Escaping the comparison trap
"But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Julia questioned the quality of her faith. She saw others who were comfortable doing and saying things with which she was not yet at ease. Even though, by her own admission, she had been growing in her love of scripture and intimacy with God, she felt pressured to be in the same spiritual place as others in her church.
To Julia’s mind, they were "better Christians" because of the way they expressed their faith in Jesus.
"It’s not a contest," I told her. "You are not them and they are not you. You are unique in all of creation, just like I am. Every person is a distinctive individual. You have strengths and weakness, just like they do. Your relationship with the Lord and how He works in your life is going to be one of a kind because He made you to be you, and no one else. Really, it’s not a contest."
God made each of us to be utterly unique. However, we often evaluate our spiritual growth and ministry by what we see in the lives of others.
The Apostle Paul discussed the marvelous variety of gifts and ministries within the Body of Christ in his first letter to the Corinthians. "There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons." (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)
As Paul noted, all of the gifts, ministries and effects come from God. It is God who does the work in the Body. It is He who does the work in us individually, as well.
It is very easy to fall into the comparison trap. It takes little effort to see someone else, whose gifts or ministries seem more prominent or evident than ours, and assume that they are more spiritual or mature. We feel like we must compete, but it’s difficult to love someone with whom we are a rival. That sort of rivalry drives a wedge between people.
In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul took them to task for divisions that had appeared amongst the people. They fell into the comparison trap and were arguing about who was following whom. Some were saying, "I follow Paul," while others were saying, "I follow Apollos!" Paul told them, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth." (1 Corinthians 3:6)
The reality is that growth comes from God. Jesus emphasized this principle for Himself when He said that He could do nothing by Himself, and that the Father’s work was done through Him. (John 5:19, 14:10)
Jesus also talked about this in the Gospel of John where He described our relationship with Him as branches on a vine. That connection is what causes the growth.
Apart from Him, we can do nothing. We cannot grow, which is necessary for the production of fruit in our lives, if we are disconnected from the vine.
The production of fruit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control — is what indicates growth and maturity in a believer. That fruit is what glorifies the Lord.
When we redirect our focus from connecting with God to what our lives look like in comparison to others’, we lose the life-giving, growth-creating branch-to-vine connection that is essential to spiritual life. We start withering on the vine because we have stepped into a place of rule-keeping where we are measuring ourselves by an incorrect standard, we stifle freedom, and we are no longer allowing the life of the vine to grow us. We’ve traded the freedom of the life of Christ for something that cannot nurture or sustain us.
Our salvation and spiritual growth are gifts we experience because we place our confidence in Christ. We don’t even come to Him, or love Him, without Him wooing our hearts with His love. This leaves no room for boasting or pride, both of which are byproducts of the comparison trap.
Jesus tells the story of a farmer who planted seed as an illustration of the Kingdom of God.
The seed sprouts and grows, but the farmer does not understand how it happens. "The earth," Jesus says, "produces the crops on its own." (Mark 4:26-28)
The farmer may have created an environment that was healthy for the crops to grow, but he did not cause that growth to take place. The same is true for spiritual disciplines, such as scripture reading and prayer.
While we can cultivate a healthy spiritual environment in our lives, we cannot make ourselves grow. Only God can do that.
Once Julia took her focus off others and redirected it to the Lord, she was able to genuinely recognize the growth she had been experiencing, and felt a freedom and joy that had been missing. Her doubts faded away as she truly saw how God had been working in her life, cultivating and growing her as only He can.
Michelle Brown is an administrative assistant and staff writer/editor for LIFE Outreach International.
Ask the Lord to show you where you have been comparing your spirituality with others’ then ask Him to show you where He has been working in your life.
"Lord, forgive me for making this into a contest with others. Please show me where You have been working and help me to recognize Your fingerprints in my life. Thank You for growing me. Amen."