“You can’t win them all.”

How often have you heard these words? Words used by parents, by coaches, by friends, all trying to console, encourage, reassure. Yet, as well-intended as these words may be, the message they convey is, if not sadly mistaken, definitely off target.

I realize that for those for whom winning is defined strictly in terms of championship banners, trophies and having more points than the opposing team at the end of the game. I guess these words do contain some degree of truth. But for those whose definition of winning is wider in scope, the privilege of cutting down the net at the end of the game is only secondary.

Now, if you have the impression that I’m referring to athletics and specifically basketball, you are right — up to a point.

Our definitions of winning, however, affect far more than our understanding of what takes place on a basketball court or baseball field. They affect the way we look at life itself and the ultimate purpose of competition in any arena. For me, that purpose is the development of our God-given talents to the highest possible level and in so doing the building of Christian character.

The apostle Paul probably experienced as many defeats as any of the early followers of Christ. Beaten, imprisoned, deprived of food, how easy it would have been for him to “throw in the towel” and “drop out of the race.” But fortunately for Paul — and us — his definition of winning went far beyond the perceptions of fans and officials.

So what was this great man’s understanding of a winning season? Listen to his answer: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous (ref), shall give me at that day.”

For Paul, box scores and win-loss records were only of shadowy importance when compared to faithful completion of the race. So we congratulate Paul, as we congratulate athletes who, through their understanding of what the game is all about, are true winners and recipients of the most valued trophy of all — the knowledge that they have done their best.

Steve McVay is pastor at Saratoga United Methodist Church in Eddyville. His opinions are his own and not necessarily those of this newspaper.

Steve McVay is pastor at Saratoga United Methodist Church in Eddyville. His opinions are his own and not necessarily those of this newspaper.