“Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” 1 Samuel 18:7
Comparing myself to others is one of the most dangerous spiritual vulnerabilities I have. I doubt I’m alone.
Saul was Israel’s first king David, who would later become king, served Saul faithfully, and never sought glory for himself. The verse above is a song or cheer from a group of women after David returned from an especially successful military encounter. David did not instigate it, but it stirred envy in Saul’s heart. He soon tried to kill David, more than once. His reign ended in ignominy.
You don’t have to be a king to compare yourself with others, but you risk the same futility. Using others as a measuring stick leads to fault-finding, a disabling sense of superiority, or an unnecessary depression over your own perceived inadequacies. All of these are the fruit of envy, a deadly sin.
The antidote to envy, in part, is gratitude. You are grateful for who you are and the blessings with which God has surrounded you.
One of the richest people I have ever known lived in southwest Mississippi. Her name was Dot Robertson. Dot was a teacher for many years and was especially proud to have been able to work in the public school system, help her school navigate the transition to integration, and especially, in her words, to give students a chance to learn when they did not have much of a chance before.
In her retirement years she tended a large garden at her rural home, worked in her church, and enjoyed deep relationships with family and friends. I will always remember with fondness sitting in her kitchen, eating cornbread, and drinking a Mountain Dew that she bought just for me.
Her wealth had nothing to do with her income or estate, neither of which I have any knowledge. It came from a consistent gratitude to God for her life, her family, and the stream of young ministers that came to that little country church to learn something about being a pastor. She was remarkably present, and her sense of presence came from gratitude to God.
This blessing of presence through gratitude can be yours also, but you must take your eyes off of everyone else’s accomplishments and be grateful for your own. Thanksgiving is a chief theme in the psalms, and the author of most of them is David. I believe we could trace gratitude throughout his life. He was grateful when he tended sheep or slew a giant. Grateful when he reigned over Israel from Hebron or Jerusalem. Grateful when God blessed and grateful when God corrected.
Relentless gratitude to God opens the spiritual paths to greater understanding of who God is and what He longs to bring you. In gratitude, you realize that He truly does create you for joy, and therefore you can trust God to bring into your life precisely what you need in order to construct of life of real happiness. That kind of blessing has nothing to do with all the things the world counts as valuable. It has everything to do with trusting God and being grateful for what you have instead of feeling sorry for what you do not have.
Are you grateful for where you are in life? We waste a great deal of time pining for something other than who we are or what we have. When I was a teenager, trying to define or understand my identity, I wanted to be someone else. I wanted to be tall enough to play basketball for Kentucky. I wanted to be good looking enough to be popular. I didn’t like my hair, my teeth, my frame. It’s a fairly common adolescent experience, the problem is some people never outgrow it.
I can remember vividly what helped me out of that cycle. During my junior year in high school someone helped me realize that being kind and that was better than being cool. I could live the way God wanted me to live, enjoy the fruit of the Spirit and trust God would honor that way of living. I don’t remember who exactly helped me to see that, but God led me through some good teaching to realize that pleasing Him was far more important than pleasing other people.
I have had to re-learn this lesson many times. But I am at my best when I realize God created me to be Terry Ellis, and that I can trust Him to make of me precisely what is best. My reigning ambition in life is to be the best Christian I can be. That basic, daily commitment brings me a great sense of freedom in Christ.
We can all have that freedom too, but only after taking careful note of how we look at other people. If you sense you are evaluating and judging then you are in for a rough time, for envy will suck out the joy of each day. Let gratitude become your theme, and rejoice in being present with God.
Dr. Terry Ellis
August 21, 2011
October 4, 2015