Prayer Thought: Don’t Dare to Compare
“God gave you your own race to run, stop comparing yourself to other people. They have their race and you have yours. Run hard and don’t quit.”
As the saying goes, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” That can certainly be true in one sense, but also a load of garbage in another. Let me explain.
WE all have people in our lives that we’ve looked up to. Whether it’s someone famous, a parent, a teacher, a pastor, a married couple etc. In all of these examples there are qualities in these individuals we ourselves would like to emulate. We’ll challenge ourselves to perform in a specific way or act differently (most of the time BETTER, hopefully), in some THING or things that we admire about someone’s character that we see worthy of taking on for ourselves. Examples of character qualities in this regard are many and varied: patience, solid communication skills in marriage, learning self-control, gentleness, how to listen well to others, finding contentment and joy even in the struggles of this life, perseverance, drive, determination, loving those who are sometimes difficult to love…all of the Fruit of the Spirit. You get the idea. These are wonderful traits to attempt to model. But what happens if, in your attempt to model these character qualities, you lose sight of what’s most important in this life; being who CHRIST has asked YOU YOURSELF to be. Read what the Apostle Paul had to say about this:
“For we do not dare classifying or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. But in measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves to themselves, they lack understanding [some manuscripts say ‘they are foolish or fools’]. We, however, will not boast beyond measure but according to the measure of the area of ministry God has assigned to us, which reaches even to you (2 Cor. 10:12-13).”
What happens when we try to fix our eyes on others and what they are doing to be successful in this life, instead of looking to Christ for all things great and small in our journey? Paul says that this is a foolhardy pursuit. I still remember in my teens and 20’s wanting desperately to be like my dad. He was/is a gentle man, theologically sound, very articulate, an outstanding teacher of God’s Word, and has filing cabinets full of his own study notes through the years of all 66 books of Scripture. Plus, he also has right around 30 more years of wisdom, discernment, and trial and error than me. I had blinders on, however, and was working my tail off to follow right in his footsteps. Until one day I was reading this passage from 2 Corinthians 10, and it hit me like a ton of bricks that I was attempting to be someone/something I was never meant to be in the first place. The Lord gives specific gifting to each of us in the manor that HE desires to use them through us. This was a mighty realization.
But going back to our passage, Paul desired for the Corinthians and all others who would read this letter to be aware of those who focus solely on their own selfish objects. Those that compare themselves to others have motives that are centered in themselves, therefore judging themselves by their own standards rather than who God calls them to be. They take credit for other’s work to have people look at them from a high position, replacing God’s righteous judgment with their own feeble attempts at control their own destiny.
We must keep within the boundaries of what the Lord would have for us to do (2 Cor. 10:13). We cannot give way to the challenge of comparison. Basically, this is Paul’s “Stop trying to keep up with the Jones’s” admonishment. Instead, work diligently in the work not marked out by human hands, but by God’s sovereign hand.
This might be one of the most difficult challenges missionaries will ever face. We are told to talk about ourselves and “our ministry” in general. Church mission committees and some organizations put numbers of stipulations and goals on the shoulders of missionaries as well (i.e. how many conversions, how many baptisms, how much growth numerically in your church per quarter or year etc.) The expectation is immense. So immense, in fact, that these partner organizations and churches oftentimes begin comparing the work their missionaries are doing with that of other missionaries and sending organizations that have missionaries not even in the same country. This kind of stuff happens so quickly, many times, churches don’t even realize they’re doing it. But it can be so damaging to the spiritual vitality and overall confidence of missionaries all across the globe.
We must be in constant prayer for ourselves as missionaries and for the missionaries in our care. Discouragement is one thing. But discouragement that comes from those who you believe you can trust, is quite another thing altogether.
This week let’s pray diligently for our missionaries (we can include ourselves) who daily face the temptation to compare their “success” with the success stories of others in other regions, countries, and continents. Pray for the churches and for KM as a whole to be vigilant of discouragement when expectations of ministry or converts or baptisms seem as if they don’t match up to what they hoped for at this time. Pray with these amazing missionaries and encourage them to stay firmly planted in the work and skill the Lord has led them to do individually and as a team. Be thankful that the Lord continues to use “cracked pots (2 Cor. 4:4f)!”
Clayton J. Elliott, Kontaktmission USA
Director of Pastoral Ministries and Prayer