Thomas Sleete writes Success in Second Place for Salt and Iron: Seasoned Writing

How to Win after Finishing Second

I never could stand losing. Second place didn’t interest me.

Ty Cobb

The early bird catches the worm. But the second mouse gets the cheese.

Steven Wright

Deep down, there probably isn’t anyone who really wants to place second in anything. All of us have the desire to win or be the best at what we endeavor whether it be an athletic contest, an election, some form of competition, or the effort to garner the affection of that person with whom we are enthralled. Who would want to be known as someone’s “second best friend,” or “next to best man/maid of honor?” I couldn’t be more blessed or thankful that I wasn’t my wife’s second choice out of the other men who had proposed to her.

It’s just human nature that we want to succeed. My father used to tell me that if I was going to place second in anything, I was to make sure that I made the winner break a record. Of course, I was raised in the era when there were no participation trophies, or awards for finishing less than first. However, my father stressed that my job wasn’t necessarily to win, but to do my very best.

The Story of Barsabbas

The most important thing is how we deal with not winning. History is replete with examples of individuals who originally placed below first and then used this experience to become better, stronger, or more accomplished and qualified to achieve their goal. Abraham Lincoln lost his bid for the US Senate seat from Illinois in 1858, but two years later he was elected President of the United States. Jennifer Hudson lost on the TV show American Idol, but she eventually won an Oscar for her performance in the movie Dreamgirls. The Vikings were the first Europeans to come to North America, but it is Christopher Columbus, who sailed almost 500 years later, who gets the credit.

This brings me to the story of Barsabbas, also known as Justus. If that name doesn’t ring any bells, it’s probably because he finished second in one of the most important selection processes in the history of mankind. In Acts 1: 20-26, the story is told of the selection of the disciple who would replace the betrayer of Jesus, Judas Iscariot. The two candidates were Matthias and Barsabbas. Lots were drawn and Matthias was selected. He went on to preach the gospel in Judaea and also in what is today known as Armenia. He eventually suffered a martyr’s death by crucifixion.

One has to wonder not only what became of the rejected Barsabbas, but also why he wasn’t the chosen one. We know that God doesn’t judge by appearance, but by what is in one’s heart. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that Barsabbas did some serious soul-searching, trying to understand why he was not chosen, and how he should deal with that.

Was he angry? Jealous? Ashamed? Depressed? He was most likely disheartened or perhaps just disappointed. We’ll never know for certain how he reacted to his rejection, but he was a dedicated follower of Christ, almost from the beginning, and had witnessed not only the crucifixion but also the resurrected Christ. One can assume the experience challenged him to do his best to witness for Christ through whatever situations the Lord put him in.

2 Corinthians 13:5 puts it this way, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?”

Do It His Way

When we are met with rejection or disappointment, we should ask ourselves, what would Barsabbas do? We must use rejection to grow, to improve, to listen more closely to Christ through not only His Word, but also through the Holy Spirit within us. Should we question why we lost? Most definitely yes. We must also open our mind to wise scriptural counsel from others. At the same time, we must put God’s will first, because the Scriptures also warn us that some counsel can be unhelpful. Remembering Job’s friends and their misguided words of advice, we must pray for discernment.

Speaking of unwise guidance, I’ll never forget an accident in my senior year in high school. I was at basketball tryouts, and I came down with a rebound and landed on the side of my ankle. The pain was sharp, intense, and immediate. Teammates helped me to my feet and led me hobbling to the bench. To be brief, my ankle was broken. The coach, so typical of his era, didn’t bother to look at it. He just told me to take a lap around the indoor track to run it off. Needless to say, I couldn’t and didn’t do as he instructed. 

The only guidance for our lives that is truly of value and understanding is the Lord’s. It’s as simple as the Lord’s prayer: “Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” If that is our guide, we can never go wrong.

When we place second, there is often a temptation to quit, to discard the rejection and walk away. That is just what Satan would want us to do. When we are doing something for the Lord, whether witnessing, or working in a mission field, or serving, and things don’t go our way, we have to think of Barsabbas and what he must have felt. Triumph is within our grasp. God has something He wants us to do and He want us to do it in His way. He knows us, loves us, and comprehends our hearts. He wants us to not only conform to His will, but to improve ourselves for our own betterment.

The Ultimate Victory

The disciples and followers of Jesus felt like they had lost everything when He was crucified. They felt that sin and death had won. Yet, three days later, Jesus won the ultimate victory, and so did they.

God doesn’t measure us according to our victories in life. He is interested in our spiritual growth, not how many times we finish first. We should see setbacks as only temporarily disappointing and recognize that they are not of eternal consequence. We must see them as an opportunity to grow and bring more glory to our Savior.

There is a quote from author James Sherman that summarizes this point far better than I can begin to compose: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

Author: Thomas F. Sleete

Thomas F. Sleete is a retired American History teacher and educational consultant with over 44 years of experience. That from which he derives the most enjoyment in this world is his interaction with, and love for, his grandchildren. The Lord guided and comforted him through the loss of his wife, and one way he seeks to glorify the name of Jesus at every opportunity is through his writing.

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