By nature, I am a competitive person. Whether it be ping-pong, basketball, tennis, or board games, I like to win. When I was young, I remember how prone I was to get angry when I failed to win. There was one time that I was beating an older, better player in tennis. But then I started making unforced errors—double-faults and forehands into the net. I cussed at myself and tossed my racket a few times. It won’t surprise you that I went on to lose that match. As I grew older, and decided to follow Jesus, I stayed competitive, but I became a much better loser. I tried my best, but if it wasn’t quite good enough to win, I was okay with that.
It seems competition is in our fallen DNA. Whether or not we are competitive in sports or games, we are all competitive. We desire to be better than others or similar to others. It all began with Cain, who was jealous of his brother’s better sacrifice to the Lord. It continued down through biblical history and modern history, and continues today.
Our social media feeds are full of posts highlighting various aspects of our lives. Have you ever thought of the motivation behind that? Or when we espouse our opinions. What is the usual purpose? What fuels the rampant tribalism in the world today? Is it not that we innately are competing to demonstrate we are better than (or at least equal to) others? We Americans pride ourselves in being “the greatest nation on earth.” Parents pride themselves on having the most accomplished children. Churches pride themselves on being the most biblical, loving, authentic, or mission-minded church. And by doing so, in essence, we are seeking to “one up” our perceived competitors. We want to be viewed as the best. Even if we despise ourselves because of the way we look or due to our lack of success in life, there is a competitive element underlying this perspective, because we are measuring ourselves against others and, in our minds, we are losing.
I find it interesting in light of this innate competitive nature that the Scriptures repeatedly tell us that we all are unrighteous and fall short of the glory of God. (Psalm 14:3; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23) The fact is we don’t measure up to the one standard that really matters. We are, therefore, all equal and none better than another. When the Israelites were preparing to enter into Canaan, the Lord was very clear that it was not their superiority in righteousness that would lead to their victories.
After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people. (Deuteronomy 9:4-6 NIV)
As followers of Jesus, we need to recognize that there is no need to prove ourselves to others. Our value does not lie in ourselves, in what we accomplish, or in how others view us, but in the One who created us. Thus, there is no need to compete to achieve validity. We already have it as children of God! He loves us so deeply that we are not required to earn it.
Our energies, then, are much better focused on pleasing the Lord because of his graciousness toward us than on trying to keep up with or one up those around us in order to gain validation. We already have it. We can rest in that knowledge and forsake the constant pursuit of competing with others.
© Jim Musser 2019