your inheritance and your children's forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God.'" And Joshua 14:14: "Hebron therefore became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholly followed the Lord God of Israel".
Now what do you think about all that? What was his secret? Man, if you don't get that, I'm quitting. He wholly followed the Lord his God. Not halfheartedly, not almost, not trying not to lose. He left nothing on the table, but he said, "Lord God, whatever you want me to do, I'll do it. I'm in, all in, 100% in. I'm gonna do this with everything I have. Wholly follow the Lord my God". Have you ever thought what might happen in your life if you were able to say, "To the best of my ability, I wholly followed the Lord my God"?
When you put your faith in God, God will bless you. And without faith, it's impossible to please God. What are you doing that's easy for you to do? What are you doing that's in the comfort zone? I wrote down in my notes this week and please forgive me for mixing the metaphors again, but God doesn't want us to live in the comfort zone. He wants us to be in the end zone. You know, that's a very important principle.
So as we begin this New Year together, let's hold each other accountable to live by faith and not to lose by fear. God has a wonderful thing he wants to do in your life and in mine and in the life of this church. And the only thing that will keep him from doing it is our unbelief. God had a great plan for the people of Israel. It was already there. He had already promised it to them. That would have, of course, included victory over their enemies. It was there for them to take but because of their unbelief, they never got it for 4 decades. I don't know about the rest of you, I want everything God has for me. I don't want it after it's too late to enjoy it or too late to know it. I wanna accept his Word at face value and, most of all, like Caleb: wholly follow the Lord my God, amen?
The Israelites had the land God promised to them. It was theirs just for the taking if they would only trust him. In the same way, the coming year is stretched out before you. At the end of this year, you will either look back with regret or you will look back with joy and satisfaction that you did all you could to win.