The Key to Freedom from the Comparison Trap

img_0910Have you ever struggled with comparing yourself to other people? Do you see others’ lives and feel that somehow yours is inferior? Ever compared your children to someone else’s children? Or your appearance to another’s? How about your house or car? Do you often doubt your worth when looking at others? If we are honest, we would all answer these questions with an emphatic, “Yes!” It seems to be a part of our human nature to compare ourselves with other people. It can be our appearance (weight, height, looks, perceived flaws, etc.); or our social status (wealth or lack of it, career, education, friendships, material things, etc.). Or maybe it is our family (spouses, children, pets, etc.). It could even be our spirituality (our experiences, knowledge, ministry, etc.). The list could go on and on.

If you’re like me and have battled this common malady, how has that been working for you? For many years I was miserable no matter what I accomplished, what compliments or affirmation I received, or any satisfaction I may have felt occasionally; nothing was ever good enough. I always managed to find someone that seemed better than me. Many others struggle with this as well. Why do we do this? What is it that drives us to constantly compare ourselves to our fellow humans? In a nutshell, it is insecurity. It is a lack of knowing our true identity as unique, gifted, beloved, accepted, and significant sons and daughters of God. How can we possibly compare ourselves to another when our Creator has made us to be totally unique? That is like comparing an apple to an orange. They are totally different except that they are both fruits. Likewise, we are all humans, and may be similar in many ways, but we are also totally different in terms of our identity.

The comparison trap is a futile, fruitless, and destructive pit that we too easily fall into. It results in basically one of two things: we look at others and think we are somehow better, resulting in pride, or, we consider that they are better, leading to self-deprecation and false humility which is also pride. In other words, either way, measuring ourselves against others leads to self-absorption, which is pride and idolatry. Paul wrote, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” (2 Cor. 10:12) The only One we are required to compare ourselves to is Jesus. When we focus on Him, we are all equally in need of His mercy, love, and grace.

The key to getting free from the comparison trap is to meditate on who God says we are as stated in His Word, allowing His truth to renew our minds, our ways of seeing and thinking about ourselves and others. As we spend time in His presence and His Word, we will begin to see ourselves as He sees us. Then we can learn to love ourselves as He loves us. This is the first step to loving our neighbors as ourselves. Comparison provokes envy, jealousy, and dissatisfaction. Security in our identity enables us to love as He does while expecting nothing in return.

The majority of the world and even the Church is caught in this deadly comparison trap. When we seek God and receive freedom, He will then use us to set many others free – free to be the special, unique, son or daughter He has created and called them to be. Not only does that bring Him untold pleasure, but it will also bring Him the glory and honor He alone deserves.

The Two Battles We Face in Life

saint-georgeLast week, I wrote about the basic truths, or keys, of spiritual warfare. If you didn’t see it, you can read it here. Today I want to expand upon these truths so that we can learn not only how to get free, but also, how to stay free. These are the two battles we must deal with throughout our lives – getting free from bondage, and staying free. Then we can walk in victory and the abundant life Jesus died to give us. Both battles require several things: 1) we must first recognize our need, 2) we must be willing to get help from trusted friends and/or leaders, 3) we must realize that we have to do things differently than we did before, and 4) we must be determined to persevere and not give up. Getting and staying free requires work, but if we are willing to do our part, God will always be faithful to help us in our weakness.

In my twenty plus years of ministering to people in bondage, I have often seen those who come for ministry expecting a quick fix. Our human nature, or flesh, wants to get out of pain as quickly and easily as possible. Unfortunately, God didn’t set it up to work that way. He works through process, and we must learn what that process looks like and how to cooperate with Him in it. The whole point of the process is to conform us into the image of Christ. That is always His will for everyone. This is why it’s impossible to by pass or cut short the process; He simply won’t allow it. He is fully committed to completing the good work He began in us. Therefore, it would be to our benefit to learn to cooperate with Him.

The greatest challenge in these battles, I have found, both in my own life, and in the lives of those I’ve ministered to, is changing the way we think. If we don’t learn to do this, we will never get free. Jesus’ predominant message when He walked the earth was “Repent!” To repent means, to change the way we think. Most, if not all of our problems, stem from this one issue. We do not think the way that God thinks. (Is. 55:8-9) We are not even close! To truly repent, we must learn to renew our minds.

There are three areas we need to renew our minds in – 1) our thoughts about God, 2) our thoughts about ourselves, and 3) our thoughts about others. This goes along with our ability, (by God’s grace), to fulfill the greatest commandment – to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourself. When we renew our minds to the truth of who God is, we will see ourselves as He sees us, and we will see others as He sees them. This must happen before we can love anyone. To know God is to love Him; to love God, is to love ourselves the way that He does, which then enables us to love others as He does.

