Two small figures race to the kitchen sink. “Me first,” one of them yells. It’s a contest to see who can wash their hands and make it to the table first.
A few hours later the same competition ensues. Dressed in their pajamas, the go racing down the hallway, grabbing their orange and blue toothbrushes and vying for first place on the bathroom stool.
I want my sons to embrace competition in all the proper places. I also want them to learn to lead from the back of the line—by serving others and letting them go first.
But the lessons are hard won. If I’m honest I get frustrated by all the sibling squabbles. I get tired of the endless races. And I wonder when they’ll internalize what I’m trying to teach them.
But then I take a look in the mirror—the one splattered with water spots and dried toothpaste—and realize I’m not all that much different from my two little boys. I still want to be first in my own line.
I’m not fighting for first place at the sink anymore. But there are plenty of times when I still race toward the front. I see it reflected in my attitude toward my children. I feel it each time I compare myself to a friend.
The struggle to be first isn’t a childhood problem. It’s a human struggle. All throughout Matthew 18–20, Jesus addresses the issue of position—turning our ideas and norms upside down and backwards.
The greatest must be as humble as a little child.
The wealthy must sell everything and follow Jesus.
The early laborer receives the same wage as the late one.
Followers of Jesus must share his cup of suffering and death.
The great ones must be as a servant, and the first ones must be as a slave.
The disciples are consistently shocked and confused by Jesus’ teachings. They don’t internalize his truths but instead take their turn rushing to the front of the line once again.
If Jesus’ teachings weren’t convicting enough already, he draws one final parallel none of us can miss. Regardless of what society you live in or what socioeconomic bracket you find yourself in, it resonates.
He talks about how pagan leaders lord over their subjects and how great people wield their authority over others. It doesn’t take much to see how that plays out today in every location and environment—work, government, family, and society.
It’s a stark and ironic contrast to Jesus’ own life and ministry. As the true king, he had every right to lord over his subjects or wield his authority whenever he wished. But he didn’t. Jesus’ life was marked by service and sacrifice. Ours should be too.
If I take an honest look in my splattered mirror, does my life look like his?
Do I parent my children like Jesus leads me? Or do I issue commands and extend very little grace?
Do I honor my husband the way Jesus did the Father? Or do I quarrel over the little things, worry about my own agenda, and muddle the gospel picture our home could portray?
Do I put in whatever time is needed to serve my clients even when it’s inconvenient? Do I meet a friend’s need even when I’m busy? Do I speak to the team member at my local store with kindness and dignity?
Far too often I’m focused more on my own life than on serving those around me. Without even realizing it, I’m trying to beat them to the front of the line.
But Jesus shows us a better way—one where we think about ourselves less and look out for others more. We hold ourselves back, not in a demeaning way, but in an opportunity to let others go first.
It’s counterintuitive and challenging at first. But the more we slow ourselves down, choosing to go last and serve, the more freedom and joy we experience.
Have you ever noticed how exhausting our racing becomes? By the time you make it to the front of the line, you’re worn out and out of breath—too tired to enjoy what you’ve achieved.
So today let’s allow someone else to go first. And let’s enjoy our position as we lead from the back of the line. Will you join me?