Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Not a Competition

"I always assumed God called me to be the best," a young music major confessed to me the other day over lunch. "So I struggled with the pressure of comparing myself to other musicians around me, always finding ways they were better than me. It was so discouraging. Then one day a more seasoned musician helped release me from that pressure. He told me God has not called me to be the best. He calls me to be the best I can be."

Do you struggle with comparing yourself with others around you? Is your ministry diminished in your mind when you view the comparative success of others? I have to confess, this is a real weakness of mine. So I found the insight of this young guy a refreshing reminder to guard my own heart.

Paul gave the Colossians a bit of instruction that should ring true in all of our efforts. "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men... it is the Lord Christ whom you serve." We are called to excellence. We are called to give it everything we've got. But we are not called to the top of the heap. Serving God is not a competition.

That last statement may seem almost silly, it is so obvious. Yet it's not always so obvious to me. For instance, as a writer, it is hard not to become discouraged and even jealous upon seeing an announcement of someone's new book release. The comparison immediately begins. What do they have that I have not? Why is God blessing them and not me?

The Corinthians faced a similar struggle. Some of the spiritual gifts in the church were viewed as more important than others. A hierarchy of prestige had developed. Those who spoke in tongues were viewed as more "spiritual" than the rest. Paul was quick to address this attitude. Spiritual gifts are not given for self-edification. "Seek to abound for the edification of the church," Paul cautioned "so that all may learn and all may be exhorted." (1 Corinthians 14:12, 31) The spiritual gifts are not about us.

We must take steps to guard our hearts against allowing our efforts to serve the Lord to become about us. First, we need to constantly remember that the effectiveness of our ministry is not dependent on how good we are at what we do. As Paul reminded the Corinthians, "Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow" (1 Corinthians 3:7). Our power source is God alone. Second, we must acknowledge that our gift is given with a specific purpose. That purpose: to build up the church. "Now to each the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:7). Third, never forget our spiritual gifts are GIFTS. Our specific talents were carefully doled out in the wisdom and grace of God. We cannot take credit for our talent! "What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" (1 Corinthians 4:7). Last, recognize that each member of the church is only meant to be one part of an interdependently functioning body. This means that no one part is more important than the other. As Paul wrote, "But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but its parts should have equal concern for each other" (1 Corinthians 12:24, 25).

Seeking self-gratification while operating within God's kingdom has no place. Do we feel a sense of purpose and accomplishment when we serve God as we were meant to do? Absolutely. But attempt to use these same gifts to build ourselves up, and the reward becomes hollow at best.

Instead, as my young musician friend has found, we need to find our joy in the privilege of being used by God to accomplish His purposes. It's not about how good we are at expressing our gift. It is about expressing how much we love Him as we work with all of our heart to do what He has given us to do.

"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
Ephesians 2:10

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Anonymous said...

You make an important distinction between excellence and getting to the top.

I love how He says for us to just give Him all that we've got and then watch Him do something with it.

He's an amazing God who delights in us because He made us, not because of how we perform. Or sing. Or write.

Thanks for an inspiring devo.


Van said...

Julie, Your writing/teaching never disappoints! Wish you were here close to me so I could sit at your feetand daily listen to your wise words!