Think about how different the Church would be if we all had our minds renewed! This is precisely why the enemy’s greatest weapon against us is deception. For when our thinking is distorted by lies, we are unable to love God, ourselves, or anyone else. Love is our greatest weapon;  without love, as Paul said, we are nothing. (1 Cor. 13:2) Having an unrenewed mind is like looking through a window that is severely cracked. Everything on the outside looks skewed and awry; we cannot see anything clearly. This is our hardest and most important battle, and God won’t do it for us. If we are willing to put forth the effort, He will certainly help us!

One of the most effective ways I’ve found to renew the mind is simple, but it does require time, effort, and patience. First, we must recognize and break agreement with the lies that we have believed, and receive the truth, as God reveals them to us. We must meditate on the truths every day for 30 – 60 days, until they become real in our heart, not just in our head. Head knowledge will never change us; it must be experiential, revelation knowledge that Holy Spirit reveals to our spirit. This comes from daily meditation. Meditation is simply thinking about, pondering, contemplating, “chewing on,” praying over, repeating the truths until they become second nature to us. It is similar to a cow chewing on its cud. The cow eats, regurgitates, and chews its food several times before finally digesting it. We must do this mentally, which requires disciplining and training our minds, literally.

We can do this as part of our quiet time each day, picking a Scripture verse, and journaling our thoughts and what God reveals to us. I won’t go into detail here about how to do that, but if you want to know more, you can read an article I wrote about this here. Learning to renew our minds is one part of the battle to get free. It is also a life-long habit we must practice to win the battle to stay free. It is God’s command to us (Rom. 12:2), and He never commands us to do anything He doesn’t give us the grace to do. We can do all things through His strength!

 

 

 

 

Learning to Embrace Your Humanity

Group of smiling friends against white backgroundI saw this short quote posted on Facebook yesterday and it really spoke to me. It said, “When you’re hurting give yourself permission to hurt. You don’t have to have it all together. Give yourself the same mercy and grace you would extend to others.”  I suppose it spoke to me because I’ve been guilty of doing just the opposite. Most of us, I believe, tend to be our own worst enemy. We expect WAY more from ourselves than even God does. The devil doesn’t have to attack us because we do a great job of it most days! We not only need to learn to give ourselves permission to hurt, we need to give ourselves permission to be human.

We need to be okay with messing up, even failing sometimes. It doesn’t mean we quit trying and give up, thinking we’ll never get it right. It doesn’t mean we don’t continue to stand on God’s word when we struggle. Yes, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Yes, His power is made perfect in our weakness. Yes, we can be content in all circumstances. All of these things are true, but sometimes we just need to accept, without shame, our frailty, our struggle with our flesh, our hurts and pains and failures. None of these things make us a failure as Christians. They make us human. God knew our weaknesses and frailty – before He even made us! And still, He made us anyway. Mind blowing, for sure.

Despite what society, or the church, or our culture, or our friends and family think or say, we don’t have to have it together all the time. In fact, I would go so far as to say we can’t. We might go for years trying to keep up that appearance, but eventually something has to give. It could be our health, our relationships, our walk with God, among other things. God’s been teaching me lately it’s okay that some days I don’t feel like praying (gasp, did I just say that?), or reading my Bible, or being nice to people who are rude, or going out of my way for someone. Some days I just want to be. To not have to think, or talk to anyone, or do what I “ought” to be doing. And it’s okay, because He understands I am flesh.

Psalm 103:13-14 says, As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.”  Did you catch that last phrase? He remembers that we are dust. I’ve pondered this passage a time or two. I mean, what exactly does dust do? I know the psalmist is referring to our bodies made of clay, but still. When I think about it, it really takes the pressure off. God knows that me and you are going to have days we blow it. Amazingly, He loves us just the same. His love isn’t based on our performance, our getting it right all the time. His love is based on WHO HE IS. He IS love. He is the embodiment of love. We need to learn to receive His love, for only then can we truly begin to love ourselves. When we love ourselves, we are free to embrace our humanity, our weaknesses and frailities, even our failures, without condemning ourselves. Because He does. 

At the same time, we don’t want to embrace and settle for mediocrity. We were created for great things that God prepared in advance for us. (Eph. 2:10) As His representatives on the earth, we should be excellent in all we say and do, that we may glorify Him. We have been given everything we need to live this life He has called us to. (2 Peter 1:3-4) Even so, some days we’re just going to be human, and that’s okay.

