I’ve been a minister for about 12 years in some form or another. And, like many men and women in my profession, I often find myself playing the Comparison Game. The first time I read The Irresistible Revolution I felt guilty for weeks that I don’t sew my own clothes.
I wish I preached like that guy.
I wish I connected with people like that lady.
I wish i had the creative vision like that church.
I wish I was wise like that group.
We all do this – it’s part of being an American human. We’re constantly told to compare ourselves, sometimes subtly and other times not. For instance, just count the number of fitness centers between your current location and wherever you’re going next. American capitalism and culture are driven by our belief that we don’t measure up.
I am learning to avoid the Comparison Game, though, especially as a minister. The past year-and-a-half I’ve preached for a little church in Arkansas that has taught me much about obedience and the power of a few people to transform a city. I am still tempted to compare myself with what’s on the other side of the fence, but I thought I’d share a few of the destructive outcomes I’ve experienced when we compare ourselves to others.
1. WE’RE DRIVEN BY POPULARITY, NOT OBEDIENCE
One of my 5-year-olds, Judah, is notorious for watching how my wife and i treat his brothers. He’s always measuring, making sure he receives the same treatment as everybody else. It’s not uncommon for us to offer our boys rewards for going above and beyond. We might say, “Titus, if you will pick up everybody’s shoes you can have an extra ten minutes on the Wii.” Judah sees Titus playing Wii while everyone else marches to bed. When he asks why Titus gets extra time, my response is usually: “Is your name Titus or Judah? What did I ask Judah to do?”
This is one problem with comparison – we forget, or completely ignore, that God has given us a job to do. Your job might be to preach twenty-seven services every weekend to thousands of people, or your job might be to wash out the communion trays. Either way, your job is not their job, and their job is not yours. Your job is important because it’s been given to you by God. You can either do your job well, honoring our Father, or whine that you didn’t get somebody else’s.
I recently spoke to a group of inmates at Wrightsville prison south of Little Rock. After i was done, an inmate came over with a glass of water. He hugged me and said, “Thank you for being obedient.”
No one has ever said that to me after I preached, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. Are you obedient to the call God has given you? Do you believe your job matters, or are you perpetually waiting for your big shot at something better?
2. WE REJECT PEOPLE WHO LOVE US FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE NEVER HEARD OF US
If you spend your days wishing you had a bigger reach, if you wish more people retweeted you or shared your blogs, or if you wish your podcast had more listeners than just your wife and your mom, perhaps you’re missing something crucial: the people who are actually listening.
One day when I was a youth minister, I showed up to an event i thought would be really, really big. Tons of kids signed up, and most of them were bringing lots of friends. But one by one I got texts saying why kids couldn’t come, and by the end we had maybe a dozen teenagers show up. I spent the first ten or fifteen minutes stewing about those who didn’t come until one young lady spoke up: “Sorry we’re not enough.” She said it sarcastically, and it certainly lightened the mood, but man did it sting.
Imagine going to a soccer field and watching somebody else’s kid play. You get out your phone and start recording their big shots. You cheer when they score and talk to all the parents about how good that kid is. All the while your own child is sitting beside you, wondering if you’ll ever notice them.
If you’re a teacher, pour yourself into the students you have. If you’re a mechanic, work on every car like it’s your own. If you’re starving artist bussing tables, make sure your tables are the cleanest in the restaurant. Be committed to the work before you, because if you’re not, well, just read number 3…
3. YOU’LL NEVER BE SATISFIED
Jesus told a parable once about a king who left his servants in charge of his money. When the king returned, some of the servants put the money to work, but one didn’t. He told those who put the money to work that because they were faithful with a little bit of money, he knew they could be trusted with a big piece of his kingdom. As for the servant who did nothing, he was thrown out and punished.
Here’s the point: if you are faithful with your “little” job, you’ll be faithful with your “big” job when it comes. But so long as you live like a person waiting on her ship to arrive, you’ll miss the work that matters now.
4. WHEN YOU GET IT, YOU’RE STILL YOU
Remember the original Blackberry? I wanted one so bad. I had a friend who used one for work and I was always jealous when he’d send me an email with “SENT FROM MY BLACKBERRY” arrogantly scrawled across the bottom. This was before the days of smart phones, so a handheld device that could get email and internet was mind-blowing.
Around 2007 I got a Blackberry. A small one, but still a Blackberry. I liked it and used it for everything I could, but it was never the wonderful gadget I’d dreamed about. This usually happens when we get what we think we want. But it’s not that we discover the product or the job or the family or the paycheck is unsatisfactory. It’s that we discover we’re still the same person.
Most of us compare ourselves to others believing that having what they have will make us be who they are. If you think landing that job will suddenly make you a respected authority in that field, you’re in for disappointment. If you think a bigger paycheck or nicer clothes or the latest gadget will open the door to really become the man or woman you dreamed you’d be, you’re going to find only your same old self with new clothes.
Collin Cowherd hosts a radio show on ESPN, and he once said, “Money makes you more of what you already are.”
Money, jobs, clothes, Twitter followers, blog subscribers, none of those things changes you. You’re still you no matter who is listening. So do your work faithfully and with integrity.
Quit comparing yourself to other people. Get to work doing the job right in front of your face. You may live your entire life in the shadows, never being famous, never hitting it big, never making the New York Times Bestseller List, never cracking that 200-follower ceiling on Twitter. But if you do your job faithfully, as though the world depends on it, the world will be better because you were in it.