Competition brings out the best and worst in us. How we compete is just as important as the outcome—in fact, likely more so. The ends do not justify the means. Nicholas Pearce in his book The Purpose Path says “The means are just as important as the ends, and some might go even so far as to say that the means are themselves the ends.” I could not agree more.
Pearce points out people who have done strange things in competition, revealing cracks in their character. In the 1980 Boston Marathon, Rosie Ruiz disappeared during the course, only to reappear later near the finish line. Lance Armstrong had all of his Tour de France championships revoked after it came out that he had taken steroids. And Pete Rose will likely never be included in the Baseball Hall of Fame because he had gambled on the outcome of games he coached.
But these scenarios remind us that competition is not about winning, as much as we make it about winning. But in God’s economy, that’s not the purpose of competition. As Nicholas Pearce said, the means are just as important as the ends. There is something larger at stake in the process of competing. In God’s eyes, here are three purposes of competition.
Are you a spider or an ant? Which insect do you resemble more? And which one do you aspire to be?
I’m not talking about whether you live in a web or an anthill. But we can learn a lot by observing these small creatures—especially about ourselves.
Here are three ways to evaluate how you operate in a professional setting based on observations of the spider and the ant.
You’ve heard the phrase “Opportunity never knocks twice.” But I take issue with that phrase. Opportunity doesn’t knock on your door. If you’re waiting in your house for opportunity to knock then you’ll never meet it when it’s walking down the street. And even Jesus would agree with that.
Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force (Matthew 11:12). For a long time I did not understand what that phrase meant. I thought it meant something about violent people trying to get into Heaven. But it doesn’t mean that. To understand what it means we have to look at that phrase in context and the flow of the entire passage, and we have to look at what the individual Greek words mean. If we do that, we see that the phrase has as much to do with this life as it does with the next life—because opportunity doesn’t knock.
In that passage, Jesus was explaining who John the Baptizer was. And he told them John was the “Elijah” prophesied hundreds of years earlier: the messenger in the wilderness announcing the coming of the Lord (Matthew 11:7-14; Isaiah 40:3-5; Malachi 4:5-6). And Jesus invited whoever had “ears to hear” to listen to what he said (Matthew 11:15). He invited anyone to process what he said, but he wasn’t going to make it plain to anyone who wasn’t willing to put forth the effort. Opportunity doesn’t knock.
If we break down the phrase about the kingdom of heaven, we see that “suffering violence” comes from the Greek word biazo which means to allow to be seized. And the word “violent” comes from the Greek word biastes which refers to someone who is forceful or energetic. And “take it by force” comes from the Greek word harpazo which means to seize. So if we put all that together, it means that the kingdom of heaven is to be seized and the energetic seize it. Opportunity doesn’t knock.
This spiritual principle has application in the natural. You can’t wait around for opportunity to knock. God doesn’t work that way, and life doesn’t work that way. You have to be willing to risk stepping out in faith. Here are three ways this applies to you.
Lately I have been reading, among other books, The Wright Brothers by David McCollough. He is my favorite writer, as I have read all four of his presidential biographies on John Adams, Harry Truman, Teddy Roosevelt, and George Washington. The painstaking detail that McCollough employs in fleshing out these historical figures is breathtaking. His book The Wright Brothers retells a story that I thought I knew, but after a few pages I quickly realized I didn’t. And the detail with which he describes the Wright brothers clearly shows that these brothers were not country bumpkins who happened to get lucky. He vividly portrays two young men who had an insatiable curiosity and an indomitable work ethic that helped them gain victory over the sky.
The process they used to get a flying machine off the ground, and then learn how to perfectly control the craft, belies their simple exterior. Almost all of the people who came into contact with the Wright brothers’ experiments misunderstood them and underestimated them. While looking on their exterior, people could not see the countless hours they had poured over books on flight and the countless hours they had invested in trying to understand how flight worked. All people could see is two young bicycle shop owners who dared to do the impossible.
Their story applies to you as well. People cannot see what is on the inside of you; they can only see what is inside themselves. All people can see is what is on the outside of you—and they project onto you what they believe about themselves. They assume what is on the inside of you conforms to the paradigms they believe about themselves. They don’t know who you can become, and they may try to limit you based on what they perceive about you. Just like the Wright brothers didn’t allow others to limit them—in fact, they seemed delightfully oblivious of what others thought of them—you should not allow others to tell you what you can do.
Based on Proverbs 21:31 (MSG), here are three things you can do—like the Wright brothers—to achieve victory over anything.
At the beginning of the year, I did an analysis of my year. I looked at how the past year stacked up. I reviewed my goals for the year and determined how I did. Not all were wins or losses: some goals changed during the course of the year. Based on my analysis, I had one win, four losses, and two changes mid-course. That wasn’t what I wanted to see. But I had to be brutally honest with myself. And figure out how to start over for the new year.
I didn’t like not making all my goals. But I had to be willing to admit that I didn’t make all of them. But that required that I be brutally honest with myself. I couldn’t just throw some darts against the wall and then draw the target around the darts. I had to acknowledge that I didn’t hit the target.
It’s never easy to deal with disappointment—or even outright failure. It’s tempting to brood about it. Or to ignore it. Or to deny it ever happened. I have lost count of the number of times that I have had to process what went wrong. And I know it’s no fun to have to admit that things didn’t work out. But disappointment and failure can be great teachers. If you are willing to be taught by them.
Based on my own experience, here’s how you can be brutally honest with yourself and figure out how to start over.
People usually think that you have to have everything all mapped out before you can pursue your dreams, goals, and visions. Many people think that you have to anticipate every situation before you can begin. But if you do it that way, you will never start. Because you can never be prepared for everything. You just have to be ready to begin. You will become who you need to be in the doing.
While it’s important to have an idea of where you’re going to go, nothing ever happens according to plan. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” So don’t be wedded to your plans. But be willing to step out and begin.
You will never know all that you need to know to be successful when you start. You will find that out along the way. The key is to be willing to move forward even if you don’t have it all together. You will learn what you need to know as you progress.
Here are three things that will try to trip you up before you can even begin. So be on your guard against these three success killers.
When you think of the attributes of successful people, what do you think of? Do you think of someone who is a winner-take-all negotiator? Or someone who ruthlessly pursues what will enhance their life? Or someone who desires to win at all costs?
While those characteristics may be the world’s standards for success, God has a very different standard. God doesn’t value a kind of success where you are the only one to win. God values a kind of success where you help others win. Because when others win, you win as well.
Psalm 41:1 (ESV) says
Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him.
To be truly successful, here are three characteristics from Psalm 112:4 and Psalm 116:5 you need to develop in yourself.
Many people want to move forward, but they are worried about making the next step. They are concerned that they will make a mistake. Or look foolish. Or both. But the only way to move forward is to be willing to walk out in faith and take that next step.
In professional life, there is always the chasm between where you are and where you want to go. And there is so much uncertainty between the start and the finish. But the only way you can get to where you want to go is to risk making a mistake. Or looking foolish. Or both.
Here is the process to implement if you are to embrace uncertainty and become comfortable with taking the next step.
Success is not what people always think it is. As a result, success can be an elusive target to hit. Many people want to be successful, but they aren’t willing to do what it requires.
Success is not a one and done thing. It takes a combination of things working together over time to produce the desired result.
Here is a process for what will get you to achieve your goal of success.