How do you feel when you see others receiving blessings you feel have been denied you? What do you do when your faithfulness to the Lord is met not with granted requests but with frustrated plans and deferred hopes? Do you patiently wait upon the Lord and trust his love for you, or do you grow bitter? Do you rejoice with those who are rejoicing, or do you resent those who possess what you desire?
I’ve been thinking about comparison lately. I’ve written before on the relationship between comparison and covetousness (see here), arguing that comparison can rob us of joy in the Lord and can negatively affect our perception of reality. The fight against comparison, therefore, is a worthy fight. Recently, however, God convicted me of another underlying problem with comparison: comparison can be linked to some dangerous assumptions about God.
Comparison often makes you feel like you’ve been cheated or wronged in some way. You see another enjoy what you don’t have and you mourn, wondering why God chose to bless that person in a manner in which he hasn’t yet blessed you. You may even compare your service for the Lord to another’s, listing your sacrifices for holiness as well as your resistance to sin in the hope that your obedience will validate you before God. Underneath such thoughts, however, lies the assumption that God’s blessings are contingent upon our behavior. While we may sing songs about the beauty of grace and mercy, we still live as if all depends on our works.
The truth, however, is that God is not so manipulated. Our delusional assumptions fall apart at once when, though we may faithfully seek first his kingdom and righteousness, he doesn’t give us what we want. Such circumstances remind us that his goodness is not a result of our good behavior or obedience. Job understood this concept well. When he experienced the sudden loss of earthly blessings, he responded with worship (Job 1:20-22). He knew he had not earned even one good thing from God, recognizing instead that all was grace and mercy from a loving Lord. We also see this truth emphasized when God blesses us with good gifts in spite of our pitiful failures. Paul articulated the highest expression of this truth, writing that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 8:28). God met our greatest need not because we earned his mercy or warranted his compassion but because he himself is love. He always acts according to his character, doing what is best even when we fail to understand his reasoning.
This means that I can’t buy favors from God with good behavior. If his blessings aren’t dependent upon my faithful service, then I shouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t give me what I want just because I’ve had consistent prayer times or have avoided persistent temptations. At first thought, this idea can discourage me. It means that I may never receive the gifts I desire. But there is beauty in this reality as well. First, the lack of the blessings I desire reminds me that such blessings were never ends in themselves. Each of God’s good and perfect gifts should be signposts pointing upward to the Giver himself, with whom I am now reconciled, made a son by his grace. The gifts are simply demonstrations of his love, and that love is the true treasure behind all the others. Second, because his blessings aren’t dependent upon my faithful service, I can rest, for my shortcomings will not cut me off from his love. His grace extends beyond the furthest reaches of sin, and his love endures any challenge (Romans 5:20 and 8:31-39). And because he is a good father, I can trust that any instance of his giving or his withholding are for my good (Psalm 84:11). I’m humbled before this truth, and I’m led to worship the Lord as I realize that I can’t control him, that he remains sovereign over me in both my good days and my bad.
God often uses tests of faith to reveal where my theology is faulty or deficient. James speaks of God using trials for our sanctification, following that point with a reminder that God freely gives wisdom to those who ask (James 1:2-8). As we encounter circumstances that test our faith, be they temptations to compare ourselves with others or temptations to doubt God’s goodness in our lives, we can trust that God is at work for our good and for his glory (Romans 8:28). We can respond to trials not with terror or anxiety but with faith, trusting God’s love and praying for wisdom to see more clearly. And we can walk in humility and obedience before the one who will never fail to do what is best.