The Insatiable Hunger of Comparison {a Bible study}

A few months ago I was asked to teach a Bible class on the topic of confidence and insecurity, and I was thinking lately that I’d like to share that Bible study with you all. I really enjoyed preparing for this Bible class, because I gained so much clarity on the life of the disciples and how they were just like us in all our pettiness — and also how much hope we can have for ourselves when we see the way that Jesus transformed them so completely. I didn’t convert my study notes to blog format, but they’re here for you if you’re interested in digging further into the always-relevant topic of comparison and competition. ~Elizabeth

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Intro: Let me throw out some words and see if you’ve ever felt them:

insecure
insecurity
low self-confidence
rejection
rejected
unworthy
Fear of judgement
fear of not measuring up
competition
comparison

Maybe you can think of some others?? Because this is what I want to talk about tonight.

 

Warmup/Reflection Question: Who in your life do you feel you don’t measure up to? Alternatively, who in your life do you compare yourself to and find yourself better than? Think of that person and that relationship as we study these matters tonight.

 

Competition and comparison among the disciples:

  • In Mark 10:35-45, esp vs 37, brothers James and John are competing together against the other disciples. They are wanting more glory, fighting for their worth. And it wasn’t just their problem; when the other found out, they were “indignant.” What does Jesus do? (He will not grant their request.)
  • In Luke 9:46, all the disciples are arguing over who is most important. What does Jesus do? (He corrects their wrong ideas.)
  • In Luke 9:53-54, Samaritans reject Jesus and the disciples, and brothers James and John want to punish them with fire from heaven. Basically they want to reject the Samaritans for the rejection they’ve received. What does Jesus do? (Again, He rebukes them.)
  • In John 21:15-22, Jesus asks Peter a series of questions. How does Peter feel about this conversation? (His feelings are hurt.) How does Jesus respond to Peter’s question in verse 21? (He does not answer the question – says it doesn’t matter — and tells him to “Follow Me.”)

 

There was a lot of competition and comparison among the disciples! Even amongst the 3 most heavily invested-in, privileged, and “most important” disciples (Peter, James, John). So it’s not external success that drives out the fear of not measuring up. Glory and prestige and honor can’t inoculate us against the fear of being not valuable, unimportant, or unworthy. And what we look like on the outside doesn’t necessarily match what we think or feel on the inside. (But wait, because it all changes in the end!)

 

Of course that last example was from the book of John. I used to be so annoyed at the way he called himself “the disciple Jesus loved.” I thought it was arrogant, proud, to assume he was the one Jesus loved, almost implying he was more greatly loved.

And then he went and wrote I John. I could not even handle I John, it was such a heavy burden of shame and guilt and not measuring up, if I were feeling in a particularly non-loving way toward a brother or sister. There was so much in there about needing to love people – and if I didn’t, I was afraid I must not have been a Christian. I couldn’t force myself to love, and it depressed me. So much pressure to be perfect, I felt condemned, without hope.

Then I learned some things that changed everything, and now John is my favorite (well, along with Peter’s passion and impulsiveness). John was the youngest, so less important in the world’s eyes. And he was the only one not to die a martyr’s death, the only one who didn’t have the honor of dying for his Master. In fact, he was more like a babysitter to Jesus’ mother Mary.

To lack honor in the traditional sense, and to still follow Jesus wholeheartedly to the day he died, he had to be absolutely convinced of Jesus’ love for and acceptance of him (which is perhaps where “the disciple Jesus loved” came from). Walking with Jesus for those 3 years must have so utterly changed him from who he was before, that he was convinced to his core that Jesus loved him. And since he was convinced of Jesus’ love, he was freed to love others, and he could go on and write all about loving each other in I John.

He used to be insecure! He used to grasp for his worth. But everything changed because of Jesus. Years and years of following Jesus irrevocably changed him.

 

So I want to re-examine John’s writing in light of a man who knew deep down in his core that Jesus loved him

  • I John 3:1: See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! 
  • I John 3:23: And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. (We BELIEVE, and then we LOVE.)
  • John 6:29: Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (there it is again, BELIEVE)
  • I John 4:16: We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. (We simply trust in his LOVE.)
  • I John 4:18-19: Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first. (I used to think that meant I was a bad person if I had fear or didn’t have enough love. Now I know it just means I haven’t fully experienced it yet, and just need more gentle, relaxed time with God. “Not there yet.”)
  • I John 5:1: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. (Again, no pressure here. Simply a timeline: first we believe in Jesus and His love for us. Then we are able to love others.)

