Have you ever heard the saying: “it’s like comparing apples and oranges”? People use it when someone makes a comparison of things that are too different to be equivalent. It’s unfair because the objects can’t or shouldn’t be compared by the same criteria. Apples and oranges are both types of fruit and are roughly the same size, but trying to compare them or say which one is “better” is just plain silly. Certain recipes clearly call for one or the other. I love to make Cranberry Apple Pie at Thanksgiving, but I would never swap the apples for oranges. The two aren’t interchangeable. Each has distinctive qualities that make it uniquely suited for certain recipes.
We live in a culture consumed with making comparisons. We’re constantly labeling, categorizing and judging. Unfortunately we are prone to make unhelpful comparisons in our daily lives that do significantly more damage than comparing apples to oranges. Have you ever encountered a person doing something amazing and inspiring and been tempted to feel insignificant and inadequate? Maybe someone is sharing about a way God moved in her life and the whole time you’re comparing yourself, feeling threatened and thinking: “What does this mean for me?” I’ll confess that I had one of those moments as I read Chapter 2 of What Happens When Women Say Yes to God.
Lysa TerKeurst shares a moving story about adopting two teenaged boys from Liberia, Africa. She says that her family said, “yes” to God “not because [they] were completely comfortable with adopting, but rather because [they] completely trusted Him” (p. 37). It’s an inspiring story, but instead of praising God for working in her family and rescuing two boys from the grip of poverty, I read it through my own filter. Evaluating myself in comparison to her, I thought: “She’s better than me. I would never be able to handle something like that.” It is too easy to look at how God is moving in the lives of others and to play the comparison game. We end up thinking we’re inadequate for not “measuring up” and don’t factor in the part the Holy Spirit plays in all of it.
When we compare ourselves and come up short, we are essentially telling God that we don’t like the gifts He’s given us. We are deciding that what God has done in another life is better than anything He could do in ours. God has unique promptings for each of us. He gives each of us specific gifts, skills and experiences, all of which can be used for His glory. We are uniquely suited for certain things. We’ll miss out on hearing His voice and discovering how He wants to use us if we’re busy comparing ourselves to others.
Saying “yes” to God’s promptings is a slow building process. As He softens our hearts and we align our wills with His, He begins to shape our dreams and desires. This is not something that happens overnight. The first steps may look small to you, but they are only the beginning. It starts with saying “yes” to spending time with God every day. It continues as you include Him in your daily choices. Eventually, you may find yourself surrendering every decision to Him and asking for His direction in all that you do. The experiences you have, the people you meet and the things you learn prepare you to be used in new ways so that you are ready to answer when you hear God’s call.
Lysa gave a great set of questions to ask ourselves as we consider responding to God’s promptings:
-Does what I’m hearing line up with Scripture?
-Is it consistent with God’s character?
-Is it being confirmed through messages I’m hearing at church or studying in my quiet times?
-Is it beyond me? (ie: I could never do it without God’s help)
-Would it please God?
Even people who have been followers of Jesus for many years always have opportunities to stretch and grow in new ways. After all, we are on a continual journey and will never attain total maturity or completeness until we reach our heavenly home. Perhaps you’re already living out a “yes” you said to God in the past. Maybe He is preparing you for a new season of serving in a different way. Has someone recently asked you to consider a new opportunity that is a bit out of your comfort zone? It might be time to pray through Lysa’s five questions and see where God is leading. The point is: we need to look at what God is doing in us, personally, instead of comparing ourselves to what He’s doing in others.
If you are criticizing yourself over your propensity to compare, keep in mind that even Jesus’ closest disciples were guilty of this habit. In the final chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus gives Peter some specific instructions about his ministry on earth. When Jesus finishes talking, Peter turns and points to John, asking Jesus “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:21-22). I like the way my Bible commentary explains Jesus’ response to Peter: “The answer of Jesus had one purpose, to rebuke Pater for being distracted over John’s future. It was enough for him to be concerned about doing God’s will in his own life” (The Wycliffe Bible Commentary edited by Pfeiffer and Harrison, p. 1122). Maybe it’s enough for us to be concerned about doing God’s will in our lives too.
When I’m tempted to compare the ways God is using another person and to think I don’t measure up, I stop myself by saying: “Celebrate, don’t compare.” It is a different issue entirely if we make a comparison and feel convicted that we’re being disobedient to God or not using what He’s given us. In that case, we need to confess in prayer and follow up with actions. In either situation, being critical of ourselves serves no purpose other than to keep us from making a difference for God’s kingdom purposes.