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  • Writer's pictureMark Alan Williams

How To Avoid Comparison In A World Filled With It

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Recently I was sharing with friends the impact of my online ministry and that I’d just reached 2,500 subscribers. They were impressed, yet I was feeling frustrated by a lack of progress. Why? Because of comparison with those who have bigger online impact. I’m still learning to avoid comparison (although I’m getting better).

This isn’t me, but it’s about what I looked like. CC Image courtesy of Flickr

Our world is filled with comparison. We’re graded in school based on comparison with our peer’s performance. Sporting events are usually determined by comparison and beating the other team. Companies and products are compared. Performers are compared. Candidates are compared. Preachers are compared.

Yet the results of comparing can be quite negative:

01.  If we feel we don’t measure up, we risk jealousy, self-pity and losing confidence. (For more help, I wrote about these subjects in 4 Ways to Find Contentment Now, How to Find Confidence in a Critical World and Stay Humble and How to Survive Rejection and Find Acceptance Today)

02. If we feel superior, we risk becoming prideful and arrogant. (I wrote about pride in What is the Worst Sin in the World? and Who Will Get the Biggest Mansion in Heaven?)

So what can we do to avoid comparison and its hurtful consequences? The Bible gives guidance on this topic in Galatians 6:4-5 which says “Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct.” (NLT)

In these two verses I see three ways to avoid comparison:

01. Focus on your own performance.

This passage begins by saying “Pay careful attention to your own work…” (Galatians 6:4a) 

Whose work am I to pay careful attention to? Not another writer, blogger, speaker, performer, celebrity, athlete, coworker, etc.

We’re told to pay careful attention to our own work! 

What a liberating concept. While others might get caught up in comparison, we’re told just to do our own thing to the best of our ability. We’re not to worry about what the next guy is doing.

Not only does this free us from distractions, it also frees us to do our best.

Does this sound impossible? John Wooden proved it’s not only possible, it’s quite helpful. 

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden instructed his players not to worry about the score. He considered the score a distraction. Instead, he insisted that the only important issue was that they played to the best of their ability.

He wrote in a book simply titled Wooden, “Did I win? Did I lose? Those are the wrong questions. The correct question is; did I make my best effort? That’s what matters. The rest of it just gets in the way.”

If you don’t know who John Wooden was, you might think this is a recipe for failure. Instead it was a recipe for immense success. Wooden’s teams won ten NCAA basketball championships in 12 years, including seven in a row.

They were one of the winningest teams in collegiate sports history. Part of their secret was that coach Wooden taught them to avoid comparison and simply focus on their own performance.

God simply wants you and me to be the best me that we can be. That’s our job and that’s all.

02. Take joy in a job well done, without comparing.

The verse continues: “Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else.” (Galatians 6:4 NLT)

When we avoid comparison and focus on doing our very best, we can achieve satisfaction no matter what.

We should take “satisfaction in a job well done,” without worrying about what someone else has done. 

I’m not saying this is easy to do, but I am saying we should do it because God says to. (Yes, I’m continuing to work on this!)

Children seem to be better at this. When about 8 years old, I found the courage to jump off the high diving board. Wow, I was so happy.

I got my mother to watch me jump over and over. She applauded. I had such a wonderful feeling of satisfaction and pleasure.

Good thing I didn’t compare my diving with others! I wasn’t doing back flips, jackknives or trying to go into the water without a splash so I could get a 9.8.

It was just pure joy in the fact that Markie could jump off the high dive!

While I didn’t get a gold medal for those dives, I got something better: a sense of achievement, self-confidence, and pure joy. With my mother celebrating my small accomplishment, I felt like a huge success.

Our Heavenly Father wants that same joyful feeling for all of us.

If we just focus on doing our best with the skills God has given us, we can take immense joy in our work, without comparing.

03. Prepare to give account for only one person.

The next verse says “For we are each responsible for our own conduct.” (Galatians 6:5 NLT)

This is also a liberating thought—I don’t report to God for anyone besides myself.

Thus, if I’m thinking about other people’s performance, I’m thinking about the wrong persons.

Too often we think about how others are doing, when that’s really not our business. We can avoid comparison by remembering that they report for themselves, and we report for ourselves.

You might find it surprising to learn how much pastors compare. It can get really ugly—I know this from personal experience. I wrote about one of my worst times of pastor comparison in 4 Ways to Find Contentment Now.

To compare ourselves with others is not only wrong, it’s dumb. We have different situations, backgrounds, health conditions and so on. In addition, God is sovereignly working behind the scenes in ways that we don’t control.

A biblical example of unhealthy comparison occurred in the Corinthian church. They were comparing pastors. The Apostle Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 3 to help them avoid comparison.

He compared himself as founding pastor to a planter. He compared Pastor Apollos to one who waters what had been planted. Then he wrote, “He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.” (1 Corinthians 3:8 ESV)

By being “one” Paul meant that they were not opponents, but on the same team. The two pastors weren’t in competition with each other. They were in competition with the devil and all those who oppose the Gospel!

Comparison wasn’t healthy for anyone: Apollos, Paul, and the Corinthian church members.

His final point was, “…and each will receive his wages according to his labor.” (1 Corinthians 3:8b ESV)

All will give an account for only one person. So just think about your own report! Let’s not focus on others. Let’s just focus on serving Jesus as best we can so that we hear these words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23) 

For more help, here are other articles I’ve written on similar topics:

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