Do you struggle with giving yourself permission to hurt, to fail, to blow it? I would love to hear your stories! Please comment below.

 

One Thing God and the Devil Have in Common

walking-to-light-in-dessert-smallThe title of this article sounds a little strange, I admit. Chances are you’ve probably never thought about, much less considered, whether God and the devil have anything in common. The thought never entered my mind until I heard Graham Cooke say it one time. This is what he said – “God and the devil have one thing in common, they are both trying to kill you.” Sounds a bit shocking at first, but when I started to think about it more, I realized there is definitely truth in that statement. However, their motives for doing so are entirely different.

We all know the devil is out to “steal, kill and destroy” any and everyone because that is who he is, according to Jesus. (John 10:10) He is a thief, a liar and a murderer, and always will be. He hates God and all who are made in His image. He seeks ways to wreak as much havoc in our lives as possible. He is not by any means equal to God, for he is a created being, a fallen angel who rebelled against Him and was cast out of heaven. His power is limited. He uses temptation, accusation, and deception to accomplish his twisted purposes for humanity. We actually empower him when we believe, and make agreement, with his lies. He taunts us with fleshly indulgence, beats us down with accusations when we give in to those temptations, and then deceives us into believing we are worthless, inadequate, and despised by God because of our many failures. He especially hates the cross because it refutes every one of his lies.

God, on the other hand, loves us infinitely, intimately, and unconditionally. He is a good Father who wants to bless and give good gifts to His beloved children. He always, always has our best interest at heart. But like a good Father, He must discipline His children. He does so in order to help us become more like Him. He wants to kill our “self life” – the part of us that seeks to call the shots, to make our own decisions and rule our own lives, independent from Him.

Contrary to what many believe, He is not a killjoy, trying to take all the fun out of life. He is not looking over our shoulder, waiting to catch us doing something wrong. He is not angry or vengeful. His chastisement is always because of His great love for us. He does not punish, in the sense that we typically think of punishment. The Apostle John understood this when he said, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love (God’s love) drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect (complete) in love.” (words in parentheses added)

Because of His unfathomable love and desire for intimacy with us, God aims to destroy any and everything that stands in the way of that. He is a jealous lover – it is one of His names – Jealous. (Exodus 34:14) He created us, saved us, and wants all of our affection and devotion. He wants first place in our lives, and He deserves that. I realize more and more how often I fail to recognize when other things creep into my life, crowding Him out, little by little. It is too easy at times to forget that the pleasure of knowing, loving, and being loved by Him is far superior to the inferior pleasures of this world.

The struggle to die to ourselves, to crucify our flesh, is very real and extremely painful. But God, in His extravagant goodness, even made provision for that. His name is the Comforter. The Holy Spirit comforts us and helps us to remember He is always with us, and will never, ever leave us. He is committed to finishing the good work He has begun in us, and because of that, we can trust Him, even when it hurts.

 

Why We Long to Be Beautiful (or Handsome)

images  I love the springtime. Spring is the season for new life, and new life always brings hope. Spring bursts forth with a symphony of color and fragrance that declares our God is a lover and creator of beauty. I sometimes wonder at the artistry of such a fallen world and how heaven could compare. I’m sure there are no words adequate to describe. Have you ever wondered why He made so many different kinds of flowers? Or birds? Or creatures under the sea? Or the purpose of the loveliness of a sunset? The Bible says the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, and I believe springtime is one way He shows off His glory!

We were created with a desire for beauty…but why? Because God is beautiful and He makes all things beautiful in their time. Beauty inspires awe and a sense of well being. Somehow it makes it seem as though all is right in the world. The absence of it causes life to appear bleak, drab, and hopeless. Can you imagine what the world would be like if God made everything black and white? Loveliness provokes creativity, life, and joy. One of my favorite Scripture passages is Song of Songs 2:10-13, My beloved spoke and said to me, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.” Whenever I feel down, this passage always lifts my spirit. 

Not only do we have a desire for beauty, but also a deep longing to be beautiful. Our society takes advantage of this innate need. Hundreds of ads and commercials deceptively promise to make us more beautiful, or our homes, cars, wardrobes, etc., more desirable if only we buy their products. Of course, our enemy plays on it as well by influencing us to endlessly compare ourselves with others, or alter our appearance through harmful diet fads, plastic surgery, excessive exercise, etc. But these things will never satisfy this longing.

