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Is A Close Second Close Enough?
by Rick Stephenson
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I used to be on the swim team in high school (just don’t ask me how long ago that was). I recall many tight races either as an individual racer or as a part of a team race. Often the separation between first and second place was not visible to the naked eye but had to be determined by relying upon the electronic touch pads at the end of the swim lane. The difference in times would register all the way down to a hundredth of a second in order to declare a first place winner. While the first place champion celebrated, the second place poster was consoled with a phrase such as “You were a close second.”

However, does knowing that you were a close second ever really console someone? Does it deflate or inspire? Well, to console simply means to provide a source of comfort to someone who is distressed or disappointed. Comfort though is only derived when the conditions are such that somebody feels relaxed and to be relaxed means that there is no pain, distress nor anxiety. In fact, to truly define the term relaxed it means that there is no experience of strain or tension, that there are no feelings of being anxious or worried. For someone who missed the mark of coming in first place does it sound possible to be free of disappointment, distress, strain or tension? Perhaps for those who have a really – I mean really – exceptional self-esteem it might but for most I would answer no!

Besides, when someone participates in a race or similar sporting event, don’t they do it in the hopes that they might win? Isn’t that the drive of competition found in the human psyche? The bottom line is we are all competitive in some way aren’t we? I know some of you will say that no we are not. Some will claim that they don’t like sports and so they are not competitive.

But, I think competition goes beyond the sports arena, into our every day living. Sure competition means the process of trying to beat others or trying to do better than someone else. But, I would even suggest that we often compete against ourselves when we try to improve our performance on the job, at school or yes on the field to show that we are getting better for the sake of getting better. Therefore, the question is not truly are we competitive but why are we competitive.

The answer I think lies in the desire for self-improvement. We want a measure that we are growing and external competition provides a ready evidence to show that measurement. I believe this concept is proved in how prevalent sports are in our society and through out the world. There is something in the human spirit that pushes us to grow, however, what happens often is that we over compare ourselves with others and we think that we do not measure up and so we become deflated. We feel that we may always be coming in a close second or even further behind than that and our self-esteem takes a big blow. Then we often begin to give up and stop trying or worse yet stop growing. But, the truth is if something that has life is not growing, it actually is beginning to die.

Look at many around you and you can see the truth of these words in either their eyes or in how they carry themselves physically. Even when we look within ourselves, something doesn’t seem right and if we are honest with our hearts, we can call it sin. After all, sin simply means we have chosen to stop following what we know is right when we feel that we won’t be able to achieve it. In other words, it’s like shooting for the bull’s-eye but knowing we will never hit the mark, so we figure what’s the point and we settle for less. We settle for second place.

Yet, we’re forgetting something very important, in fact vital to our reaching the first place mark. It’s having the right target! Our target should not simply be self-improvement for the sake of self-improvement but rather for fulfilling our purpose. How do we know our purpose? Usually it’s found in the rules that are set in the participation of the event. For example in a sporting event, several rules outline how one wins the contest. By knowing the rules, one can go about setting out a strategy or purpose for participation. For life, the rulebook we’ve been given is the Bible and in reading and studying it we can find our purpose. Then as we gain self-improvement we will begin to see the higher purpose and use for it in relationship to attaining who we were designed to be.

Keep in mind too that like sporting events usually have trainers and coaches that God has blessed us with the same to keep us on track and improving. He is willing to assist us in the development of who we are by allowing us to undergo some rigorous training we call challenges and difficulties. He is also willing to help us through these things so that we realize we are not alone. It’s like having the coach yelling over and over in your ear that you can do it, it’s just that some have tuned him out because they think they can do it on their own.

The best thing yet about allowing God to coach and train us is that He tells us our only competition is ourselves. If we just keep running the race we will come in first place! There is no close second with God! Only those who give up end up losing and to say that they were a close second won’t bring much consolation. I would encourage you therefore today to be sure that you are aiming first at the right target and second that you never, never, never give up!

Here’s a scripture for your encouragement and inspiration:

“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! (Hebrews 12:1 The Message)

God Bless - Rick


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