Many of us live as though life is a contest-a competition to win. As we race through our days, we’re looking around; measuring, checking, determining if we are out in front. One definition of success is simply having more- money, power, respect. I watched some little children at a picnic yesterday and was amused at the evidence of this trait even in those 6 or 7 years of age. Though they were not hungry in the least, each wanted to make sure he got the same amount (or more when it came to the ice cream!) than the others! It’s not just kids or people in need who compete, either. One of the Rockefellers (one of America’s wealthiest families) was asked how much money he wanted to to make. He said, “One more dollar!” His millions were not enough as long as there was more to own.
A generous spirit and a competitive heart cannot co-exist. As Believers we are commanded by our Lord to be giving, generously sharing our love, our resources, our encouragement, our hope with a world in need; but giving away our resources runs counter-intuitive to the natural desire to acquire. In the Scripture there is stern warning about the consequences of allowing a spirit of competition to rule your life. “… if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:14-16, NIV)
Let me take something as simple as driving your car as an illustration. Do you drive across town like you’re in the Indy 500, tailing the car in front of you, pushing through yellow lights, dodging down side streets looking to find a quicker way? How do you feel when you arrive at your destination? Tired, often irritated, right? It’s because you’ve have turned the experience into a competition, measuring yourself by ‘winning’ a speedier trip. Will you arrive any more quickly at your destination? Perhaps, by a few moments, but what has that ‘win’ cost you emotionally?
When we are pushing to win, we always pay a high price, alienating others and even hurting those we say that we love. Again the Scripture’s wisdom challenges us-“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.” (James 4:1-2, NIV)
The way to break this need to succeed, this desire to acquire, is to realize that God has all that you need available to you! In the follow-up line to the verse quoted above we read this –“You do not have, because you do not ask God.” God is our True Source and He has promised to supply all that we need, if only we ask. Stephen Covey, one of my favorite writers, calls this having an “abundance mentality.” He says that we can break out of the competitive life by learning that life is a ‘cornucopia of ever enlarging opportunity, resources, and wealth. You don’t compare yourself to others and are genuinely happy for their successes.’ (The 8th Habit, page 150) If God is our Source, then we don’t have to grab our slice of an ever diminishing pie. Instead, we accept according to our need even as we witness God doing the miracle of multiplication, enlarging the pie to meet the need of all who ask!
If you doubt Covey’s insight, then take a lesson from Jesus Christ! “If you give, you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving—large or small—it will be used to measure what is given back to you.” (Luke 6:38, NLT) Don’t misunderstand the lesson there. Many twist the principle into a selfish thing — “I give so I can get!” Wrong conclusion! Generosity results when we learn that life is not a competition, that we are not measured by what we own, the title on our door, or the size of our front yard. We give ourselves away and discover that God provides all we need. Paradoxically, the less we ‘need’ to own the love of others, the more is given to us.
Let’s live generously as we look to God for what we need, accepting what He provides as sufficient for every need of our lives. Then, let’s share the wealth- giving away. There is joy waiting to be found when we quit playing the ‘success’ game!