I enjoy watching a variety of sports both live and on TV. Today, most Americans have access to 24/7 sports programing through cable channels such as ESPN. However, I remember a time that if you wanted to watch sports on television, you were limited to tuning into one specific program. This program aired on Saturday afternoon or early evening.
Everyone following sports at that time recognized the voice of Jim McKay who introduced the show with a video like this.
Jim McKay’s statement, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, became a household phrase that people still use today. If you watch any of the old clips introducing ABC’s Wide World of Sports, you will notice one thing. The scenes depicting the thrill of victory continually changed from show to show. However, for the longest time, the depiction of the agony of defeat was always the same. Each week we watched the same ski jumper fly down the steep ramp only to fall and bounce like a rag doll off the end of the ski jump.
I am writing this article following the first weekend of what is now known as March Madness. When one of the game’s results are pretty certain, the cameras always show the exhilaration of the players and spectators being demonstrated by the winning team. However, they also pan the arena and bench of the losing side. They are trying to capture the agony of defeat.
There is something about the thrill of victory that everyone wants to experience. But there is also a fascination of witnessing the agony of defeat. I believe this is the case because everyone may not experience the thrill of victory but everyone can relate to the agony that comes into one’s life when he/she faces defeat.
Agony is most often defined as suffering from intense pain of mind or body or a sudden or intense emotion. Each and every one of us has, at some time or another, experienced something that has brought agony into our lives. For the Christian there is also an agony of the soul and spirit. This type of agony can be accompanied by physical and mental pain but when one experiences agony of the soul and spirit, it is a much deeper struggle and/or pain.
Even though the agony of defeat is real and is tough to swallow at times, there is a greater agony that we all will experience at some time in our lives. This is especially true for those who are engaged in kingdom ministry. I call this the agony of DELAY.
People of faith throughout the Scriptures commonly experienced the agony of delay. Abraham and Sarah understood the agony of delay when they struggled with God’s promise that Abraham would have a son. Job sat in ashes and cried out to God as he tried to deal with the agony that comes from delay. Mary and Martha grieved from the agony of delay when Jesus did not come to heal their brother when they wanted him to.
Since we all experience the agony and anguish of the soul and spirit when we have to face delay in the timing of how we believe things should go, we need to understand some things about delay. When I read the Psalms, I often see the Psalmist crying out to God and asking Him how long it will be before God sends relief and answers to his prayers and suffering.
When we experience delay in getting answers to major things we face in life, we often start to blame others for our agony and anguish. However, there are reasons why we my face the agony of delay we may be experiencing in our lives. Sometimes it is because of spiritual warfare. Daniel saw a vision that brought mourning to his life. He fasted and cried out to God in agony for three weeks (Daniel 10:1-3).
After this time of suffering from the agony of delay, a man came to Daniel to give him the answer to his prayers. This person explained the delay by saying,
Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia. Daniel 10:12-13 NASB
The delay that brought great agony to Daniel’s life was not something God intended. It was the result of Satan trying to weaken Daniel’s faith. He did this by engaging in a spiritual battle with God’s messenger that resulted in a delay. When we encounter the agony of delay, we need to understand that the delay may be due to a spiritual battle taking place and not because God is delinquent or busy.
We also must understand the agony of delay may serve another purpose. Sometimes God intentionally delays in answering our prayers. If you recall that Mary and Martha sent for Jesus when their brother was sick. We would expect that Jesus would have immediately gone to heal Lazarus because of his love for this dedicated family. However, this was not the case. Jesus deliberately decided to stay where He was.
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the where He was. John 11:5-6 NASB
We would naturally ask why would Jesus do this since the Bible says He loved them dearly? Jesus gives us insight into the reason for His delay.
But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it. John 11:4 NASB
Christ delayed going to answer Mary and Martha’s request not to bring agony into their lives but to bring glory to God by His ultimate response to their agony. Delay may be occurring because God wants to do something that brings Him greater glory than providing immediate answers or relief.
The danger of experiencing agony of delay is that it can cause us to start doubting who God is. We start thinking that God can’t handle our situation or circumstances. Then we begin to try and figure things out on our own. Instead of waiting on God, we get ahead of Him and try to solve our problems ourselves. If you think this is not dangerous, you need to talk to Abraham and Sarah!
Chuck Swindoll writes about the reality of the agony of delay in his book, Wisdom for the Way.
I’ve had times when I’ve found myself wondering about the things I’ve believed and preached for years. What happened? Had God died? No. My vision just got a little blurry. My circumstances caused my thinking to get a little foggy. I looked up, and I couldn’t see Him as clearly. That’s what happened to John Bunyan back in the seventeenth century in England. He preached against the godlessness of his day, and the authorities shoved him into prison . . . But because Bunyan firmly believed God was still alive and working, he turned that prison into a place of praise, service, and creativity as he began to write Pilgrim’s Progress, the most famous allegory in the history of the English language. When we hit a tough spot, our tendency is to feel abandoned . . . In fact, just the opposite is true, for at that moment, we are more than ever the object of God’s concern.
The agony of delay may be the result of a wide variety of things one faces in life. It may be a health or financial issue. It may involve a vocational change or disruption. Sometimes it has to do with family matters or other relationships. Regardless of the specific situation one is facing, all agony of delay comes from not knowing the future and wanting God to show it to you – NOW! So how do we cope with the agony of delay?
First, we need to spend time alone with the Lord. It is okay to cry out to Him and let Him know the agony you are going through. The Psalmist did this regularly. It is helpful to read some of these Psalms where the writer is experiencing the agony of delay. Also, read about times when both Old and New Testament believers faced delay and how they dealt with it and how God brought comfort to them.
Second, we need to remind ourselves of who God really is. When we struggle with delays in our lives, we can very easily fall into developing a false image of God. Read Scriptures that describe the awesomeness of the Most High God. It might be helpful to read about God’s attributes as described by authors such as Tozer, Pink, Edwards or Piper.
Finally, we must trust God and learn to be content in whatever situation we might find ourselves. This is not easy but if we spend time alone with God sharing our heartache and growing in our knowledge of God, it will be easier to trust in the all-knowing, all-present, and all-powerful One who created and sustains the entire universe. I find it comforting to read the Psalms where the writer is crying out to God for relief, comfort, answers, etc. The end of most of these Psalms shows the writer trusting and praising God for His everlasting goodness and loving kindness.
The agony of defeat is tough but the agony of delay can be devastating. God is the only source of healing and comfort that will take away the agony and replace it with joy!