A number of years ago, I served a church that had a self-professed “evangelist” who would always take the opportunity to share with me his ministry successes:
- 47 men gave their lives to Christ in prison last night;
- 132 people put their faith in Jesus at his revival the week before;
- 10 more blessed souls found God as he preached on the street corner on his way to the office.
Or so it always seemed. I’d hear his glowing reports and think to myself, What’s wrong with me and my ministry? 47 people didn’t give their lives to Christ when I preached in the same prison the week before he did! Am I a failure?
When we lived in New Orleans I preached for several years to our small congregation that included a woman who had not yet become a Christ follower. My wife got to know her and a life-long friendship ensued. I would talk with this woman about Jesus. No response. I preached to this woman about Jesus. No response. And then one evening Billy Graham came to town and preached one of his last “crusades,” and this woman was in the arena with us. When Dr. Graham gave the invitation, she turned to me and said, “You go up with me. I want to give my life to Jesus!”
I wish I could tell you that my initial reaction was, “That’s fantastic! Praise God!” But it wasn’t. The first thought that went through my mind was, I’ve been preaching the Gospel to you for three years, and you don’t respond, and here the mighty Billy Graham gives a ten-minute sermon and invitation, and you want to give your life to Jesus?!? Once again I was flooded with feelings of inadequacy, failure, and serious consideration that maybe I was in the wrong line of work.
Ever been there? Most, if not all of us, have. Your co-worker gets the promotion instead of you. People give the other singer a standing ovation, and for you, they politely clap. You studied six hours for that exam, and your friend never cracked a book. She got an A. You got a C-.
Comparing ourselves to others is as old as Cain and Abel. It didn’t turn out too well for them (especially Abel), and it doesn’t turn out too well for us, either. The next time you find yourself not measuring up to the successes of your friend, sibling, co-worker, or neighbor (who just got a new boat…and you didn’t), consider these steps to counter comparisons.
First, identify the source of your identity. Is your identity and sense of self worth tied to what other people think of you, or who you are in Christ Jesus (Colossians 3:3)?
Second, identify the strengths of your individuality. You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14); therefore identify the strengths God has placed within you. I may not be a great evangelist, because God didn’t make me an evangelist. But He has given me other strengths to contribute to His Kingdom work. And He’s done the same for you, too.
Third, identify the character of your community. We were created to be in intimate relationships with others whom we fully know and by whom we are fully known. We need people who will speak honestly and lovingly into our lives, people who know our blind spots and weaknesses and choose to love us anyway. If you crave the praise from your community, you’re in the wrong community. Your approval rests in Christ; your affirmation and exhortation rest in your community (1 Corinthians 12:21-26; Galatians 6:1-2).
The next time you feel inadequate because you’re not like so-and-so, counter the comparison by knowing who you are, your God-given strengths, and the character of your community. In Christ you have been set free from having to be like your successful sibling, promoted co-worker, or gilded neighbor. Be who YOU are, in Christ, and in healthy relationships with others.