THE LANGUAGE OF DEFEAT
T. PIERCE BROWN
There is a very close relationship between the way a person thinks, talks and acts. If one can change either of them, he can influence the other two. The difference in defeat and victory may depend on our thinking, talking or acting.
I want to consider some examples in the Bible and in our lives where the language used was a primary factor in the defeated lives that we find. In Exodus14:12we find a group of fearful, faithless Israelites who saw the Egyptians marching after them. They said, “Is not this the word that we did tell thee inEgypt, saying, `Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?’ For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.”
There are two things in this statement of defeat that are especially significant in terms of our present lesson. First, “We told you so.” Before they leftEgypt, they had their minds made up that they would fail, and nothing had happened that had changed it. Psychologists sometimes call this, “Self fulfilling prophecy.” When a person looks at some program that has been designed for the advancement of the cause of Christ and the progress of the gospel and says, “It will not work,” many times his sub conscious mind gets in tune with his words to see that it does not work. Then when some aspect of it fails because of his opposition or indifference, he says, “I told you so.”
It may be that a more significant aspect of the language of defeat is hidden in the last part of the verse. “It had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.” Almost invariably, the language of defeat is a result of reacting to false assumptions. It usually works like this: 1. A person sees some facts. 2. He assumes the facts he sees are all the facts that are relevant. 3. He assumes some things about the facts he sees. 4. He reacts to his assumptions about the facts as if they were the facts.
Note the facts. They had been in bondage, being killed or mistreated by the Egyptians. They cried unto God, who attended to their cry and performed miracles that led them to be released. They fled, but Pharaoh changed his mind and followed them. They came to a sea in front with an army behind. Note their assumptions. “God may be powerful enough to do signs and wonders, but not powerful or loving enough to save us now. There is no way out of this problem. We will die.” What a group of blind, stupid, unfaithful assumptions! Yet we see the same kind operating in and out of the church today.
Usually, when I have heard preachers talk about this, they have emphasized the point that they were failing because they lacked faith. That is true, but the principle about which we are writing is more fundamental and has a broader application as it relates to God, others, inanimate objects, etc. That is, we should realize that 1. We cannot know all the facts about anything. 2. We may be misapplying the facts we do know. 3. We may be reacting to our assumptions about the facts as if they were the facts.
Most of us who have done any personal evangelism have had persons respond, “I could not live the Christian life if I started.” They know some facts. They know it is easy to sin. It is hard to do right. They have often failed. They have left out some of the most significant facts concerning Christ, the power of the gospel and His promises to strengthen, aid and forgive. They have acted and spoken as if they had all the facts. Then they have made assumptions and acted upon them as if they were facts. As a result, they are defeated even before they begin.
Persons who have been convicted of grievous sin have said, “I have too many strikes against me.” Whether they were thinking in terms of having been so bad that they could not be forgiven, or whether they thought they had been so bad they could not overcome the sinful habits makes no difference. One man who had killed another, lived in sorrow for more than 40 years in the assumption that he had committed a sin which could not be forgiven. When I eventually discovered that, I impressed upon him that those who killed the Savior were forgiven when they accepted His terms of pardon as revealed in Acts 2:38, they were saved. He was baptized. His friends said they saw him smile for the first time in 40 years.
You may have two strikes against you, but you are not out until you leave the field. But the principle behind the language of defeat is what I am trying to emphasize today. It almost invariably has this format: 1. Assuming something. 2. Speaking and acting on those assumptions as if they were facts.
Even before the Israelites said, in effect, “We told you so” in Exodus 14, Moses had done the same kind of thing in Exodus 4:1. When God had told Moses to lead them out of Egyptian bondage, Moses replied, “Behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice; for they will say, `The Lord hath not appeared unto thee.'” The only preachers I have heard preach about that have said, “Moses had a lack of confidence in others and in God.” That may be true, and certainly his knowledge of his brethren would cause a lack of confidence in them. But the principle that caused that lack of confidence and caused him to speak and act as if he were defeated before he began is deeper than that. Moses sees some facts. He makes some assumptions about some facts. He speaks and acts as if those assumptions were the facts.
From the character and previous actions of the Israelites, did Moses have the right to assume that they would probably be a faithless and perverse generation? He did. Also, he had a perfectly good sentence, from a structural standpoint. It had a subject, predicate and could be diagrammed, analyzed, etc. But if all the analysis leaves out one significant fact, he had a problem. He was making a statement of an assumption as if it were a fact. Do you notice the difference in what his response probably would have been if he had said, “Suppose they do not believe me? What shall I do then, Lord?” Do you not see that instead of having a defeatist attitude, he is counting the cost, considering the possibilities and preparing to overcome the difficulties with the help of God.
Look at another statement of Moses that is the language of defeat, but in a slightly different category. The Lord answered his first excuse, so he had another, for he was accustomed to the psychology that leads to the language of defeat. He said, “I am not eloquent, neither heretofore nor since thou hast spoken to thy servant” (Exodus4:10).
This is a statement of fact, but it especially dangerous because it had some hidden assumptions behind it. Note some of them: 1. The assumption that eloquence is a necessary prerequisite of a leader. 2. People will not follow unless persuaded by eloquence. 3. One must be eloquent in order to do God’s work. 4. God who made my tongue cannot make it as eloquent as it needs to be.
When we call this a lack of faith, we are correct. If we can see the principles behind the situation that caused the lack of faith, we have a deeper appreciation of how to respond to the circumstances of life that may defeat us.
We see it continually appearing in their history. In Numbers 13, when they send the twelve spies intoCanaan, ten of them come back with the statement, “They are giants. They are stronger than we are. In our own sight we are as grasshoppers. And so are we in theirs.” Again it is very dangerous, for the facts are mixed up with assumptions and all reacted to in the same fashion. We could say, “It was a lack of confidence in self and God” but there is a greater lesson that is almost invariably true in the language of defeat. Note some of the assumptions, reacted to as if they were facts. 1. Giants without God are stronger than we are with Him. 2. God who defeated Pharaoh at theRed Seacan be defeated by giants. 3. We are as grasshoppers in their sight. All were false, but two were subconscious. Yet because of those kinds of things, they failed to enter the Promised Land.
We can find encouragement in the fact that even the great prophets like Elijah used the language of defeat, but God was patient and enabled him to overcome. Jesus gives parables that indicate the same kind of failure and consequences. In Mt. 25, the man with one talent used the language of defeat and was lost. In Acts 24 Felix used the language of defeat. We usually just say, he procrastinated, but note the same features we have mentioned several times. 1. He assumed he would have another opportunity. 2. He assumed it would be more convenient. 3. He assumed he would want to obey then, even though he did not now. In all cases, the language of defeat is the language that makes assumption, whether overt or hidden, then reacts to them if they were facts.
Let us examine our thoughts, our language, and our actions and see if we are living defeated lives because we think thoughts of defeat, spread the virus to others with the language of defeat, and climax it with lives that are defeated. This has stopped many evangelistic efforts. When the elders hear a plea for money for a worthwhile project, and reply, “Our budget is full” they use the language of defeat. That may be a fact, but what does that have to do with God’s will and His power to help us accomplish it? If you are accustomed to think the thoughts of defeat and use the language of defeat you will doubtless be defeated.