Are there phrases that make you cringe? When you hear them, you get that tingle down your spine as if someone is running nails over a chalkboard. As a parent, few things make me crazier than when I am giving a command to one of my children or having to discipline another, and my child says, “Well, what about ____?” (insert sibling’s name). Rather than obeying my command or accepting discipline for a wrong action, my children suddenly become concerned about what I am asking their siblings to do or how their siblings will be disciplined for their part in the matter. They want to know how they compare with someone else. I often have to remind my children that it doesn’t matter what I’ve asked someone else to do; what matters is that they obey and accomplish the task they have been given. I remind them that I am the parent and I can take care of their siblings’ disobedience, it’s not something they need to worry about.
Before I allow this to frustrate me too badly, I am reminded that I so often do the same. And I bet you do too. With one swipe of the finger, we fall victim to the comparison game. Have you ever taken time to think about what goes through your mind as you scroll through your social media feed? We make split-second judgments about another person and without thinking we often compare their life with ours—how they look, what they are doing, their family status, the size and strength of their platform, the depth and breadth of their ministry, their political leanings, their theological acumen, or any number of criteria that we deem important.
The comparison game always leads to pride or disappointment. We either think more highly of ourselves than we ought or we wallow in self-pity. Sometimes, we find ourselves asking God: “Why does he get to have that ministry and I don’t?” “Why can’t I have that gift?” “Why can’t my church look like that church?” “Why does she get to have all those children (or that spouse), and I don’t?” “Why can’t I have those opportunities?”
The comparison game has no winners.
One early morning after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples by the Sea of Galilee. Jesus lovingly restored Peter after Peter had denied Him three times on the night of Jesus’ arrest. He not only restored Peter, but he also gave him a monumental task to accomplish. Peter was charged with the responsibility of caring for the believers, spreading the gospel, and helping to establish the church. Jesus told Peter that he would one day die for him as a result of this task. Jesus then commanded, “Follow me.”
After such a poignant moment with Jesus, Peter turned to look at John. His first question to Jesus: “What about him?”
Rather than focusing on all that God had called him to do, Peter shifted his focus to John. If he was going to die such a death for Jesus, what was going to happen to John? Jesus replied, “What is that to you? You follow me!”
The Lord has a distinctive path of discipleship for each of his children. The path that he has laid out for me is different than the one he has laid out for you. Yes, some similarities should mark all followers of Christ, but each of us has been placed in a particular family, in a particular place, in a particular local church, to build up the body of Christ and glorify God in our own unique way. Indeed, God has marked out boundaries and determined our course (Acts 17:26).
Rather than worry about the path and ministry that God has assigned to someone else, I must focus on accomplishing the task that God has laid before me. If I waste my time comparing my life to another’s out of envy or pride, I miss the blessings that God has provided for me in the sharing of the gospel in my particular context. Instead of playing the comparison game and getting lost in thinking the grass is greener on the other side, may the Spirit fix my eyes on Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith; may my eyes not wander and cause my heart to fall into pride or self-pity or envy through the comparison game. What is it to me what God chooses for another? His calling on my life is clear: “Follow me.”