THE CURSE OF COMPETITION
WE ARE BORN AND RAISED TO COMPETE. We’re made to believe that if we aren’t competitive, there’s something wrong with us. This is what we’re taught at home, in school, in the workplace, as we play and even in the church – this is how we live and breathe.
It’s everywhere in our culture, ingrained in us so deeply we can never be totally free from its grasp. Think about it. Parents start from the day we’re born, pouring into us the spirit of competition and excelling beyond all others. “Look how beautiful my girl is.” “My boy walked when he was only 9 months old!” “First words? At only six months!”
Dance recitals, beauty pageants and Little League. Football, soccer, spelling bees and school grades. King of the Court. Prom Queen. Heisman, Emmy, Oscar, Grammy, Pulitzer, the Nobel Prize.
An A+. Top of the Class. King of the Hill. Unfortunately, if someone’s on top, then someone else has to be on the bottom, right?
Almost everything we do is gauged by how well we do against someone else. As we achieve more than those around us we’re encouraged and praised, awarded, slapped on the back, patted on the butt, moved to the front, put on top, applauded, congratulated, raved about, honored, exalted and glorified, and finally eulogized.
Who can reach the top the quickest? Rappel down the fastest? Jump the highest? Throw farther than anyone else? We strain, we train, we work, we push ourselves beyond any reasonable expectations. We’re taught to compete, beat, achieve, soar, excel, contend, strive, challenge and dominate … for what? Mostly personal glory, pride and ego gratification.
“U of M will kick Ohio State’s ass!”
“Boys are stronger than girls.” “Girls are smarter than boys.”
Space race. Cold War. First Man on the Moon.
There’s a good example. What – or who – gives us the right to feel like we guard the rights to the Moon? The fact that we got there first? What will we do when China puts men on the Moon? Do we have the right to limit traffic to this orb that God created?
I’ve heard “America is the greatest nation on the face of the earth!” so many times it hurts. Is that unpatriotic? So be it. I’ve been to many other countries and I have to tell you that the people in those places think they have great countries too. So who’s right? Why do we always have to be better than anyone else? Why do we feel that we have to export our system to other countries, and impose upon them what we believe to be “the best?” But is it the best for them? For their culture? Does our system even fit the way they think? Probably not. But it’s “the best,” so let’s jam it down their throats until they don’t remember who they are or who their ancestors even were.
More than anything else, this spirit is what has led the world into battles, wars, scourges and conquests since the beginning of human history. There’s always a land to explore and take from the native population, or a sea to control for national security, or a weapon to build that will threaten to wipe out our enemies so completely they will never attack us. We must rule or be ruled.
If you believe – like most Christians – that there’s a day coming when the governments of the world will unite to control mankind, and demand allegiance to a satanic system, then why would you be so politically supportive of any nation today? Why would you follow a nation to war with another? Are there eternal benefits to doing so? Or do the politicians have you fooled? Are you an American or a Christian? What is your true identity?
As followers of Jesus, are we supposed to give our allegiance to a nation? Or are we “strangers in a strange land” who are called to pledge our fidelity exclusively to God? I think the only righteous, godly answer to these questions is that we must maintain an eternal perspective rather than an earthly, temporal one, and vow our undying love to God. And only God.
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'” Matt. 18:1
We’re just like those disciples, aren’t we? But Jesus teaches us that we should not strive for the top, and that we should become like little children, humbling ourselves at His feet. However, the spirit of competition in our world compels us in the opposite direction, seeking achievement, recognition and glory.
The problem with all of this, and the most destructive part of it – in an eternal sense – is that the spirit of competition and “being the greatest” has invaded the Church to such a degree that we don’t look anything like the model Jesus gave us. We don’t esteem each other, or even other churches higher than our own, do we? I’ve never heard anybody say, “Now I gotta tell you, that First Transformational Church is doing it way better than we are!” Rather, I’ve heard people crow that their church is more current, relevant, intentional, missional or charismatic than any church they know. And all with a sense of real pride in what they’ve built.
Remember, it’s in our nature. It’s how we were raised. It’s in our culture. It’s who we are – but is it who Jesus wants us to be? Is this how Jesus expects us to spread the love that He preached? If that’s true, how do we do that in a competitive way? We’ve all heard – and probably spoken – these statements that read like notches on our belts:
“We just finished this outreach, and I brought 36 souls to the Lord.”
“Our team carried 10 tons of Bibles into China – the most ever!”
“Our pastor is the greatest! He preaches the pure Word of God.”
“My church is tattoo-friendly. Isn’t that cool?”
The truth is that much of this militancy and competition amongst churches is a fight for money. We constantly compete for dollars. I lived it as a missionary, and I witnessed it as a church leader for 35 years. Every pastor I’ve ever known or served with has been occupied with the need to raise enough money to keep “his” work going. The thing he built has got to continue, because it’s doing so much good, right? We can’t allow the church to close. Why not? The real answer to that is that it would put a few people out of work – mostly these pastors – but we all know that there are plenty of churches for people to attend if a few close.
But the money issue is really a discussion for another day.
The real question here is: How can we reach the world with the love of God if we think we’re better than everyone else? Unfortunately, this is the way many – but not all – missionaries have journeyed to other countries for millennia, and this is the attitude most Christians have displayed throughout history. We have to ask ourselves if we’re going to maintain this arrogant super-Christian personality, or are we going to try and humble ourselves at the feet of Jesus, learn from Him, and then go, live and speak as He directs us?
Is it possible for us to take an honest look at our culture, upbringing and even our human nature, and reject those elements that are in direct conflict with the Spirit of Jesus? Or do we hold these things so sacred that we’ll continue to justify, reconcile and explain away our allegiance to ego as something that God can use to build His Kingdom? Because that’s what happens when pastors and leaders teach that we can “be the best that God wants us to be,” or “achieve our full potential in Christ.”
It sounds innocuous, and it feels good to think that God will help us in our quest toward health and prosperity, but does He really need us to achieve our full potential? The Bible teaches us that our works are like filthy rags, suitable for the dung heap. In reality, we deceive ourselves in our effort to help God through our deeds and accomplishments, and Christian leaders deceive the flock when they tailor their sermons to appeal to the itching ears of those who want to be the best.
What is it in our nature that always wants to beat someone else? Why do we want to be better, stronger, faster, richer, smarter than anyone we know? Is there room for us to be humble, to lower ourselves, to consider ourselves less than others? Or are we afraid that we’ll get stepped on and humiliated?
You mean like Jesus was? Exactly!
Be the best you can be! Sounds great, but don’t believe the lie. Be careful where the attention is centered. Is it on you? On your church? On your pastor? Or is it on Jesus? Is it truly where NO ONE takes the credit? Stop competing. Stop striving. Die to yourself and rest in Jesus.
The Body of Christ is being transformed. God will glorify His name in all the Earth and He will do it in His way, in His time and with whatever methods He chooses. The only thing He asks of us is to die. Get out of the way. Stop pushing ourselves forward. Give Him all the glory and cease taking any credit for ourselves. When we truly become like little children, sitting at His feet, not caring who’s the greatest or the richest or the strongest, then God can actually use us. That’s when the people of the Earth will see the love of God in their midst. That’s when humility, meekness, kindness and true love will affect the multitudes, and they will not be able to resist the sweetness of the Spirit of God. Only then will they see Jesus.
“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12:24