This post originally appeared in Daily Grace: The Mockingbird Devotional, Vol. 2. Get your copy today!
I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world. (Jn 16:33)
I am a sucker for demotivational posters — you know the ones with the photos that ooze inspiration with unconventional messages that are less than inspirational attached to them. There’s one that depicts an Olympic hurdler in motion, sprinting and overcoming the obstacles on his way to gold, presumably. The tagline reads, “Obstacles: No matter how many you overcome, there’s still an infinite number waiting.” The sincerity isn’t betrayed by the sarcasm. There are obstacles in realms beyond athletic competition that we all face — obstacles in dating, marriage, and parenting, not to mention occupational obstacles — that call out for us to overcome them. Yet even as these hurdles are conquered, new obstacles arise.
There’s a sense in which these demotivational posters effect a reverse psychology in their readers. Nothing is quite as motivating as being told you cannot do something, especially in a society whose liturgy beats to the drum of self-actualization and self-achievement.
But such is why Jesus’s words in St. John’s Gospel are so affecting. They run opposite the messages of “overcoming” found on modern airwaves or contemporary bookshelves. Jesus’s subversive though nonetheless stimulating message of peace and courage comes through antithetical means — primarily, the relinquishment of one’s ability to overcome. Instead of giving us swords and spears with which to take down the bastions of Satan’s domain, the primary posture of those “in the Lord’s army” is one of prostrate, desperate faith.
We “overcome” simply by resting in his overcoming, already effected and accomplished for us.
Jesus’s words to us are not a summons to triumph over the obstacles by the centrifugal force of pulling on our own bootstraps. Rather, his good news invites us to submit to and rejoice in his already-accomplished victory on our behalf.
We are not the fighters. We are not the overcomers. He is.
Jesus, in very word and deed, is the true and better Overcomer. He identified himself as the One who overcomes all. All darkness, death, and sin quakes as the Savior subdues all in order to accomplish his purposes in us and for us. (Jn 1:4–5) And this is no “might be,” “I hope so,” “maybe” possibility. It is true right now, even in your season of darkness that Christ has overcome the world, overcome everything that is opposed to the light — to beauty, truth, and grace.