Have you been watching “The Choir” on TV? If you have, you’ll know that Gareth Malone tells his choir, “you need to perform and you need competition to bring out the best in you.” I love Gareth’s style as he clearly wants people to do well and so he brings out the best in the people he works with. This healthy approach to competition is now thankfully being revived in school sports. Sport is dead bland when everyone is a “winner” for taking part and excellence is overlooked for the sake of equality. We need gold medallists to bring out the best in everyone.
But competition is not always good for us and this is something we need to think about at Christmas and beyond. Health Care company BUPA recently surveyed people and they found that 44% of British adults (45-54 year olds) are suffering long term stress about money, work and family life. We are all affected. But why are people so stressed about these things? I believe it has lots to do with competition in the workplace. When we all feel we need to compete over education, jobs, better houses and school places, life is stressful. Competition has changed the way we celebrate Christmas as the shops get competitive, starting Christmas displays earlier and earlier, as well as the sales, often before Christmas Day itself, and all in competition for our money, as many of us go loopy trying to get the best price for presents and all the trimmings [like on Black Friday]. But when we all compete for a higher standard of living the competition itself is paradoxically harmful to our souls. Competition is not always good for us.
As a church, God does not call us to compete but co-operate in life. He calls us to live a life of generosity and the the giving of self for the good of others. We are to serve one another because Christ first served us and gave his life as a ransom for many. The God who gives us life and who gave his only Son to suffer on the cross for us that we might live through him, calls us to be generous like him.
As Christians, we each know the blessing of being generous. One example is the the Christmas shoebox appeal, Operation Christmas Child. This is one small way we can be generous to others. Yet, the appeal goes to unknown children in far off lands. The big question is “how can I be godly with the people I meet day to day?”
Jesus has started a revolution in the way his people think about possessions and money and this teaching changes our reason for living and so it affects the way we treat others.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?…O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these [material] things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:30-33)
As we work as a church to build the Kingdom of God for the common good and the glory of God, Jesus frees us from anxiety. When we take Jesus at his word, we focus on God and righteousness and so relax and find peace in our souls as we are freed from the love of money. This is a refreshing and liberating truth: Stress and anxiety about material stuff reduces when Christ rules our heads and hearts.
So, this Christmas, why not bid higher on Ebay, or add a little extra to the price when you pay, and tell the person why you did it? Why not shop locally and tell the shopkeeper that price is not the most important thing but that you want to help your local shopkeeper out this Christmas? If your neighbour is finding it hard to make ends meet, will you give them a helping hand? Let’s shake off our competitive culture and learn to bless others in the name of Christ, who is God’s gift to a world in need. Happy Christmas, love Neil.