Contrary to what our culture says, sometimes a competitive attitude isn’t a good thing.
I ran cross country and track in college. It was in my heart to do it as unto the Lord. But in the midst of competition and the pressure to perform, I lost sight of God’s will for my life.
I’m a naturally competitive person, and I’ve always been proud of that trait. But as I grow deeper in my walk with God, it becomes more and more clear that sometimes, a competitive attitude isn’t a good thing. Here’s why.
It Often Comes From a Place of Pride
I’ve always thought that wanting to be “the best at everything I do” is a really good goal. But throughout my life, this desire to be “the best” has often come from a place of pride.
I wanted recognition for my work ethic, my education, and my talents. Pride gets in the way of our growth in God because it turns our attention to ourselves.
We are warned against pride all through the Bible. God says that pride leads to disgrace (Proverbs 11:2), that wisdom hates pride and arrogance (Proverbs 8:13), and that godless people in the last time will be boastful and proud and puffed up with pride (2 Timothy 3:2+4 NLT)
How often, in a competitive atmosphere, have opposing sides resorted to yelling insults at each other? Psalm 73:8 says that the proud “scoff and speak only evil; in their pride they seek to crush others.”
Too often, competition brings out pride in people. I’m not saying that all competition is bad.
However, most of the time, competition causes people to feel pride in themselves rather than showing compassion, generosity, and kindness toward others. And in a state of pride, we are much less open and receptive to God’s voice.
It Distracts Us from Jesus
“I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.” 1 Corinthians 7:35 NLT
A competitive attitude has caused me to work to please the world around me rather than working to please Jesus. The world encourages us to be competitive: we are supposed to be the best candidate for a job opening, the most productive mom in our church, and the best singer in the choir.
And when we’ve achieved some of these goals, we get this superficial feeling of satisfaction with ourselves, which distracts us from how much we really need Jesus.
As long as I feel like I’m doing pretty well in life, or that I have a competitive edge over others, I am not walking very deeply with God.
Competition with others turns our focus to ourselves, which distracts us from Jesus. The last thing we should be doing is getting distracted from God.
This world is distracting enough! The enemy is constantly trying to get our attention away from God so he can ensnare us in sin.
The more he is able to do that, the less we will have our priorities straight, and the more likely we will be to lose our power to do God’s work.
“Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus.” Hebrews 12:1-2
We should be working every day to remove the distractions from our lives so we can fully receive God’s calling for our lives.
A competitive attitude isn’t a good thing when it clouds the clarity that comes from closeness with Christ.
It Causes Us to Rely on Ourselves
Let’s say you get hired at your dream job and you’re feeling pretty proud of yourself.
Or maybe you’ve worked hard to become more fit than most of our friends and you secretly glory in how your muscles show through your shirt.
Perhaps you’ve made it your goal to be the “perfect” wife — to make sure your home is picture-perfect, that you look incredible all the time, and that your husband always has perfectly-starched shirts to wear.
None of these things are wrong, all by themselves. But more often than not, we fall into the trap of making earthly things our “identity.” We want to feel important.
But 1 John 2:15 tells us we should not love the world or the things it offers us. “For when you love the world, you do not have the love of the father in you.”
We often measure ourselves up with others and seek to be better than them. All of these things make us feel satisfied with ourselves.
They win us the affection of the world. They might even get us more friends. Everyone likes a successful, fit, devoted and hard-working person to be in their friend pool.
But in a life devoted to Christ, we shouldn’t be trying to stack up our achievements or amp-up our worldly attractive ness. We shouldn’t be focused on how “good” we look.
No amount of relying on ourselves will save us. No amount of seeking the world’s approval will make us happy. “But the Lord watches over those who fear Him, those who rely on His unfailing love.” Psalm 33:18
We should be doing the Lord’s work. When we feel like “winners” in the world’s eyes, we often forget we need God.
When we are winning, God can very often wind up on the back burner.
It Can Easily Become an Idol
“They worshiped their idols, which led to their downfall.” Psalm 106:36
We’re proud of our achievements because they make us feel good about ourselves. They make us feel better than others. When we place our talents and work ethic on the pedestal of our lives, following God gets thrown by the wayside.
