Those of you who know me know I’m a pretty competitive person.
I keep it under wraps, at least, most of the time. Very rarely do I initiate a game of one-upmanship. Most of the time, the people with whom I’m competing have no idea. But if someone starts it with me? If I know someone is trying to “beat” me at something? Oh, it is on like Donkey Kong.
It is perhaps no surprise that I went into a competitive career field. As I’ve discussed before, the classical music field is extremely competitive. For a position in one of the bigger orchestras, there can be hundreds of applicants for a single spot. One person gets it. The rest? Thank you very much.
Sadly, I carry this “must-win” mentality around with me everywhere I go. I constantly compare nearly every aspect of my life with that of other people’s. Often, this comparison takes place through social media, which, as we all know, is everyone’s highlight reel. Bloopers and outtakes rarely make the final Facebook cut (except for when it involves Wakko the Middle Wenlet, because that kid is a human outtake reel. Bless him.)
My fledgling writing career is no exception. It’s difficult not to compare with others, whether it’s word count (“What?!? She wrote four thousand words today?! I only wrote one! Not one thousand, either. One word.), publishing success (“That author just got a killer book deal. How come I don't have one yet?”), or contest triumphs (“How come she won that contest? What’s her story got that mine doesn’t have?”).
The cool thing about God is that His blessings are not finite in number. He does not have a set number of Christian authors who can be successful. He does not jettison talented, deserving children of His just because, “Well, sorry, I’ve only got room for sixty. You have to wait until one of them isn’t writing anymore.” Someone else’s success does not preclude my own. Someone else’s victory is not always my loss.
But sometimes comparison can be sneaky. Tenth Avenue North’s Mike Donehey recently posted this on Facebook:
“A few years back, while praying for a festival set…God convicted me of the prayer we were praying. It was confusing, because it felt like a very noble prayer. I was asking God to use our band. But God, as He does, gently tapped my shoulder and whispered, 'What if I want to use the other bands?'
In that moment, I realized I wasn’t asking God to use our band. I was asking him to use our band more than the other bands. I was using being used by God.”
Ouch. Talk about conviction. I’ve been praying, ever since I started pursuing publication, “God, use my words. Use my book. Use my story to reach people.” And when I play cello, the prayer is the same. “Use my music. Use my instrument.” Me, me, me. And yes, if I'm painfully honest, a part of me wants Him to use me more than He uses everyone else. That shows me where my focus is, and it’s not on Him. It’s on me, and it’s on what I can see around me.
Winning awards and making best-seller lists is wonderful. Of course it is. And I don’t think it’s wrong to dream of and work toward those things. But those dreams, big as they are, are still smaller than the dreams God has for us. He wants to draw people to Himself, to make them more like Him. Me. You. Anyone who reads our words or hears our music or encounters us in any way. And when that’s the dream, then how many copies we sell or what awards we might win…well, those things suddenly seem pretty insignificant.
Fellow Christians, we are not each other’s competition, and we cannot afford for our focus to be on ourselves or on each other. We are soldiers in the same mighty army, an army that faces a formidable enemy. Each of us has our own unique role to play. Our own “enemy soldier” to engage. And our General, God Himself, has uniquely equipped each of us with the words we need to write, to speak, to engage in the particular battles He has for us. What we’ve gone through in our lives, what we write into our fiction, are stories no one can tell but us. And there are people out there who might be deeply touched by your book that might not be by mine. And vice versa. That's why God's called so many of us, and given us each a unique voice and a unique story. As Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
God has prepared a path for each of us. A path that is different from everyone else’s path. But we are all on the same team. The winning team. God's team. While I don’t think it’s wrong to pray that God will use us each individually, our ultimate desire, and our ultimate prayer, should be for God to do His will. For His kingdom to come. Again, from Mike Donehey:
“So now…I simply pray for [God] to move. That way, when he decides to use someone else, I don’t feel the need to compete. Rather, I’m able to celebrate that God is moving.”
So my prayer now, like Mike’s, is that God will move. That He will use each of us as He sees fit. That God will move in all our work. That He will reach the people He has for each of us to meet. That we will all write the words and stories God has for us to write, and that God will guide, direct, and protect each and every one of us. We can’t afford to get distracted by competing with each other.
“Therefore…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
We’re all in this together. And we’ve got our eyes on a much bigger prize.