The Olympic trials have gotten under my skin. Love watching the exhilaration of those who win a ticket to Beijing. Hate seeing the disappointment of those who lose a coveted spot on their national team by a few points, an untimely injury, or some other twist of fate. Keep thinking about how much these athletes and their families have sacrificed for a few moments that will either put them into the international spotlight– or send them back into relative obscurity.
Have also wondered about the kind of pressure that must be on the kids who are being coached by a former Olympian who also happens to be their parent.
Struggling for a limited number of spots on each team. With countless factors that can turn a few moments into the fulfillment of a life long dream– or a nightmare. Can’t figure out whether this is something to celebrate– or just way too much pressure. On the other hand, it bears a haunting resemblance to the life we are all destined to live.
While following the stories of some of the athletes, I’ve been reminded of how competitive life is not only for these Olympic hopefuls, but for all of us. The struggle for limited resources shows up in just about every area of our lives. Applying for a job or a school, supporting a political candidate, building a business, beating the crowd, winning an argument, hunting for a parking place, negotiating a price on a car or a house, these are only the beginning of the countless ways by which we intentionally or unintentionally compete with those around us.
But the ever present reminders that we are living in a competitive world are more than a fact of life. It also can morph into a matter of faith. When winning seems like everything to us, then it’s also possible that whatever we are trying to win has become a god.
The alternative is to use our unavoidable struggle for limited resources as an opportunity to depend on a God of unlimited capacity– to provide for us– whether we win or lose.
Seems to me that nowhere is trust in an unlimited Provider– in an environment of limited resources– better illustrated than in Jesus’ confrontation with the devil in a barren Judaean Wilderness. According to the 4th chapter of Matthew, the Spirit led Jesus into a place of extreme conditions to be tempted by the devil. After not eating for 40 days,
Satan urges Jesus to prove that he’s the Son of God by using his power to turn stones into bread. If Jesus does it, he takes provision into his own hands, and follows the prompting of Satan, rather than his Father in heaven. In our competitive world that’s probably the equivalent of being tempted to cheat, fudge, and break the rules of the game. It would also be like saying, we deserve whatever we can get– by whatever means– because if we don’t take care of ourselves, who will?
Jesus responds by quoting the Scripture which says, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word (of provision) that comes out of the mouth of God.” Remembering that our real significance, satisfaction, and security come from the mouth of God rather than from our own decisions is the confidence we all need in the competitive heat of temptation.
When it’s clear that Jesus isn’t going to turn rocks into bread,
Satan takes Jesus to a high place, and suggests that he jump to prove his relationship to the Father in heaven. The devil even pulls a quote from the 91st Psalm to suggest that if Jesus really is the Son of God, the Father will send angels to catch him before he hits the ground. The proposition is designed to prompt a physically weakened Jesus to force the hand and timing of his Father’s care.
In our own struggle for a job, an education, or a troubled relationship, that might be like the temptation to declare our faith in such a way as to put God’s reputation on the line to prove, on our terms, and in our time, that he will keep his promises to care for us.
Jesus responds by quoting the Scriptures that say, “It is written, you shall not tempt (or i.e. test) the Lord your God.” He knew that it is not our place to put God to the test– on our terms, and by our sense of time.
Satan makes his ultimate proposition. He takes Jesus to a high mountain, shows him the kingdoms of the world, and tells Jesus that if he will just bow down and worship him (the devil), he will give Jesus the world without a fight.
The implication seems to be that if Jesus would simply let Satan be god for a moment, Jesus could have the whole world without having to complete his mission of suffering. In our competitive world, that is probably like taking money under the table for a contract or to fix the outcome of a game– without realizing that we are really saying something about who our god is in the process.
Jesus responded by quoting the Scriptures (Deuteronomy) a third time. He said, “For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.” Jesus’ refuses to bow to any Provider other than his Father in heaven.
I know this has gotten a little long, but what has happened is that, while getting caught up in the emotion and drama of the Olympic Trials, I’ve heard a faint echo of a far greater competition that we are all involved with– together with our God– every day.