I’ve had to rely on God in marriage and motherhood more than any other station in life.
In nearly every other part of my life, I’ve been able to rely on myself and my own talents and strengths; but in marriage and motherhood, I’ve quickly learned that I can’t do either one well without God.
Ideally, I would have learned this lesson long ago — but I spent many years doing things in my own strength because I could.
I worked hard to do well in my sport in college, I studied to get good grades, I drove conservatively so I wouldn’t get a ticket. And, I will admit, I still try to do “the right thing” in every area of life. But now, I ask God every day to root out any piece of me that wants to take credit for those things.
It’s much too easy to allow those things to become idols. Over the last few years, I’ve had to allow God to show me my idols — idols of achievement and reputation — before I could recognize that my fiercely competitive attitude has often been serving my own pride and not His kingdom.
Makes Us Feel Superior to Others
When we are honored for our achievements, we often feel superior to others. And when we feel superior to others, we can’t be a ministry to them.
We can’t show them God’s love if we think we’re better than they are. Of course it’s possible to be doing life well and to receive accolades from your boss or your church or your community without taking on a spirit of pride.
But keeping humble in the face of achievement is only possible when our hearts are surrendered to God fully and completely.
“Encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11
It Can Cause Disharmony Among Believers
“Let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.” Romans 14:19
It’s been my experience that a competitive attitude and competitive situations can cause disharmony between believers and non-believers alike.
A friendly game of volleyball after church can quickly turn into a savage throw-down wherein feelings get hurt, and on display are our most unattractive emotions of pride, anger, and self-pity.
For those of us who are extremely competitive by nature, the trait can come out in a very unattractive way.
One time, Giles and I invited some friends from church over to our house for a game night. I was about six months pregnant with our first child.
Someone suggested we play spoons. I LOVE playing spoons. And I can be pretty vicious in my efforts to win. One of our friends also loved playing spoons admitted to being extremely competitive, as well.
During one of the rounds, when things were getting rather intense, everyone grabbed a spoon and our friend went for the last one. I lunged for it at just the same time. Somehow, we both missed and the spoon went tumbling to the floor.
Being six months pregnant did not keep me from diving to the floor to retrieve it before he did. I think I even scraped his hand by accident as I snatched it away from him. I might have even drawn a little blood, if I remember correctly.
I felt kind of badly about slicing his hand open with my fingernail, but boy, was I proud of myself. I was proud that I had beaten the guy who said he was “competitive” at spoons.
Right when I heard him say that, I had felt an urge to prove I was even more competitive. I was competitive about being competitive. Ridiculous, right?
Everyone laughed, I’m sure somewhat in shock, that a pregnant lady would be so ruthless to win a game like that. I can now see how self-centered it was for me to risk life and limb just to win a silly game — a game I was hosting in my home, by the way.
God has a higher calling for us!
Sure, we all love sports. We love to see our team win. We’re even encouraged by our culture to be ruthlessly competitive. But God has a higher calling for us.
We absolutely cannot allow a competitive attitude to rob us of the humility and joy found in Christ. I wish I understood that before I played that game of spoons.
I wish I realized that obsessing over “winning” doesn’t edify others. It doesn’t leave people feeling blessed. It leaves the winners feeling prideful and the losers feeling resentful and angry.
We are called to live in harmony with each other (Romans 12:16). And pride can never facilitate harmony and love — it just causes discord.
We’re only human. We have to recognize anything that can become a distraction from Jesus, for ourselves and others. I believe many of us, myself included, are achievement addicts.
If you knew an alcoholic was coming to your party, you might think twice before serving alcohol for their sake, right?
If we are all proud and arrogant by nature, shouldn’t we be considerate of each other in this way, too? Shouldn’t we be doing things differently, so that pride isn’t allowed to prosper?
When my family plays volleyball with friends on Sunday afternoons, we don’t keep score. You know why?
Because God isn’t about who is winning and losing. He’s about mutual edification and encouragement, which always glorifies His name.