I once told a Sunday School class the following: “I’d like to say that the reason I didn’t excel in football was because I was never given the opportunity to do so. But the true reason why I never excelled in football is simply because I’m not built to be a football player. These breadstick arms will tackle nobody!” I said it facetiously, but truthfully. There are certain sports that I simply can’t do because I’m not physically gifted to play those sports. Even in the sports that I do excel in, I’ve realized that I don’t possess certain abilities that others may have. For example, I regularly train with a former college tennis player from Ukraine who’s about 6’4—a good six inches taller than me—and hits the ball like it. In particular, he has a beautiful one-handed backhand that reminds me of Stan Wawrinka’s, and I’ve often told him that I’d pay money to have his backhand (mine is the steady and far less flashy two-hander). But I’ve learned that I’ll never hit a backhand like his, and I’ve learned to be okay with that. I need to be.
After all, Rafael Nadal’s winning record over Roger Federer didn’t happen because he tried to play with the Mighty Fed’s flashy aggression, but rather by playing the less aesthetic but equally effective brand of baseline grinding. Kristi Yamaguchi won the Olympic gold in ’92 over favorite high-flying Midori Ito not by trying to match her athletically with a triple axel, but by skating according to her strengths of consistency, completeness, and choreography. Steph Curry is cementing his NBA legacy not because he tries to emulate the athleticism and all-around game of Michael Jordan, but because he leans on his ball handling finesse and 3-point shooting abilities.
While it’s true that certain playing styles are more charismatic and seemingly more awe-striking than others, an athlete must maintain integrity and play according his or her unique set of assets if he wants to succeed. There’s room for growth and adjustments, but a mature competitor understands his limits and plays in a way that is honest with his strengths and weaknesses. He is comfortable and secure in his own skin.
Such internal security is crucial for Christians. Shrewdness and success as a Christian will only come when one is able to soberly assess his or her strengths and weaknesses. Did not the shrewd manager first come to grips with the fact that he was “not strong enough to dig” (Luke 16:3)? Walking the road of success means being sober about both the abilities you have and the abilities you lack. I’ve watched men who insist that they’re gifted in a way that they’re not but nevertheless attempt to minister with these supposed gifts, with disastrous consequences.
This principle applies to personal appearance and to our occupational endeavors. It also applies to our ministry in the local church. Personal insecurity that is not dealt with can be deadly to a person’s growth and a hindrance to his or her service of God. People who constantly compare themselves to others and insist that they’re gifted in ways that they’re not or attempt to be like someone they’re not are on the path to failure. The saints who effectively serve God’s kingdom, however, and contribute to the furtherance of the Great Commission are those who take to heart Paul’s instruction in Romans 12:3, “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” You accomplish nothing by trying to be someone God didn’t create you to be.
In the end, trying to be like someone you’re not will only make you look foolish. But it’s when you come to terms with how God has designed and gifted you and minister accordingly that you will maximize your effectiveness for the Lord’s work. A duck, after all, can outrace a cheetah—not if it tries to run like a cheetah—but only if it flies like a duck. So let each man arrive at a sound judgment regarding the skills with which God has endowed him, and joyfully serve accordingly. Learn from all men, but don’t attempt to be like someone you’re not. Learn to be comfortable in your own skin.