In this series on ‘abiding,’ each post will be framed as an email correspondence to a friend who is seeking to get ‘more’ out of his or her faith. My hope is that by exploring this topic as a conversation, you will resonate with the message as deeply as if it were a letter addressed to you.
To: Friend Seeking More from Faith
From: Doug Nuenke
Subject: The Fatal Cost of Competition
Hello, my friend!
I’m thoroughly enjoying our conversations about pursuing the fullness of life. In our last correspondence, I referenced the first temptation and sin in which Adam and Eve eclipsed their need for God by grabbing for “more” on their own terms.
As it turns out, the next major sin came through the hunger for another flavor of “more” – a lust to perform, compete, and ultimately out-perform others. This is built into our human nature—not just a desire to acquire more, but to be more.
Cain and Abel were brothers whose hearts were inclined toward the Lord. They both presented a gift to God, Cain from his crops, Abel from his flocks. We don’t know the mind of God in his decision, but He accepted the gift of Abel, but didn’t accept the gift from Cain.
“When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the LORD. 4 Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The LORD accepted Abel and his gift, 5 but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.
“Why are you so angry?” the LORD asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? 7 You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” (Genesis 4:3-7)
Insight into Cain’s heart comes not from the type of gift he made, but in how he handled not having his gift accepted! Cain’s response reveals his competitive motive and how deeply his identity was attached to performance. He was not willing to come in second. Isn’t it interesting, my friend, how easy it is to give our gifts or share our talents with more focus on how well we did in the giving of them, than in the pure desire of caring that people are helped by them!
Cain’s insecurity in not being noticed led to anger, depression and ultimately hatred for his brother. Cain kills Abel, all over not winning the gift-giving competition he had created in his own mind. Performance became his god. Just as Adam and Eve decided to trade relationship with God for an attempt to be equal with Him, Cain chose to win over his brother. Sadly, he traded their relationship in the transaction.
Our insecurities and fears often drive us to compete with those closest to us. The drive to be more often costs us relationship with the people we are trying so hard to impress.
Yet from the origin of Eden, we see God designed us to thrive in communion rather than competition. In the gospel, we find that Jesus already overcame the deficit of our failures through his death on the cross. Now, we can experience relationship with a God who accounts for our sin as a debt already paid.
The barriers between us and God have been dissolved through the work of Jesus—but more on that later.
Companionship dismantles the striving spirit that needs to perform or achieve more. When a person believes they are truly loved and known, they become unencumbered with proving their merit. This is the gift Christ ultimately offers to us.
Competition is natural in the bio life, but distracts from the rich relationship of the zoe life, which finds its source in Christ, our home. How would you say that competition is driving you right now? What are areas you feel you need to prove or perform for worth?
I’m eager to hear your reflections in your next email.