I am not a very competitive person by nature. There are a few things that can get me riled up, but for the most part I am the type that hopes everyone can walk away feeling satisfied. This frustrates some of my friends who are ultra competitive, which in turn brings me joy, because I do enjoy messing with my friends.
I have fun with competitive people, until that competition mentality creeps into the church. In my conversations with other youth leaders and various church leaders over the past several years I have often been taken back by the language of competition we use. I think this language can be dangerous on several fronts. First of all, God is not involved in any competition, meaning He is not vying for power over any of our idols. Does He seek to have a deeper relationship with us? Yes. But He has stated very clearly that He is beyond competing. He alone is God. The competition comes from the idols that try and and distract us from God, or claim to have power in comparison to His. This becomes dangerous when we fall into the trap of thinking that God competes with idols, because the very idea of competition suggests that God could lose. Any loss is ours, not God’s. If we fall prey to the hollywood imagery of good vs evil, or God vs the devil, where we we wait with baited breath to see if good will triumph, we have fallen prey to a lie that says God is potentially not strong enough to prevail over evil. Does this mean evil doesn’t exist, or it doesn’t have influence? No. What I am saying is that we get duped into thinking that there is a potential that God could fail us, and that is the story presented we are quick to believe when in fact, we have failed God.
One of my favorite stories in the bible is that of Jesus and a possessed man who calls himself Legion. Legion lived in a cemetery wearing nothing but broken chains, and he spent his time cutting himself with rocks and howling at the moon. The story tells that he has lost his mind and is possessed by evil spirits. This man has lost everything; family, friends, community, his clothes, his mind, his pride, his purpose, even his name (assuming that Legion was not a popular name at the time in Roman occupied territory). He is satan’s masterpiece, anything that could be taken away from this man has been stolen. He has even lost his concept of God, because his reaction to entering the presence of Jesus is, “please do not torture me.”
At this point in the story my imagination runs wild. I get this image of a crazy man, cut up, snarling, with big red eyes, drooling at the mouth speaking to Jesus in a voice that sounds like Dr Claw from the Inspector Gadget cartoon. (I know, it was menacing until that last part.) Legion stands over Jesus, staring Him down, while the music builds up to a crescendo that can only be remedied by an epic fight. Jesus gets into a Bruce Lee stance and winks (once again, my imagination) and it’s on.
Which is exactly what doesn’t happen.
Jesus says ‘out’ and the demons leave. That’s it.
No epic battle.
No big fight scene.
No wondering who’s going to win.
Jesus says ‘leave’ and the evils spirits leave.
The question I have to ask myself is do I believe this? Do I live like the victory is already won? Or am I so used to competition, and slugging it out on my own that I expect the same from Jesus?
It’s so easy to let competition come into church. We want victories. We want stats to justify our beliefs. We want people to attend our church gatherings, our events, our small groups. But Jesus never asked us for stats. He didn’t say go into the world and make sure that 75% of the people you meet follow me. And He never asks us to win anything for him because the victory is already won. Jesus has already forfeited himself and triumphed over evil.
So maybe we stop putting so much weight on our wins and losses. Maybe we put some perspective on our competition.
One love, one heart.