“So, do you like it?” she asked cautiously, expecting me to offer a less-than-approving comment.
“Like it? I love it!”
“Well, it isn’t the nicest house in town, but we worked to get it ready for you the best we could.”
I couldn’t say enough to assure the wife of the church trustee that this three-bedroom parsonage was absolutely wonderful. Compared to the apartments and, more recently, the 60-foot trailer we’d lived in during the past five years, this was a mansion!
When we compare things, we measure one thing against the other, noting the similarities and differences, estimating each one’s value or importance. Comparisons are necessary and useful, especially when we are comparing the price and quality of purchases. It’s also perfectly acceptable to compare methods to accomplish a goal.
The Bible makes it clear that comparisons are important. When faced with a diet he knew he couldn’t accept, Daniel suggested to his overseer that they conduct a trial period of eating the food the Jewish young men preferred. “Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see” (Daniel 1:13 ESV). After just ten days the proof of the better regimen was obvious: “They were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king's food” (Daniel 1:15 ESV). Oh, that all comparisons were so plain to see!
Sometimes we welcome comparisons. They can be a compliment: “You’re just like your mother. Always kind and thoughtful.”
At other times they sting with biting words: “Oh, you’re just like your sister! Always being critical!”
And then there are the whining, complaining comparisons: “Why can’t you be like everyone else’s parents? Why did I get stuck with you and your rules?”
Some comparisons can make us uncomfortable. When others compare themselves to us, building us up, we sometimes squirm under their unwarranted, too generous comparisons. We know we don’t really measure up to their estimation. They have only a partial view into our lives and profess their praise in such wistful adoration: “You have the perfect family!” “You always know what to say!” “Your faith is so strong!”
Comparisons are often unavoidable and not always beneficial. When we compare ourselves to others it can be a reassuring, self-congratulating measurement: “At least I’m not…” It also can create an inferior, negative assessment: “I’ll never be good enough.” But when we make an honest, self-evaluation of our accomplishments, our habits, our goals, we can also say, “I can do better, be better than that.”
The real danger comes when we look in the mirror and see only what is wonderful. We conclude there’s absolutely no room for improvement! But where is the honesty in that? Especially when we know we can never compare ourselves to our Lord Jesus.
Of course we all know that individual who only sees his or her own perfection, who refuses to admit any faults. The Apostle Paul cautions against placing ourselves next to this type of person: “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend [praise, compliment, congratulate, applaud] themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10: 12 NIV).
When we are new to a position, we chafe at the comparisons others make. They compare us to a former employee, a former boss, a former teacher – wistfully remembering their prior life or situation as being so much better. Sometimes we have created abrupt or jarring changes, but more often it’s just the loss of a comfort zone, a familiar relationship, and known expectations. The difference may be unsettling but hopefully not catastrophic.
And at some point there comes a time to accept the present and get busy. When we find ourselves being criticized for not being the clone of a previous boss or leader, sometimes the best answer is “But I’m not that person.” After all, an apple shouldn’t be criticized for not being a good orange!
Comparisons, however, can be useful, legitimate when there is an effort to be objective. We often find ourselves evaluating employees, veterans or newcomers. We compare new methods and approaches to established routines. Sometimes the measuring stick is a simple “Are you/Am I doing what is expected?” “Is the job getting done?” And when there’s a difference of opinion on the best strategy or procedure, we can listen to Daniel: “Let’s try both and see which is better.”
Because of comparisons, newcomers don’t always have an easy road. I know that from experience. But at my age, I realize I’m more often on the other side of newness, adjusting to someone who becomes part of my circle. As Christian leaders we should evaluate the way we receive those who are joining us. When we find ourselves in the position of accepting, welcoming, or integrating someone into our organization, team, company, or even family, how we approach that person says a great deal about who we are and our confidence in our values and our leadership.
I’ve found that the best welcome is the positive assumption and recognition of someone’s uniqueness: “You will make a wonderful contribution to our organization.” “You have gifts we are looking forward to seeing enhance our company.” “I’m so glad you joined our family.”
And later, as that person is feeling more a part of the group: “There’s no one like you!” “What would we do without you?”
As we strive to lead like Jesus, we can only hope to internalize the virtues He modeled for us: justice, fairness, honesty, humility, compassion and understanding. But there’s no comparison to that greatest attribute we all wish we had more of… wisdom. Wisdom to know just how to handle every crisis, every situation, every colleague, every family member. Job chapter 28 puts Wisdom on a pedestal. Nothing of the greatest material value could be used to purchase it. “Neither gold nor crystal can compare with it” (v.17 NIV). And those who would desire wisdom apart from knowing and having reverence for God will never attain it (v. 28 NIV). Putting our Lord Jesus first is the beginning step and the ongoing journey.
For what is there to compare to our God and all He provides for us? The Psalmist boldly states, “None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare” (40:5 NIV). God himself proclaims His uniqueness, His ranking above anything our human minds can even imagine: “With whom will you compare Me or count Me equal? To whom will you liken Me that we may be compared?” (Isaiah 46:5 NIV)
When I am overwhelmed by my inability to grasp the wonder of my God, my Lord Jesus, I am comforted by the words of Darlene Joyce Zschech: “My Jesus, my Savior, Lord there is none like You... [there is nothing like] the wonders of Your mighty love. My comfort, my shelter, Tower of refuge and strength… Nothing compares to the promise I have in You!”
The one aspect of my Lord Jesus that I can measure and estimate, even when I don’t measure up, is His promise. That promise covers a multitude of situations and topics: To be with me at all times and in all places; to encourage me; to love me; to protect me; to strengthen me.
And best of all, to save me from death and give me an eternity of joy. Nothing compares with that!
Leaving my guilt at the cross,
First published at Lead Like Jesus October 2018