Winners come last after Jesus changed rules

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An unusual school sports day event saw the prize awarded to the last person across the line, writes Duncan Clark (pictured above, inset) in his new book Live Deeply.

The email arrived on Monday morning. It was the day after we had hosted a well-known and well-respected guest preacher.

Like many visiting ministers do, he was writing to express his gratitude for the opportunity to speak at our church.

As he concluded his delightfully worded email, he signed off with a final sentence that went something like this: “Duncan, I’ve noticed something about your leadership that I think needs some work, and if you give me a call, I’ll talk to you about it and I’ll help you improve.”

Now, you might like to think that the first thought that came into my mind was, “Tell me more. I love people showing me how I can get better at my job!”

But that’s not how it went.

My first thought went something like this: “How dare he! Who does he think he is?”

The ego and pride that resided deep in my heart quickly found their way to the surface, and feelings, thoughts and words of self-defence overflowed.

Thankfully, I have learned not to respond to those kinds of emails too quickly, and during the next 48 hours, as the email sat in my inbox, the Holy Spirit began to work on my interior world.

My response slowly changed to, “How dare I! Who do I think I am?”

My heart began to soften, my arrogance gradually melted and I called the esteemed guest preacher, withheld from him my initial reaction and told him I was keen to learn.

His advice, given more than 15 years ago, still helps me to be a better leader and communicator today.

In reality, my pride could have easily got in the way of my growth.

The pathway to the deeper life is a downward one.

In a selfie-centred world, it requires us to confront our ego aggressively and choose a life of humility.

In a culture of narcissism and self-absorption that has infected almost every stratum of society, from world leaders in the corridors of power to everyday people posting everyday social media posts, we follow a man on a cross.


Jesus changed the scorecard. He moved the goalposts. It’s not that he was anti-ambition. He actually called his followers to actively pursue greatness. Not the kind of greatness that jostles for position and stands on others to climb to the top of the tree – his was a form of greatness that would take one downward step after another.

The hero in Jesus’ kingdom was not the person at the summit, but the person at base camp helping others climb ahead of them.

Sports Day was always a highlight during my primary school education.

Once a year, squeezed between the tedium of maths, English and science lessons, the whole school gathered on the grass playing fields to compete for the eternal glory that was given to those who were strong enough and fast enough to win a race.

Of course, there were the usual running races and then the slightly less-than-Olympic standard races that required participants to carry an egg on a spoon, or run with a leg attached to a classmate, or move as fast as they could with both legs restricted by a sack that had previously been filed with potatoes.

Our school added a slightly unusual event. The slow bike race. Contestants were asked to bring their bicycles from home; they rode them to the starting line and when they were told to ‘go’, they did their best to stand still.

Racers were disqualified if they put a foot down, so they would inch forward just enough to keep their bikes balanced.

The winner’s prize was awarded to the last person to cross the finishing line.

The loser? The first person to cross that same line! Imagine participating in that race, but no one has told you the rules.

When the race starts, you pedal away as fast as you can, you get out of breath, you break into a sweat, you are first over the line… you are the winner! At least, that’s what you think, until someone explains the rules to you.

Jesus switched the rules. For almost all of us they will initially feel counterintuitive.

In an ego-dominated world where arrogance and boasting are normalised, we run as servants.

In a culture of self-promotion and self-congratulation, Jesus’ playbook tells us to lower ourselves and “walk humbly with [our] God,” (Micah 6:8).

Radical new rules.

Into an honour-shame culture, where much of life was focused on the receiving of public praise and the avoidance of public shame, Jesus was born in a manger.

The King of the Jews entered the world as a weak and powerless infant at the exact same time that another self-proclaimed king of the Jews was violently clinging to power.

The true King would lay down his life in an act of self-sacrifice; the second, Herod, would oppress the weak, abuse his power and use aggression to achieve his goals.

Jesus enters the world wrapped in swaddling bands and leaves the world wrapped in a servant’s towel.

He changes the scorecard, switches the rules and establishes a new pattern for living.

  • Live Deeply by Duncan Clark is published by Instant Apostle (ISBN 9781912726790) and is available in Christian bookshops and from online sellers. Used by permission

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