 

Tell the Jesus Loves Me This I Sometimes Know story

 

Last year when I was going through all this, we were reading Ephesians 3:14-20 each Sunday at church. I already had a special love for the book of Ephesians because it was the first book of the Bible I read and truly enjoyed when I was coming out of a deep depression nearly 10 years ago (another long story).

I love the words of Paul in Ephesians 1:7-8: He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

And I love Ephesians 2:18: Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.

I even grew up hearing a song set to the words of verse 20. But week after week I kept hearing verses 14-19 in a newer, deeper way than ever before:

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

 

Conclusion:

This is what I want us to know: Comparison is a thief. It wants to steal, kill, and destroy us. It never stops wanting more, never stops devouring. God’s LOVE is the weapon that fights back against comparison and competition. God’s love makes us – all of us – worthy. We are all equally and incredibly unbelievably worthy in His sight, because of His love and because of His Son. He made us. He saved us. He forgave us. We’re His. We belong to Him. We are His children. That’s all we need to know, all we need to believe, to defeat comparison, rejection, unworthiness, low self-confidence, and insecurity.

Pray along with Paul in Ephesians 1:17-19:

I ask God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. 

It’s Time to Trade the Yoke {Velvet Ashes}

I’m hosting The Grove at Velvet Ashes today. This is the first thing I wrote after finishing a “writing fast” a few weeks ago. (As an aside, completing this purposeful season of electronic quietness must have unleashed a torrent of words inside me, as evidenced by the sheer number of blog posts and Facebook statuses I’ve shared in the time since writing this post.) ~Elizabeth

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At the beginning of this year I sensed God pressing the pause button on my writing. Not now, He said, not yet. I nodded and said OK. You’ve got stuff in your heart that needs to come out, He said —black, tarry, sticky stuff. I sighed and told Him I knew.

There was a stronghold in my life, a particular set of sins I’d been unequally yoked to. So I stopped writing and started working hard with God instead. Except I wasn’t always working with Him; sometimes I was working against. I complained, I reasoned, I argued. I contended that I was right and He was wrong. I kicked against those goads, oh yes I did.

Until one morning this month when breakthrough began, and the yoke began to crack. Later that day I sensed God lifting the ban on writing, almost as if to say, Ok, now you can start writing again, and THIS is what you need to write about.

Which is why I’m here today, taking a deep breath and walking to the front of the online support group we call Velvet Ashes. It’s why I’m steadying my feet, looking into your lovely virtual faces, and announcing that I’m Elizabeth, and I’ve been yoked to bitterness. I’ve harbored unforgiveness in my heart. I’ve been very, very angry.

Finish reading this post here.

Sometimes I Hoard God’s Love

by Elizabeth

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I’m always ready to receive good gifts from the Father. Then again, who isn’t??

And in using the word gifts, I don’t mean material possessions, but rather the little (and big) evidences of God’s Love in my life.

I know God loves me. I know He made me and that He wants to give me good gifts.

Then, in a total disconnect, I look at people who’ve hurt me, and I don’t want them to receive good gifts. That’s not fair. They don’t deserve that, you see. They’ve hurt me.

I know this way of thinking is wrong, yet I cling to it anyway — until one day I was driving along the scant Kansas countryside and the words of Jesus came to me. HARD.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him.” — Matthew 7:9-11

I’ve hurt other people, yet He still bestows loving gifts upon me. Then I turn and I don’t want Him to lavish His love on other people.

But I realized: I don’t deserve those good gifts from my Father either. And doesn’t He love other people as much as He loves me?? Doesn’t He want to give good gifts to them as much as to me??

God loves everybody equally; I universally believe this. 

In my head. 

But my head needed shaking and my heart needed stirring.

Because He wants to give good gifts to people who have hurt me, in the same way I want to give good gifts to all my children equally, no matter what they’ve done and regardless of how they treat one another.

I can have a pretty rotten heart sometimes, yet not only does God want to give me good gifts, He follows through on it: He actually gives me those gifts. Gifts I receive with an open heart and an open hand.

But I clench my hands back up again when I think about Him giving good gifts to other people.

So right then and there on a sunny day on the open highway, I opened up my hands again and said, “I’m glad you are a good Father to me. And I know You want to give good gifts to people who’ve hurt me. I think I want to be glad about that now, too.”

Because if I’m not glad about that, about a loving Father who takes good care of an imperfect child, then I can’t possibly expect to receive good gifts for myself, a fellow imperfect child.

These logical-sounding words describe what was actually a very palpable shift in my heart. A shift of love towards those who have trespassed against me. A new understanding of God’s parental love. And another release of bitterness from my soul.

