For most of us, it is in our nature to compare ourselves and/or our situation with others. When I compare myself with others, it gives me a sense of how I am doing. If I judge someone to be in a better situation than I am, I can get down on myself. I find myself asking “why is life so unfair? Why can’t I be as lucky as person ‘x’?” If my situation is better by my estimation, it occurs to me that I usually don’t complain so much about life being unfair.
I find that I do something similar with advice as well. If I receive good advice, I tend to think, “ah, there is someone else who really needs to hear this”. At work, I have been at appraisals receiving feedback on my areas of improvement and the thought I have is, “I hope you are going to say the same thing about this other person because they really need this more than I do”. There are so many times I turn what is feedback for me into a discussion about how another person could use the same advice. I find it is something I have to deal with over and over again. These days I have to remind myself that it is my appraisal, my feedback.
Sadly, I do the same thing with God. When I look back at the ups and downs of my life, the times I felt that life could have dealt me a better hand, I invariably think couldn’t God have intervened? I grew up in Nigeria and moved to England in my late teens. I lost several academic years because of my circumstances at the time. Although I had completed the equivalent of the A levels in Nigeria, I had to take the British A levels to get the grades I needed to attain admission into the universities I was targeting. It also meant I started university when my peers were finishing. As a result, throughout my years at university, I was constantly plagued with thoughts of having fallen behind my peers. I would compare myself with my classmates who were several years younger than I was and wonder why life hadn’t dealt me a similar hand. Even today, I find myself on occasion comparing myself with people who are younger than me but are further ahead in their careers.
For those who are married, this is even more prevalent. So often when I read a great book or hear a sermon on marriage that resonates with me or my marriage, my first thought is “this is really something my wife should be listening to”. I do so, not because I want to share the great advice or sermon with her, it is usually because I think she needs it more than me. As Christians, this is one of the things we ought to look at more closely. We believe God is sovereign, that is to say, God is always in control of the situations and circumstances of our lives. Or put another way, if we walk with God, our steps are ordered [Psalm 37:23]. This for me means that the situations and circumstances of life that lead one to hear a great message or advice are orchestrated by God. Why then would the message or advice be more appropriate for someone else?
The truth is that when I compare myself to my peers, I either battle pride if I think I am better off than they are or envy if I think I am worse off than they are. I completely negate the fact that God created us differently, no two people’s experience of life can be the same. We might know and say that we are on a different path or journey but that doesn’t stop us looking over at someone else. While God can use us to impact another person’s life for His glory, in some ways, God’s redeeming work in the life of others is none of our business. More importantly, God’s redeeming work in my life is to mould me to be more like His Son and He will do that through the situations and circumstances in my life. His purpose is not to make me like anyone else.
In the 21st chapter of John’s Gospel, Peter and some of the disciples had gone back to fishing after their first encounter with the resurrected Jesus. I find it interesting that these disciples had gone back to the familiar after encountering the risen Jesus. In any case, Jesus comes to meet them on the shore after a whole night of fruitless fishing. Jesus meets with them at the seaside and having told them where to cast their nets, they haul in a miraculous catch. He then goes on to have a wonderfully redeeming exchange with Peter, healing him of the guilt he must have felt after betraying Jesus [John 21:15-17]. He tells Peter “feed my lambs”, “take care of my sheep”, “feed my sheep” giving Him his ministry in His church. Jesus goes on to prophesy about how Peter would die. Peter’s response was to turn to John and ask Jesus, “and what about him?” [John 21:21]. Jesus’ response is one we ought to always remember, He says “…you, follow me!” [John 21:22]. That is to say, what I choose to do with John is none of your business, you keep your eyes on Me.
Jesus says the same thing to you and me when we are tempted to compare ourselves or our circumstances with others. While there are corporate elements of the Christian life, the main aspect of our walk with God is personal. He tailors our situations and circumstances to fit our calling and His purpose for our lives. Hence our lives and how we experience the situations and circumstances of life will be different. A word that resonates with you at a particular time is more likely to be primarily for you and not another person, it may not resonate with another person as you might expect. We must remember that we will all stand before God alone to answer for how we lived our lives, what we did with our talents, and how we responded to the circumstances and situations we encountered.
So the next time you find yourself asking…”and what about him or her?” remember the words of Jesus to Peter: “you, follow me!”.