Tag Archives: Romans

When You’re Beat…

“It isn’t over until the fat lady sings.” Those words are usually uttered by someone who’s behind in a game and is hoping for a comeback. But I want to use it in a little different way.

Back in the days when I was coaching soccer I had an interesting experience. I was coaching my oldest sons’ team. We knew our next game was against a good team, and their best player had played for us the previous year. He was really good and our guys really liked him. So their talk during practice was all about him – they were looking forward to playing him and were taking it as a personal challenge. So I decided that rather than avoid him during the game it would be best for us to go straight at him, to put our best people against him, to put our strength against their strength. If the guys were going to be watching his every move anyway, why not focus on him?

Game day rolled around and we beat them; he never scored. Our team had fun. The fat lady was singing. As soon as the game was over I headed to the other coach for the obligatory hand shake. As we shook he said something to the effect of “I don’t know why you focused so much on him and ran everything against him; you should have kept the play away from him so he wouldn’t have had as much of a chance to do some damage.” I was stunned. My first thought was “Let me get this straight. You just lost, we just won, he didn’t do any damage yet you’re telling me how I should have coached the game. What’s wrong with this picture?” My second (and admittedly probably prideful) thought was “Does the losing coach really have the right to tell the winning coach how to coach?  When you’ve just been beat do you have the credentials to talk about winning strategies? I don’t think so.”

Reflecting on it later I wondered “When you’re beat, do you have the right to tell the fat lady how to sing?” It made me think of Moses. God appeared in that burning bush and told Moses the game with Egypt was over, that God had won – and it would be up to Moses to follow through. Moses must have missed the part about the game being over. He still wanted to change the strategy. Moses should have known that when God speaks, it’s over. You’re done. He will have His way. But he kept trying to get out of leading (see his excuses in Exodus 3 & 4). He just didn’t like the song God was singing. But Moses didn’t have the right to tell God how to sing. Moses hadn’t yet heard “When you’re beat, you don’t have the right to tell the fat lady how to sing.”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not condemning Moses. In fact, I love him. I’ve used every one of his excuses, more than once, during my life. I, too, have tried to negotiate with God, to change the strategy after the game was over and the die had been cast. And I do know that when God speaks, it’s over; I’m done. He will have His way. But I try to tell him how to sing anyway. Yet I don’t have the right to tell God how to sing. For that matter, who does? Isaiah wrote “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He did not make me?’ Can the pot say of the potter ‘He knows nothing?’” (Is. 29:16) Paul picked up that theme as well (Romans 9:20-21) “But who are you, oh man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?”


When God calls, when God commands, when God directs, when God sends us… we’re beat. And “When you’re beat, you don’t have the right to tell the fat lady how to sing.” When life seems unfair or unjust, when we feel like God should treat us differently or change our circumstances to our liking, remember “When you’re beat, you don’t have the right to tell the fat lady how to sing.” As Paul concluded his thoughts he wrote (Romans 9:22-24), “What if God…did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy…?” Do we really want Him to change His plan so we can miss the mercy?  I don’t think so. So “When you’re beat, you don’t have the right to tell the fat lady how to sing.”

The Right Altitude Makes All the Difference

I don’t fly on airplanes all that often, but I’ve flown enough to become familiar with the voice of the Pilot: “It’s going to be a bit choppy on our climb-out today, but we’re expecting it to be somewhat smoother when we reach our assigned altitude at 31,000 feet.” These words, of course, are meant to provide comfort and encouragement.

But not until I read a devotional by Norman Shawchuck (1) did a spiritual parallel come to mind: “When the turbulence is choppy, rise to your assigned altitude.” Norman points out that we were never promised a smooth flight through life but always have the option of moving up to our ‘assigned altitude.’

And what is our assigned altitude? Consider Ezekiel’s experience with the valley of dry bones (37:1-14). Here’s how it ends:

9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ ”

Our higher assigned altitude is life in the Spirit. Paul later wrote (Rom. 8:4-9 NLT):

“5 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. 7 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. 8 That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.
9 But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you.”

Life in the Spirit lifts us to a higher altitude of mind. And this higher assigned altitude is only a few thoughts away.

“4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:4-9)

The next time you hit the turbulence of life remember: “When the turbulence is choppy, rise to  your assigned altitude.”

(1) A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God, Upper Room Books, 2006, p. 172

Those Never-ending Weeds

Every year it’s the same routine. In the spring my wife and I get busy digging up the weeds – roots and all. We even make sure there’s adequate mulch to help choke out future weeds. After many hours and the accompanying aches and pains, we rejoice in looking at mostly weed-free gardens, trees and shrubs. It’s a scene of beauty and a sense of accomplishment.

But the positive emotions are guarded and restrained – because we know what’s coming. We’ll wake up some future morning and see more weeds – seemingly popping up out of nowhere overnight. Then, after grumbling for days – and sometimes weeks – about how quickly weeds appear and grow and how slowly trees, plants and shrubs grow, and about how no matter what we do we can never completely eliminate the weeds, we get back to digging up the weeds.

It’s amazing – no garden or lawn is exempt. Over the years we’ve learned that wherever there is dirt, there will be weeds. And as I was digging up weeds again this past week it hit me – the reoccurring weeds are a parable of my life. Unwanted weeds keep popping up not only in the dirt, but also in my life. The weeds are the unwanted habits, thoughts and tendencies – the sins – that I try so hard to root out of my life only to have them reoccur on their own schedule. This, too, leads me to grumble about why I can’t keep these weeds down and eliminate them completely.

That’s why I’m so grateful for the apostle Paul. Addressing the Roman Church centuries ago, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote about these weeds: “I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.” (Romans 7:18-21 NLT) Every time I read those words I wonder if Paul has read my diary! And none of us is exempt.

It would be easy to give up and be miserable. As Paul laments “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:24) But he continues: “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:26)

I am still frustrated that these sinful weeds keep reoccurring but my guilt is relieved. Jesus has taken care of the power of the weeds. They will always be short-lived. And He supplies me with the only weed killer I need: “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you…And Christ lives within you …the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.” (Romans 8:8-11)

I’ll never look at weeds the same again. Oh, I’ll still grumble and complain about them. But I will also thank God who through Jesus has given me all I need to fight the weeds in my life.