Comparing Yourself with Others

Two jumps in a week

Bet you think that’s pretty clever

Don’t you, boy?

Flying along in your motorcycle

Watching as the ground beneath you drops

You kill yourself for recognition

Kill yourself to never, ever stop

You broke another mirror

You’re turning into something you are not.

– Radiohead, “High and Dry”

The 90s punk prophets, Radiohead, used stunt motorcyclist Evel Knievel as a metaphor for the perils of fame and the desire to have it. Knievel wanted fame so badly that he’d break his body into a million pieces to become a household name. He once remarked, “Anyone can jump a motorcycle; it’s landing it that’s the hard part.” And we always land, when the fickleness of crowds lets us down. We see that our pride and ego was a substitute for what truly matters. In the Radiohead song, Thom Yorke chides himself for allowing envy of other artists, and the tendency to compare himself to others, until it becomes a force of self-destruction.

Making Comparisons

But men like to compare themselves with one another in just about any way.

Muscles. Wrist watches. Cars. Bank accounts.

The equivalent locker room talk among pastors is the infamous, “How big is your church?”

When you’re on the quantitatively bigger side of that conversation, you are tempted to pity the smaller church leader. Being on the smaller end of the equation presents an entirely different temptation: envy.

Perhaps we’re envious when somebody is asked to speak at a conference and we’d like to take the stage ourselves. Maybe someone’s blog or podcast has a bigger following.

Not that I have any personal experience with these feelings. Put it all down to incredible insight into others (wink).

But understanding the problem doesn’t fix it.

In order to overcome the barriers to brotherhood, we need to understand where that temptation comes from — and how to overcome it.

Where it Comes From

When I was a kid, we all wanted to be Evel Knievel. In the 1970s, every kid with a bike at some point wore a cape and a helmet, pretending to be the living legend. We went into ministry to change the world — and probably fancied ourselves the next apostle Paul.

In our humility, we may have settled for being the next Spurgeon, or Whitefield. We were inspired by the stories of others who made a great impact for God, and we wanted to leave a huge impact crater on the spiritual landscape.

If we’re honest, we didn’t go into ministry to make a small ripple, but when we feel like that’s all we’ve left, insecurity creeps in.

We begin to run a litany of tests by asking the usual questions: Am I called to this? Did God get the wrong person? Should I move over for somebody else?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to say that when the chips are down, all a minister can fall back on is his calling.

Comparing ourselves to somebody else always is rooted in insecurity.

Jeff Buckley, Leonard Cohen, and Impact

In his recent book, No Silver Bullets, Daniel Im recounts the story of Leonard Cohen’s now immortalized song, “Hallelujah.” The original version Cohen recorded nearly three decades earlier sounded nothing like Jeff Buckley’s cover made popular by the film Shrek. Im concludes Cohen had two choices as he watched his song changed and molded into something completely different and loved by millions: He could have become churlish and envious, opposing the song’s fame, embittered that others ripped off his talent. Or he could embrace it, aware that others took it farther than he was able to. In the end, Cohen graciously chose the latter.

The apostle Paul took this approach with those who preached the gospel out of selfish ambition. There will always be those who do the right thing for the wrong motive, but Paul’s conclusion was like Cohen’s. He would rejoice because they were promoting Christ while trying to promote themselves.

In the end, we only become envious of others when it’s ourselves we’re promoting. Envy should serve as a check to our ministries, for if you follow the bread crumbs of envy, they lead back to self-promotion.

The only thing we should be envious of is the ability to exalt Christ, and that leaves no room for envy at all, only rejoicing when others do it better than us.

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