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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Unhealthy Comparisons

Job’s three friends looked at Job in his wretched condition and considered it in terms of their retributive theology. They see their own health. None of the three seems sick in any way. So, they stand by him in his agony, and they judge him. They compare themselves to him. They aren’t sick, so they must right in God’s eyes. Job has suffered sickness and devastating lost. He must be wrong in God’s eyes. It’s that simple.

Comparison is a damnable thing. There are ways comparisons can lead to seeing a situation clearly. Comparison by way of analogy can lead to understanding. But, I don’t like comparing people. I do it. I shamefully join and even initiate comparisons of different people. “She’s nicer than him.” “He’s not as educated as her.” I play that game, but I shouldn’t.

Comparison is damaging because God has things in mind for me. God’s plans for others are not God’s plans for me. If I start comparing, then I am drawn away from the best life I could lead – the life God envisions for me. I start trying to lead someone else’s life. It’s silly and stupid and frustrating.

When I was brand new pastor, I read Rick Warren’s book and Bill Hybel’s book. I saw how those guys were preaching to 100’s and 1000’s by their early to mid 30’s. I was envious and frustrated. I was leading a church of about 70 and the attendance was sinking. We were averaging right around 50 when I left 9 years later. I started comparing myself to those famous pastors and I was missing the plan God had for me. God didn’t set Rick Warren’s life before Rob Tennant. So, why was I trying to be him? Comparison!

I needed Job’s certainty. He was committed to the truth and the truth was, he believed in his innocence. He rejected wholeheartedly the evidence of the three friends as well as young Elihu. They presented their prosperity and his woe as evidence that he had sinned. The comparison led them to self-righteously judge him. But, Job would have none of it. He was living his own story and he believed God had taken his story – hijacked it. His only recourse was to bring response to God.

By the, way, I thought of all this earlier today. I went for a jog; 1 mile; down hill. I walked back up the hill to get home. So, I jogged and I was sore. I had not gone for a run in well over a month. My leg muscles in full revolt shouted at me, “What the heck is going on? We didn’t think you were serious about this!”

So, as I walked back up the hill toward home, a guy jogged by me. He was jogging up the hill faster than I had jogged down it. He was a couple of inches taller than me with a full head of hair. He was lean. His jogging stride was confident and smooth, not the labored, pavement-slapping tortuous effort I go through.

Now, you see what I did in that last paragraph. As that guy ran past me, I started comparing myself to him, and I starting feeling bad. It’s the same thing I used to do when I compared my church of 50 with Saddleback’s 25,000.

I am not in competition with that jogger. There is absolutely no reason for me to feel bad about putting the ice scoop down and going out and doing 1 mile roadwork. Maybe I can do this 3 or 4 times this week, and next week it will be 1.3 miles. I might run up a hill – a small hill with a gradual slope. In a month, I may try the 2 miles; or, I may try the same mile, but maybe faster. Who am I racing? The ice cream scoop, my gut, 40 (next February). What do I get if I win? I get to run more! I get healthier heart. I get more energy when I am chasing my kids around.

I am sorry if this has turned into a Richard Simmons testimonial. The point is I haven’t compared myself to Rick Warren for several years now. I am past that point of my life as a pastor. I celebrate what God has done at Saddleback and at Willow Creek and in the little churches where I pastor. I don’t do the comparisons in that way, but it is still a temptation for me. I compare myself with the other jogger on the road (not much of a comparison, I’m afraid). I compare my kids with other kids.

Part of my growth in Christ has to be daily victory over the sin of comparison. I have to reject the (non)wisdom of Job’s windbag friends. I have to lay claim to the story God is writing for my life with the same intensity and commitment Job made to lay claim to his innocence. God is writing out a pretty cool script. I am at my best when I follow it.

So, tomorrow afternoon, I hope to go running, much to the disappointment and dismay of my leg muscles. As the grandmas and the high school students and the studs go jogging past me I’ll smile and wave. And I hope the next time I am tempted to an unhealthy comparison, I am ready to push myself to be who God is leading me to become and not worry about anyone else except to help them be who God is leading them to become.

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