If You Ain't First, You're Last
I am about to share something with you that is deeply personal and vulnerable. Once I share this, many of you may find that you either have something new and wonderful in common with me. Or not.
Here goes: One of my favorite movies is Will Ferrell's Talladaga Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
Don't judge. Remember what Jesus said about when you judge others, you get judged by the same measure. I bet you've got a movie or two that you just love (like Ernest Goes To Camp, for example) that would make the rest of us go, "Huh?"
In Talladaga Nights, Will Ferrell's character Ricky Bobby is a NASCAR race car driver, who falls on hard times. For his entire life he's held to a motto he heard from his ne'er do well father when he was a child: "If you ain't first, you're last."
When he's finally reunited with his father, Ricky Bobby has this exchange with him about that life motto:
Ricky Bobby: Wait, Dad. Don’t you remember the time you told me “If you ain’t first, you’re last”?
Reese Bobby: Huh? What are you talking about, Son?
Ricky Bobby: That day at school.
Reese Bobby: Oh ----, Son, I was high that day. That doesn’t make any sense at all, you can be second, third, fourth… ---- you can even be fifth.
Ricky Bobby: What? I’ve lived my whole life by that!
I know... I know... this isn't the most classy devotional I've written, but hang in there.
This conversation with his dad was was a turning point in the movie. When Ricky Bobby starts to fail, when he is no longer winning races, he doesn't know how to handle it because he'd structured his whole life around the idea of a certain kind of success, and winning above all else.
But as the movie progresses, he begins to learn more from his failures than he ever learned from his successes.
Author Ryan Holiday, notes this kind of shift in our thinking when he writes, "Failure is a part of life we have little choice over. Learning from failure, on the other hand is optional. We have to choose to learn."
Jesus' constantly taught how it is humility and becoming less than that leads to true success. "If you want to save your life," he taught, "you have to lose it." "In the kingdom of God, Jesus proclaimed, "the first will be last, and the last will first."
May you learn true spirituality and intimacy with Christ from your low moments, your stumbles and your foibles. May you give up your need to be successful in the eyes of our culture, and strive instead for the humility and lowliness that Christ himself took on willingly to his ultimate glory.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.