I wonder if comparison is a nicer-sounding expression for envy. When I read the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, I can quickly pass over verse 17 under the assumption that I don’t have any problems with desires for the wealth or the family of my neighbors. In fact, I tend to read this verse with specifics in mind, comforting myself that I don’t desire my friend’s Xbox or his car or whatever else he may have. I tell myself envy isn’t an issue for me. But then I begin to compare.
Comparison may look different for each of us. Some of us may compare our talents or abilities to another’s, noticing the gifts he or she possesses that we don’t seem to possess. Others of us may compare our relationship status to those around us, feeling stuck in our situation while others are free to pursue different joys. We may compare our opportunities, our job settings, our health, our characters, our hopes, our desires, our regrets, our walks with the Lord (or lack thereof)—almost anything can become a point of comparison between ourselves and those around us. And such comparison can be devastating to our souls.
When we compare ourselves in this way, not for the sake of growth or of learning but for the sake of pride, we will almost always end up as the losers in the comparison. We tend to view others through the lens of our own desires, noticing only those things that we most want. We thus highlight in our fallen minds how God has blessed them but has not blessed us. We focus too narrowly on the details, assuming God’s goodness stands or falls based on how he delivers on one or two specific desires in our lives. We lose sight of the eternal glory of God and of the glorious works he has already accomplished for us because we can’t look past a temporary disappointment. If we aren’t careful, we can start to misunderstand God’s gifts entirely, viewing them as reasons for arrogance or for self-pity rather than as means by which we may better know the Giver.
So how do we fight? How do we break through the fog of comparison?
1. Focus on the Lord and on the work he’s called you to do.
When Jesus described the future of Peter’s life and ministry, Peter responded by turning to ask about what would happen to another disciple. Jesus replied, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22). No matter how God works in the lives of our brothers and sisters, we must remain focused on his call to us. Our responsibility is obedience, not comparison. Trust God’s purpose for you and follow him.
2. Trust in God’s sovereign provision.
When we compare ourselves to others, we usually focus on some need we believe is unmet in our lives. Such a stance is foolish, however, given the number of promises God has given his people concerning his provision. Jesus tells his followers not to worry about food or drink or clothing but simply to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Paul writes, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28), arguing that God will provide all we need because he has already provided for our greatest need in Christ (Romans 8:31-39). If we need something, God is both able and willing to provide. If we seem to lack anything, we can trust that he is not ignorant of our situation and that he has a reason for withholding the perceived good from us. Trust him, then, and follow him.
3. Pray to the God who cares.
Peter writes, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7). Peter emphasizes humility, the right perspective of our souls before the Lord, and encourages his readers to go to the Lord with their concerns because “he cares for you” (v. 7). James reminds his readers that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17), highlighting the goodness and love of the Father. When you feel tempted to compare yourself to another, remember God’s love for you and trust that he is doing what is best. He cares more for you than you could ever comprehend, even though he may not give you what you want. Rest in his love, and follow him.
Comparison can be difficult to shake. We may not notice how deep its roots run until we find ourselves in the midst of the struggle. Yet we need not lose heart. Refocus, trust in God’s goodness, and rest in him. He knows your situation and he knows what you need. Let him be God.