Friday, February 24, 2012


I tend to be rather competitive.

In fact, pretty much everyone in my family is competitive. We like to win, don't like losing.
This can lead to some eventful game nights.

When we were first married, Patricia and I often played board games. We didn't have a TV and it was a nice way to spend an evening. Reading aloud to each other wasn't too satisfying except in small doses. (Listen to this!) So games were an excellent choice. We learned a lot about each other in those early years.

For example, I found out that my loving wife is every bit as competitive as I am. And we discovered that Monopoly was a game we just cannot play together. For one thing, it engendered heated discussions about the rules. (No, you can't put the tax money in the middle - it goes to the bank! The rules clearly say "Free Parking" is nothing more than a free resting space where nothing happens!) Won't say who was on which side of that dispute, but I will note that most of the informal rule changes that people observe in Monopoly tend to make the game take longer.* When you really play according to the rules, game play can be fairly short.

The object of the game is to collect all the property and all the money, in the process bankrupting your opponents and destroying their livelihood. And that was the problem for us. Whoever won would gloat, whoever lost would sulk. It made for some unhappy bedtimes. After a while we decided it wasn't worth the pain, and quit playing that game. We took up Yahtzee instead. And since I'm obsessive, I kept track of who won and who lost every game for a couple of years. 
It turned out to be an interesting experiment.

Because we played Yahtzee with the same opponent all the time, we developed pretty much identical strategies. And over time, we discovered that we were essentially equivalent in ability and success rate. Rather than sulking, the response of the loser would be, "Let's play another". 
One might lose a few times in a row, but eventually it evened out.  I quit keeping records after a thousand games. The results were kind of amazing. After 1000 games, each of us had won exactly 500. In the long run, the outcome between evenly matched competitors was a coin flip.

Can't say the same for Parcheesi. I contend she won at least 2/3 of the time. 
Don't know why, she's just better than me at it. **

I think competition is actually rather universal. Some people are more and some less competitive, but I believe God designed mankind to respond to rewards. Everybody likes winning, nobody likes to lose. And deep down, we're all afraid we're just not good enough, that we won't measure up. 
Some people spend all their lives and energy working to be holy, hoping to earn favor with God. And truthfully, we can never do that. The Bible clearly states that everyone falls short of His glory. (Romans 3:23) The good news is, we don't have to measure up - God's grace is freely given to us. Eternal life is His gift to all who believe, bought and paid for by Jesus. (Romans 6:23

The love of God is unconditional - but His promises are not. Every promise of God comes with a condition. He offers incentives for our proper behavior. Not eternal life; that's totally free. 
But when we put His principles into practice, blessings follow in our lives here on earth.

Some examples: 
Isaiah 1:19 - "If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land"

John 15:5 - “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

Galatians 6:9 -  "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."

Incentives tie into our natural competitiveness, encouraging us to do our best. The most effective way to harness this power is to have clearly defined goals, with specific rewards offered for each level of success. And the rules have to be consistently applied. Incentives are a powerful training tool when working with children - but yes has to be yes, and no really mean no. The worst thing a parent can do is reward bad behavior by giving in to a tantrum. When a child finds that throwing a fit actually makes things worse for them, they quit doing it.

Sadly, adults don't always respond to God in this way. Even though we know our behavior is harmful, sometimes we cling to it. Adultery, drunkenness, lust, gluttony, bitterness, unforgiveness - these are just a few of the behaviors people hang on to, despite God's Word clearly indicating how harmful they are. Maybe it won't cause us to miss heaven, but our lives on earth can be totally destroyed and miserable because of our bad decisions. And He promises much better for us - but we have to be willing and obedient.

It's not easy. I like pleasing my flesh, and often don't want to stop doing what I know isn't pleasing God. But when I do, I find the rewards are real and tangible. For example, when I eat less and exercise more, I drop some weight and feel a lot better. Still, I prefer to sit on the couch eating chips. So, like the Apostle Paul, I have to bring my body into subjection, choosing to do what is right and reaping the long term benefits while giving up the quick buzz of pleasure. 

Competition - it's a gift from God we can use to help us grow and mature. It's still true - we reap what we sow. And good seed planted in good soil will reap a bountiful harvest in our lives - if we don't give up. (Galatians 6:7-9)

*Sure it's fun winning a pile of money by landing on Free Parking. But the more money everybody has, the longer the game takes. When I was a kid, we had Monopoly games which took weeks to complete. Of course, we started with a bunch more money than the rules allowed - sometimes we used Game of Life money instead.

**Patricia doesn't really agree that she's superior at this game. And I never kept records like I did with Yahtzee - but it sure seemed to me that I usually lost at Parcheesi - not happily, either. 
Now that I've thought about this, maybe we'll dig the game out and play again and see how it goes.

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