So I thank Him. I thank Him for the good gifts He’s given me. I thank Him for the good gifts He’s given others.

I choose not to hoard God’s love for myself. 

For He is a good Father to all. And I am glad.

Underwhelmed by God’s Love

l2h

by Elizabeth

As a family we recently read the story of Jacob fleeing Esau and sleeping on a stone and having that ladder dream. I’ll be honest, the ladder story has never done very much for me. Who cares about some dumb stairway in a dream? (Apparently, I didn’t.) But that night the story moved me like never before. In it, we learn that God interacts with us, relates to us, speaks to us, not because of what we’re doing or how well we’re following Him (because at that point Jacob wasn’t), but because He loves us.

He loves us? Yes, He loves us — loves us because we exist, because He made us, because He is Love. He loves us because He has chosen us, and our relationship with Him isn’t dependent upon our good behavior, our good standing, our proper obedience. It wasn’t until years later that Jacob was really following God with his heart, but here God gave Jacob an experience of Him that was so intense that he named the place Bethel, or “house of God.”

Jacob met God in that place, and it wasn’t because of anything Jacob had done. To think that God wants to interact with me no matter the state of my soul! How wondrous not to deserve this interaction with God, but to get it anyway. How incredible that He gives us His fellowship even though we are unworthy. His love is that big. And this kind of unconditional love is not just in the New Testament as we sometimes tell ourselves (or as I sometimes gathered growing up in church). No, God’s unconditional love is all over the Old Testament too. We don’t deserve this relationship, yet God gives it to us anyway — even before He sent His son.

Hearing my husband read this story out loud spoke to deep places inside me. Afterwards I tried to share my amazement. What I said may not yet make sense to such childlike faiths — young hearts that don’t yet doubt God’s love for us human beings. But I hope that planting these kinds of revelations in their little hearts and minds will help them later in life. I hope they will look back on what we taught them and be able to see His love written all across Scripture in a way that is sometimes hidden from the more legalistic among us.

So thank you, God. Thank you for including the story of Jacob’s ladder in your Word. Thank you that a passage I know so well and am usually so underwhelmed by could still touch me so deeply. To borrow a phrase from Connie Harrington, “Your grace still amazes me. Your love is still a mystery.”

 

“God is Disappointed With Me” {A Life Overseas}

Elizabeth is over at A Life Overseas today, continuing her series on Timothy Sanford’s book “I Have to be Perfect” (And Other Parsonage Heresies). Whew! These last three lies are intense. Don’t miss the end of the post where she offers several resource ideas for combating these lies.

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I grew up hearing sermons about the “goodness and severity of God” and about God not hearing the prayer of the sinner. Girls Bible study times were filled with questions like, “If women are to remain silent in church, is it a sin to whisper in church to ask someone the song number if I didn’t hear it announced?” and “How long should my shorts be?” So by the time I entered ministry at the age of 19, no one had to tell me I needed to be perfect; I already knew I needed to be perfect. And not only did I know I needed to be perfect, I knew everyone else needed to be perfect as well.

At the same time, I knew everyone wasn’t perfect. As a teenager, I knew my church friends were being physically and sexually abused at home, but no one would ever dare talk about that at church, where their dads were leaders. This taught me that the families around me weren’t perfect; it also taught me that they needed to appear that way. Furthermore, it taught me that the rest of us needed to treat them as though they were perfect. The appearance of perfection mattered more than actual righteousness.

Those are my stories; your stories will be different. Yet our collective stories may have taught us something dark and devious: that ministry and missionary families are (or should be) holier than everyone else. Our stories may have taught us that in order to serve God, we need to be super human. At the very least, our stories may have taught us that we need to project an image of perfection. Sometimes we extend this expectation to others and become judgmental of their non-perfection; other times we require it only of ourselves.

Finish reading the post here.

Jesus Loves Me, This I Sometimes Know {Velvet Ashes}

This article by Elizabeth was originally published at Velvet Ashes, and is reprinted here in full, with permission.

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I used to think trusting God meant trusting Him for the circumstances of my life. I used to think it meant trusting God for my future. But this past year God has completely overhauled my understanding of Trust.

I’m married to a man who has all the gifts. Seriously. You name it, he’s got it. And as he and his gifts have grown more public these past few years, I began to believe nobody valued my gifts or even noticed them. Nobody saw me, I told myself; they only saw him. I convinced myself the world didn’t want anything I had to offer; they only wanted what he had to offer.

