The crops hadn’t been too good that year, and the offerings were down. The small, country Baptist church struggled to keep its doors open and pay the bills. For a long time, the church had wanted to install indoor plumbing. The old outhouse was getting rickety, and the people who came to visit were put out that the church hadn’t moved with the times.
As the leader of the congregation, the pastor struggled with how he could best help the church. One Sunday night, he called a special deacons’ meeting and laid out a plan. To raise the money for the indoor plumbing, he had decided to raffle off his mule.
The deacons protested. They knew the pastor didn’t have much in the way of worldly possessions, and he was so poor that his television had only two channels: on and off. Besides that, they knew how much their pastor loved that mule. He rode him as he made house calls to share the Gospel and visit the sick. He used him to plow the ground so he could plant his crops. When the weather was good, he even rode that mule to church.
The deacons continued protesting until the pastor stopped them by saying, “I feel led to make a sacrifice, and if raffling off my mule will help the church move forward, then that is what I am going to do.” So the deacons relented and thanked the pastor for his example.
The church began selling the raffle tickets, and when the community heard of the pastor’s sacrifice, they all went to their money jars and pulled out a little extra to buy one. The next Sunday, the pastor and deacons met again, and he reported how well the tickets were selling. Even the Methodists from the next county over were coming to buy them. If sales continued as they had been, by the next week, the church would have the amount they needed to put in the new plumbing.
The next Sunday came around, and the deacons were excited to find out if enough money had been raised. At that night’s meeting, the pastor stood before them and said, “I have some good news and some bad news. Praise the Lord, the good news is that we have raised enough money to install the plumbing inside the church.”
Claps, “Amen”s and “Praise the Lord”s resounded throughout the room.
But then everyone grew quiet. “Pastor, what is the bad news?”
“My mule died last night.”
The deacons sat in silence as the announcement soaked in. The eldest deacon, realizing they might have a problem, spoke up. “Pastor, when word gets out that your mule has passed away, won’t everyone be disappointed?”
“Not everyone,” the pastor said. “Only the winner.”
Disappointed winner? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Who ever heard of a winner being disappointed? But the world is full of disappointed winners. Even in the body of Christ, even among those of us who are called into full-time ministry.
I speak from experience. Years ago, I realized that I had a wonderful wife, two incredible sons and a church family who loved me, but that wasn’t enough. I was a disappointed winner. I focused not on what I had but on what I didn’t have, a recipe for becoming Exhibit A in the Disappointed Winner Museum. I wanted a bigger church, a larger budget, more recognition, a bigger house, a better car and more. No one could do enough to make me happy. I don’t have time in this column to tell you the whole story, but in a matter of 18 months, God stripped everything away from me.
I lay on the green shag carpet in my office, crying out to God. “I have lost everything! All I have left is Jesus!”
“What am I?” He asked.
I like it when God tells me things; I hate it when He asks me a question. I hate it even more when He expects me to answer Him.
“You are the Lord, the King of kings, the Alpha and Omega,” I confessed, still sobbing. “You are everything.”
“So if I am everything and you have nothing except Me, what do you have?”
I had finally figured it out: Jesus plus nothing equals everything.
I didn’t always get the best grades in school, but here was some math even I understood: J + 0 = E. All I had was Jesus, so I had everything. Before too many months went by, God gave me back what I had lost and more. But it could be gone tomorrow, and I would still have everything, because I still have Him.
If you stay close to Jesus, you’ll never be a disappointed winner. But don’t forget to keep a close watch on your pastor’s mule.