Brad Powell on breaking free from Obsessive Comparison Syndrome
Question: When I compare myself to others who are doing or have done great things for God, I feel inadequate … like I don’t belong and can never measure up. Honestly, I have a hard time relating to other people in ministry. Have you ever experienced this?
When I was a young leader, this “ministry comparing” really messed me up. I didn’t relate to anyone in ministry, which kept me from trusting myself to lead in the unique ways I was gifted and motivated to lead. In fact, for the first six years, I came very close to leaving ministry. In my heart, I knew I was called. But comparing myself to others really messed with my head. I couldn’t find anyone else in ministry who was young and thought like me. It kept me from being all that God created me to be. And, it will do the same to you.
This also was a huge problem for Jesus’ first disciples. They were always comparing themselves with one another, trying to figure out who was the greatest. Jesus hammered Peter for it (John 21:18-23). After the resurrection, He had just given Peter a not so positive glimpse into his future. Peter immediately asked, “What about John?” His primary concern wasn’t that he would experience difficulties. It was whether John would experience the same difficulties. Think about how Jesus responded: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”
I would classify that as an official smackdown. The point is clear. Comparison has no place in our lives. God’s will, plans and expectations for each of us are unique. Comparison serves no purpose. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Because it’s so natural for us, (in truth, I still find myself battling with it at times in life and ministry), I’ve found that breaking the tendency to compare myself to others requires understanding its consequences.
Comparing ourselves to others robs us of our own uniqueness and creativity, causing us to lower our leadership, teaching and ministry to a cheap copy. Even worse, we allow the way we do ministry to be boxed into centuries-old formulas. It also robs those God uniquely created us to reach and impact.
1. Comparing ourselves to others can lead to perceptions that we’re doing better than we really are.
If Peter compared himself to Judas, he could have seen himself as one of the better followers of Christ even after the rooster crowed. Though he denied Jesus three times, he didn’t sell Him out for 30 pieces of silver. If the guy with five talents compared himself to the other servants in the parable, he could have seen himself as an overwhelming success even if he was turning in a subpar performance. Comparison leads to wrong, very dangerous conclusions.
2. It can make it appear that we’re doing worse than we really are.
What would have happened if David compared himself to Saul to see if he was qualified to take on Goliath? One look in the mirror while wearing Saul’s armor would have told him he wasn’t good enough. But God didn’t create David to wear Saul’s armor. The comparison wouldn’t have been fair. It never is. Too many of God’s people are discouraged for no legitimate reason.
3. Comparing ourselves to others can get us way off track.
Scripture clearly shows us that we all have different callings, talents and experiences. Comparing ourselves with others can lead us to invest ourselves in the wrong ways.
4. It can cause bitterness toward God and envy toward others.
Think of Asaph in Psalm 73. Until he stopped comparing himself to others and remembered God’s truth, he was jealous and “hopeless.” It happens to me, to all of us, when we don’t keep comparison in check.
5. It creates the wrong standard for our lives and ministries.
As Jesus told Peter in John 21, the only standard we should ever measure ourselves by is His standard.
6. It causes us to miss what God values.
As 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Look at the Pharisees. Comparison caused them to ultimately hate and reject the One they should have most loved and accepted. I believe the same thing is happening today. Many pastors and churches are living for and valuing the wrong things because they’re comparing themselves to their traditions or other churches instead of God’s Truth.
7. It motivates competition, not cooperation.
God created His people to walk together and, in so doing, to change the world. Instead, we have a tendency to compete with one another. Just like the first disciples, we’re trying to be better than each other rather than helping to make one another better.
8. It keeps us from loving one another.
Comparison robs us of love. In light of John 13:35, it’s keeping the world from recognizing we’re Christ followers. It’s keeping us from reaching the world and fulfilling our purpose.
Remember that the way God has made and called each of us to accomplish His will is unique. God doesn’t want you to be or to do ministry like anyone else. It’s why He didn’t make you like anyone else. Psalm 139:14 tells us we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” God’s plan for each of us is different and perfect.