I felt myself disappearing, fading into nothingness. Very soon, I told myself, I would be invisible. Am I important? Do I matter? Does anybody see me, truly see me? In agony I flung these questions into the cosmos, only to have them answered time and again with a resounding NO. No, you’re not seen; no, you don’t matter; no, you’re not important.

I was certain the problem was my marriage. If only I weren’t married to such a massively talented man, I wouldn’t feel this way. If only he would stop shining, I would feel better about myself. I accused him of erasing me and told him I wanted to die. We kept repeating the same irrational conversations.

Then one Sunday last fall I awoke with the sudden realization that the bitterness I held toward my husband was actually directed at God. None of this was my husband’s fault — it was God’s. He was the One who hadn’t given me the desirable gifts. He was the One who was withholding from me. This was no longer about my marriage: it was about my trust in God’s goodness.

Why does the Giver of gifts seem to pick favorites? Why are some people more highly favored? If God loves us all equally, why are His blessings so unequal? Since (by my reckoning) God hadn’t given me the good gifts, I concluded that He must not love me.

That sounds ridiculous, I know. Learning that Jesus loves us is one of the first things we do in Sunday school. When we belt out Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so, we’re supposed to believe it. Except here I was, and I didn’t believe it.

I prayed a half-hearted prayer: God, please, meet me at church today. I’m not even sure I meant it. Then at church the speaker began talking about how God doesn’t pick favorites. From my seat I remember hearing, “He doesn’t like Ernie more than Ann.” I looked up in astonishment and told God, I think You just answered my prayer.

God had spoken to my mind that morning, but my heart still had its doubts. My solution was to try grunting my way into belief. I thought if I just.tried.hard.enough, I could force myself to believe God’s love for me. But head knowledge has a hard time filtering down into heart knowledge, and I was groping in the dark.

A few months later I found myself in a counseling office to debrief my first few years overseas. Conversation soon came to a standstill. I was stuck. The counselor wisely handed me some colored pencils and asked me to draw. I’m an abysmal artist, but I did as she asked: I drew a purple mountain’s majesty, a part of Creation that draws me closer to God.

The counselor asked me what that mountain might say to me. The first words that came to me were “Just Sit.” Then she asked what else that mountain might say to me, and the word “Believe” immediately flooded my soul.

“Believe what?” she asked.

Through tears, I croaked, “Believe that God loves me as much as He loves my husband.”

And with that one word from God, months of striving to grasp His unconditional, all-surpassing, non-partisan Love evaporated. God used a poor colored-pencil sketch to short-circuit my rational brain and reach inside my heart. It was a breakthrough of belief that took me deeper into the love of God than I ever dreamed I’d go.

Shortly after my time with the counselor, I encountered I John 4:16 in the New International Version: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” I stopped cold. For me, knowing God’s love came first, and relying on it came afterwards. How could this verse so perfectly sum up my experience of God’s love when it had been written some 1,900 years earlier??

I loved this verse so much I looked it up in other versions. The English Standard Version reads, “And so we have come to know and to believe the love God has for us.” When I looked it up in the Greek, I discovered that “know” implies a personal experience, and “believe” means to trust. I John 4:16 is most definitely my story. First I had a personal experience of God’s love, and now I find I can trust it.

My Brute Force Method had failed. Trying to trust had failed. It was only when I let go and stopped striving that I could actually trust His love for me. So maybe trust is more of a release than a grip. Maybe it’s more of an invitation than an instruction. Maybe radical Trust in God isn’t about my circumstances, but about His love.

Psalm 13:5 declares, “I trust in Your unfailing love.” Trust in His unfailing love is life to me now. I no longer believe the lies that tell me my husband is more valuable than I am. I know I’m loved, and I no longer need to slice through my husband’s heart with my perfectly-practiced, precision-cut lies.The most broken part of our marriage has been made whole. I never thought I’d be able to proclaim that.

I am daily living Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:17-19. I’m experiencing the love of Christ, and He is filling my life with His love. I’m trusting in Him, and He’s making His home in my heart. I feel my roots growing down deep into God’s love, and I trust its width, length, height, and depth like never before.

This is the cry of my heart for you today. I pray along with Paul, that “Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”

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Further resources that helped me know and rely on the love God has for me:

The life and ministry of Rich Mullins, especially his song “The Love of God

Anything by Brennan Manning, especially “Reflections for Ragamuffins

Beth Moore’s Beloved Disciple Bible Study or book

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What is the thing in your life that makes you doubt that God loves and values you as much as He loves other people??

What is God inviting you to trust Him for?