There are a few times I vividly remember God speaking to me. This was one of them.
We were sitting in the conference room of the Wyndham Hotel in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It was the first night of the 2011 Mid-Atlantic District Conference, and we would lead worship the next day, but not this one. God used this opportunity of not having a guitar around my body or a microphone in front of my face to speak something really important and timely to me:
“Don’t put expectations on yourself that I don’t put on you.”
It was something like that–I don’t have the notebook handy where I wrote it down, but it was important enough to write down.
Remember the disciples’ conversation with Jesus. They ask Him, “Teacher, which of us will be the greatest?”
Jesus didn’t say, “don’t try to be great. you’re not supposed to be great.” He did indeed proceed to explain how to be great, which we’ll get to later.
I’ve begun to come to terms with the fact that I’m a competitor. I like to compete, I like to be challenged, I like to give my best. I like a “pressure situation” to see if I can “come through” just like the great athletes I watch on TV. Perhaps this is my attempt at compensating for not playing sports as a kid, I don’t know. All I know is that I have a tendency to try my hardest to do things as quickly as possible, as well as possible, and as efficiently as possible. This comes out especially at work (where I’ve been called out a few times on it, for being down when I “screwed up”) and even in ministry sometimes, honestly. I try to think of ways to do things better than other people have done them. Sometimes I think about what someone said that I would try to say better or differently (which is a joke, because I’m not good with words.)
Let me insert my request for forgiveness here. This goes out to anyone I’ve preached alongside or played music alongside. I’ve probably done this at some point, and I’m sorry, and please keep reading to discover my heart.
Before I continue, let me say that I’m not trying to take away from a desire for excellence or greatness. I think we should do things to the best of our ability, and when Jesus’ disciples asked who would be the greatest, He didn’t say “you shouldn’t want to be great.” He did proceed to tell them how to be great. Anyway, I’ll get back to that later.
The problem with competition is that it is, by nature, divisive. It seeks to separate people/things by characteristics: the strong from the weak, the fast from the slow, the poor from the rich, the beautiful from the less attractive, the creative from the less creative, the talented from the ordinary. The definition of “compete” is:
to strive to outdo another for acknowledgment, a prize, supremacy, profit.
So you can see how easily competition can fly in the face of the purpose of the gospel. See, the gospel is INCLUSIVE, not divisive. The gospel tells us of God’s heart of love for unlovable people. The lesser of society. The poor, the weak, the original, the slow, the less attractive, etc. When Jesus chose His disciples, He didn’t pick a bunch of superb, educated gentlemen. He chose a bunch of dudes with beards who spent their days fishing. He chose a tax collector, who NOBODY liked and most people regarded him as a robber. He chose a guy who He already knew had little to no sense of loyalty and He knew would betray Him. He chose a guy who walked with Him and STILL couldn’t believe He had raised from the dead. These were not the high-fliers of society.
Jesus answered the disciples’ question of who would be the greatest with this: whoever will become the least would become the greatest. That means that whoever will give up his own desire for greatness, will in fact become great. This is serving. Doing the dirty jobs for other people. Giving other people chances to use their gifts. Speaking up when it’s not easy or convenient because what God says about the situation is more important than being “safe.” I have no idea what all Jesus had in mind when He said that to become the least would make you the greatest. All I know is that somewhere along the line, I have to die to my desire to do everything perfectly.
Let me add something to encourage anyone who this is speaking to: Jesus offers us rest. Nobody is meant to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. It’s not on you to make sure all of your relationships are perfect, or that you push yourself to do your job the best you can. The truth of the matter is that the Gospel produces fruit in people. I think of it like this…God isn’t a coach, and you’re not a six-year (or however long you’ve been a Christian) veteran who gets chewed out at practice when you make a rookie mistake. There are no “rookie mistakes” with God—that places levels on things. Personally, I’ve never had too much trouble believing that God forgave my sin before I became a Christian—I was blind and didn’t know any better. I had trouble once I became a Christian and kept doing things I knew were wrong. It’s not easy to believe that present and future sins are forgiven, too. Once we are saved, we know better, right? However, on the cross, Jesus defeated sin once and for all (Hebrews 10:10.) God knows we’re still kids. Would you not forgive your kid for messing his/her pants? That’s missing the mark, which is exactly what sin is (obviously this analogy ignores the magnitude of sin vs. poopy pants, but…) There’s this wonderful process called “sanctification.” It happens when we first put our faith in Jesus.
Sanctification means simply this: becoming more like Jesus.
I like to think about it like this. We call salvation being born again, right? Well, spiritually, I’m only 6 years old. When I was physically 6, I was still stealing cookies and gum from my mom when she wasn’t around. Heck, when I was 11 I was still yelling and screaming at my older siblings. Cognitively and physically, I’m 21 years old. But spiritually, I’m only 6. I don’t have the same maturity as someone who has been making life choices for 21 years as a Christian. I’m still growing up. I’m still becoming more like my Father. Now, that’s not an excuse to screw up deliberately, but it’s a source of encouragement and a reminder that Jesus is still making me more like Him, and that it’s not over because of one or two mistakes.
So to wrap it up before I go in 100 different directions, I just want to say this: rest in Jesus. Believe that what He’s done for you is enough for everything you’ve ever done or ever will do. Play to win and do your best, but know that your salvation doesn’t depend on it.