Victory isn’t about getting what you want. It’s about getting what God wants in you and loving it. It’s his victory, not yours. He died on the cross to spare you from it. Your participation in his suffering is derivative, just as your victory is derivative too.

That ought to affect how we think, speak, and pray about victory. In fact, that may be one of the primary ways Christian victory is different from worldly success. In truth, you can have victory even in the midst of failure, since failing at a given task is often of far less spiritual consequence than failing to live life as God intended.

To disambiguate, we might distinguish between horizontal victory and vertical victory. Horizontal victory is getting what you want in this life. Vertical victory is living the way God wants. For the Christian, vertical victory always precedes horizontal victory. Your vertical victory is your responsibility before God. Attend first to him and what he wants. Then, in concert with the Spirit, pursue your earthly victory.

For example, if a woman’s boss berates her every day, she wants horizontal victory. She wants her boss to stop verbally abusing her. God wants that too, but God also wants this woman to take every possible ounce of good from this miserable circumstance. The woman knows this and knows vertical victory always comes first, so she prays and asks God for two things simultaneously. First, she asks that her boss would leave her alone; and second, that she would endure his tirades with grace and respond in love. The woman knows victory in either direction will only come through the power of God’s Spirit, but she chooses to cooperate with God in all the ways she can manage. Consequently, whenever her boss amps up, the woman begins to cycle the scriptures through her mind and cautions herself to respond with self-control, to avoid saying something that may get her fired. After work, she goes home and continues her spiritual struggle, claiming victory and reminding herself that her boss doesn’t define her or shape her, and that he doesn’t have the power to rob her of her God-given dignity. Concerning her boss she thinks, You don’t define me. You don’t shape me. I’m shaped and defined by God, made in his image and filled with his spirit. I have dignity. I have the victory in Jesus’ name over all the accusations of the enemy, including all the crap coming out of your mouth.

The woman may not see horizontal victory right away, but she still has vertical victory (even if he never lets up) because she’s untouched by his negativity and murderous spirit. She is not defined by the enemy, but by Christ. She finds immediate vertical victory as she longs for ultimate horizontal victory.

And, of course, the more Christ wins in us, the easier it becomes for us to walk in victory with others. The woman’s boss finally notices her gracious responses to his long-standing jerkiness and backs off.

Had the woman not prioritized the vertical over the horizontal, she may have missed out on both. She may have fought the wrong war with the wrong weapons and lost on both fronts. Which is what might happen to you, unless you remember victory isn’t about getting what you want, but about getting what God wants in you and loving it.