It is tempting to constantly compare our lives with others. Television and magazines bombard us with pictures of the perfect man and woman. We see the images so often it is easy to begin to look in the mirror and see every part of your body that is different than the cultural idea. We may be too tall or too short; weigh too much or too little; our hair may be too curly or too straight; our smile may not be bright enough, our dimples not deep enough, or our nose may seem a little too long or a little too short. If we are not careful, we can begin to feel bad about yourself, frustrated that you just compare to the perceived ideal.
Do you live in the right house? Do you drive the right car? Are you as successful as your peers, or do you feel like you are falling behind? When you look at Facebook do you think that other people’s children seem to being doing better and other people’s trips sound more exciting? When you look around do you feel like you wished you were someone else or living someone else’s life? Are you living the American dream or does your life sometimes seem like a bad dream? We measure our sense of success, impact and significance against some mythical standard that leaves us feeling that we have fallen short. We do not appreciate our lives because we believe that we were supposed to accomplish something else – something more. When we find ourselves struggled with an unappreciated life we can experience a sense of personal and spiritual inadequacy.
We are not the first to struggle with the tendency to compare our lives to others. It seems to be an issue as old as humanity. But, it is clearly not what God intends for us. Listen to what we hear in the first eleven verses of Psalm 37. Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! 2 For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. 3 Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. 4 Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5 Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. 6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! 8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. 9 For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. 10 In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. 11 But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.
God tells His people don’t worry about what others have – even those you think have gotten better than they deserve. Don’t great frustrated – agitated – or angry. The reality is that much of what you see on Facebook or hear from others is far from their reality. It is a constructed fantasy portrayed to the world so that others might see them as successful – happy – fulfilled. Many, too many, paint picture of what they believe they are supposed to be fearing the world might find out that the picture is far from true. But even when we can see as what we define as success in others, God reminds us what we envy in others is fleeting. Instead of frustration, aggravation, and anger, the Psalmist gives a whole different set of vocabulary words: Trust, delight, be still. What a contrast. God's way for us calls us toward real life and real joy.
Instead of an unappreciated life, God can and will give us the desire of our heart. God can and will give us a way of life that leads us to God’s eternal inheritance and a peace that sustains us. God can and will give us the life we were created for. God has a life – and a way of life – for us that leads us to His feet and brings us to joy. This is what we are designed for. We have settled for a poor substitute. We have embraced a dream that is destructive – when God intends for us an abundance born in His heart and His love.
But it is so easy to look away and look at others. Paul knew that great temptation when we wrote to Timothy. Paul speaks to Timothy about the reality of his life. Listen to 2 Timothy 1:8-9. 2 Timothy 1: 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.
I imagine that Timothy has a number of voices telling him to ignore Paul. Yes, he was Timothy’s spiritual Father, but he had been driven out of almost every city he ever visited and was now in prison. He had even been rejected by some of the churches he helped to start. On the surface it would be easy to doubt him. Paul does not want Timothy to lose heart. He tells him to not be ashamed of him because of the way his testimony has been received or that he was facing suffering. He wanted Timothy – he wanted us – to understand that because of whom Jesus is we are called- CALLED – into a different kind of life – one where the focus is not our success but significance because we are fulfilling God’s purpose for us. Let’s try that one more time – You have a unique purpose shaped and defined by God. The measure of your life is not the success of others – but your success in living out your purpose.
In a recent ESPN the Magazine edition there was an interview of Michael Jordon tied to his 50th birthday. There was a time that everyone seemed to “be like Mike.” As I read the article I could not help but to feel bad for Jordon. He had everything but there seems to be no joy in his life. He seems to long to be the Jordon he was when he was 23, not the owner of a failed NBA franchise. It does not seem that his fame and wealth is enough. The world around him would pronounce him a grand success. The life he describes is not the kind I dream of. I think I am much happier at 50 that he seems to be. How we measure our life matters. You matter. You matter to God.
You are no surprise to God. God has a plan. Listen to the words from God in Jeremiah 29. Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
So let me try this again – your marker of success is that you live out God’s purpose for your lives – that you come to Him again and again to hear and to clarify and that you live out your lives boldly with God. You do not have to live an unappreciated life. God loves and appreciates you. God has a unique place for you. God has a unique plan for you. God has plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Our challenge is to lift our eyes off of others and look to the life for which we were created. In the Jeremiah passage we hear God tell us 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.