Mike Bickle, in his book, The Seven Longings of the Human Heart, writes, “What does a longing actually mean? Few words in the English language capture such depth of emotion in two short syllables. A longing is not a superficial want that might be satisfied by a simple act of kindness. A longing is not even a genuine need for which we can demand satisfaction. Longing goes deeper than that. A longing is an ache of the heart. It is a cavity of the human spirit crying to be filled. In its deepest sense it is neither a true verb nor a true noun, but combines the two, spanning the gap between emotion and genuine need. It is an intangible feeling that ebbs and flows, yet it is a concrete reality. It cannot be reasoned with, negated or dismissed. One way or another, whether legitimately or illegitimately, a human longing will be filled. It must be.” 

God created this longing within us to draw us to Himself, the beautiful God, the Lover of our soul who aches to fill it. The beauty of springtime, and the world around us serves not only to show forth His glory, but to woo us, to romance us as His beloved bride. He sees everyone of us as beautiful, for He made us. Even more amazing, He thinks we’re beautiful with all of our faults, flaws, and shortcomings! Ponder that for a while. No matter what others may think or say, how you think you compare to your friends, or even what you see when you look in the mirror, there is One who is beaming with joy and delight when He looks at you. Even now He is saying to you, My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show Me your face, let Me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.”  (SOS 2:14)

 

 

Perfect Love

loveSince today is Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t help but write about the subject of love. It is greatly misunderstood, I believe, especially in the truest sense, which is the biblical definition. Some common definitions of love are, “a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person; a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for parent, child, or friend; sexual passion or desire; a person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart.” 

The Bible says that God is love. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:1-21)

From this passage we see that, according to God:

  1. Love comes from Him
  2. Love is Him
  3. Those who love have been born of Him
  4. Those who don’t love don’t know Him
  5. His love was shown and can be seen
  6. His love caused Him to act on our behalf to save us by sending His Son
  7. He loved us when we didn’t love Him
  8. His love for us should compel us to love others
  9. When we love others, we know He lives in us
  10. When we love others His love is made complete in us
  11. There is no fear in love
  12. His love drives out our fears
  13. He loved us first
  14. We love Him because of His love for us
  15. If we hate others, we cannot love God
  16. If we claim to love Him, we must love others

From just this passage, and there are others about love, we see a picture of love much different than those worldly definitions. There are many implications contained in these few truths, but I will leave you to ponder those. May we truly learn to receive His perfect love so that we can give it to those who are desperately looking for love according to this world’s standards. Then we can truly know that we know Him and have become like Him.

A Real Life Fairy Tale

No matter how old I get, I will always love the story of Cinderella. I recently went to seecinderella Disney’s newest version of the beloved classic and was reminded again why I love it so much. I love it because Cinderella is my story…and it is yours. It is our story. The story of a beautiful maiden who had a wonderful, loving family as a child. She wanted for nothing. She was cherished and adored, and life was good. And then tragedy struck. The loss of her mother eventually led to the remarriage of her father to another woman. In time she also loses her beloved father, and becomes a slave in her own house. Jealously despised by her step-mother and two step-sisters, she is forced to wait on them hand and foot. She endures much cruelty from their words and actions.

As she grows into young womanhood, the opportunity comes for every maiden to attend a ball so that the prince might choose a bride. She actually meets him by chance one day, though his identity is kept a secret. It was love at first sight for them both. Despite the objections and attempts of her step-mother and sisters to keep her from attending the ball, she does show up, through the grace of her fairy god-mother. She meets the prince again and he is captivated by her beauty. Before the magic ends and she is discovered to be a peasant girl, she disappears suddenly, leaving one glass slipper behind. After searching throughout the kingdom for the maiden who lost the shoe, the prince discovers her to be a servant, not the princess he had thought her to be. Nevertheless, his love remains the same for her and they get married and live happily ever after.

We were once that beautiful maiden, (sorry guys, you’ll have to stretch that imagination!) deeply loved and cherished by our Heavenly Father. Then tragedy struck in the Garden and we became slaves in the place we once knew as paradise. Much suffering entered the world and we continually faced many troubles and trials. Yet there is a Prince, a King, who in spite of our poverty, shame, and brokenness, is captivated by our beauty. He has already planned in His heart His royal wedding, and intends to marry us and make us His beloved bride. Even now, He is searching throughout His kingdom for those who have lost their way. He intends to find all who will say “Yes” to Him and we will live with Him in His kingdom forever and ever.

The truth that makes our story even more powerful than Cinderella, is that we chose to walk away from Him. We chose to reject the One who loves us the greatest. We chose the sin that has marred us and the earth we live in. Yet His love remains unrelenting, and He will not be denied. His desire is for us and He has done all that was necessary to make a way back to Him, including laying down His life. His grace makes it possible for us to become the princess He intended us to be. Our story is a real life fairy tale.