There was a time when I would compare my life with that of my peers. In a particularly dark period of my life, a time when I had lost most of my public ministry, I would think of a classmate of mine from Regent, and wonder why my life was not like his. He was pastoring a mega church and was a leader in his denomination, and the evangelical movement in his country. He was living the life I was supposed to live. I didn’t begrudge him his ministerial success. He was a humble and dedicated man. But I couldn’t help comparing, and wondering why, in comparison, my life was in such a mess.
I have learnt by now that I shouldn’t compare but I am not alone in doing this. There was one occasion when the apostle Peter compared himself with “the beloved disciple.” The incident is recorded in the last chapter of John’s gospel.
Peter turned around and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them. (This was the disciple who had leaned back against Jesus’ chest at the meal and asked, “Lord, who is the one who is going to betray you?”) So when Peter saw him, he asked Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus replied, “If I want him to live until I come back, what concern is that of yours? You follow me!” (John 21:20-22, NET)
Here is Gerald L. Borchert’s comment on the incident:
We tend to focus on comparisons. That is usually the way we try to understand whether we are okay. But that is not the way it works with God. God is concerned about us personally. Of course, God is concerned about our community, our brothers and sisters, our friends, the world. But these can stand in the way of our confronting our own individual responsibilities before God. Our concern for others can actually sidetrack us from facing God’s personal demands on us. That was the problem with Peter in this verse, and Jesus was prepared to confront him with this sidetracking of his personal calling. (John 12-21, Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002, 339)
Or as Eugene Peterson puts it:
It is not given to us to know what God is doing with others; we need to pay attention to what he is doing with us. (A Year With Jesus, San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006, 389)
Paying attention to our own lives is what we need to do as we mark the end of 2009 and look to 2010. It is a time to look back on the year that is passing. Take note of the many instances of God’s grace in our lives in 2009. We don’t count our blessings as often as we should. Most of us live our lives at such a frantic pace that we hardly take time to thank people much less to thank God. Yet it is in counting our blessings that we are reminded afresh of the generous care of God, and in remembering we find fresh faith to face the year ahead.
Looking back at 2009 also means confronting the many areas we have fallen short of God’s ideals for us. Indeed, the earlier part of John Chapter 21 records Jesus confrontation of Peter for his triple denial (John 21:15-19). Jesus takes the initiative to reach out to Peter, to give him an opportunity to deal with his failure. In recording this exchange, “It is almost as though the evangelist is affirming the well-known concept that for a person to become right with God and gain a sense of release from the past sense of rebellion that that person should face the reality of where the deviation or sin occurred. (Borchert, John 12-21, 333.) Coming to terms with our failures will be painful. But we take comfort that Jesus wants to forgive and to restore. What issues in our lives do we need to deal with before we move into 2010?
Year end is also a good time to hear afresh Jesus’s question to Peter: “Do you love me?” In response to Jesus all-giving love, do we love Him in return? It is very possible to be doing a lot of good things, and a lot of good things for the Lord, and yet fail to love Him. Is loving Jesus the primary reality in your life? In mine? It seems we can get many things right and fail in this primary call. “Lord, help me put you first in my heart and in my life as I enter a new year.”
After we have reaffirmed our love for the Lord, He will give us clear vocational instructions as to how we are to live out that love. As Peter dealt with his triple denial and reaffirmed his love for the Lord, Jesus gives Peter fresh instructions (John 21:15-17): “Feed my lambs,” “Shepherd my sheep,” “Feed my sheep.” After we have given our hearts afresh to the Lord, expect that He will give you guidance as to things you can do to live out that love in the year ahead. And as Peter discovered, and as we must discover too, we must not compare the tasks that God assigns us with the tasks He assigns to others. Our call is not to compare our lives with the lives of others. Our call is to follow Jesus (John 21: 22).
The Lord is teaching me not to compare my life with the lives of others. I am learning. Indeed it was when I stopped comparing myself with others that I began to truly discover the wonder and significance of my own story. I pray that more and more, that will be your experience too. God has not called you to be somebody else. He has called you to be you.