4 Reasons Comparison Thinking Is Harmful

Last weekend I spoke in Phoenix at a LifeWay Abundance Event  (subtle plug for this event if you haven’t been to one—see how I just did that?). Just before I was about to speak I had a new, old feeling hit me. New because I hadn’t felt it in a while; Old because it’s one of those familiar feelings I know well.

I was the last person to speak so I’d witnessed a parade of really gifted people go before me. One who runs a large company, another who’s personality and warmth is bigger than Montana (Montana is my favorite state metaphor), a young woman whose spoken word left the crowd in a standing ovation, another who oversees a super successful online ministry (I’m still trying to understand Instagram Story). Not to mention the gifted singers and players… I could go on.

May I introduce to you the spirit of comparison thinking.

I realize this can be a prominent trap in a setting like the one I was in, but comparison thinking can hit us anywhere—work, school, at a party. It festers on social media like bacteria in a petri dish. We can be totally minding our own business when we happen upon a post or feed that suddenly makes us feel small or left out, or like we don’t measure up.

My new friend Lisa-Jo Baker of Incourage says that when this happens it’s like a comparison drive by shooting. When you’re just doing your thing and—bam, bam, bam—you’ve been nailed by someone more in the “in” than you, maybe someone more talented, someone doing really big things—bigger than Montana. So I’d like to introduce a comparison thinking bullet proof vest, via 2 Corinthians 10 (it’s actually not called that in any translation of the Bible, but go with me.)

1. Comparison Thinking Is Unwise

The Apostle Paul says in 2 Cor 10:12, “For we don’t dare classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. But in measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves to themselves, they lack understanding.”

When you start heading down the comparison road, turn around as fast as you’re able because this is never a wise move. Or as the CSB puts it, when we do this we lack understanding (CSB is a new bible translation I’m enjoying.) Comparison thinking doesn’t produce anything positive, which is one of the reasons it’s not a smart use of our time. We either feel self-righteously smug, if we think we’re better than someone; Or needlessly small, if we feel like we don’t measure up. Never does it produce the fruit of the Spirit.

2. Comparison Thinking Is Based On A Fluctuating Scale

Whenever we compare ourselves to others we put ourselves up against a fluctuating standard. Think of how quickly styles change—we run out for those shoes or that sweater and 6 months later we’re SO behind. What about the things culture values? One day you’re supposed to have lots of stuff, the next it’s cool to be minimalist. What about in the church? I’ll be around someone who’s just adopted a child and think—yes, that’s what I need to do. Then I’ll be around a family and think—well, maybe marriage is the answer. Goodness, we can drive ourselves nuts trying to keep up with an ever moving standard if not for this next part of Paul’s letter.

3. Comparison Thinking Tempts Us To Live Someone Else’s Assignment

Paul says in verse 13 that he was only going to boast about the ministry assignment God had given him. One way we can protect ourselves from the drive-by comparison shootings is knowing what God has given us to do and who He’s called us to be. Do you know He has a unique work for you to do? Do you know He’s appointed you to bear an enormous amount of fruit in your life (John 15:15)? But we can’t find this out by comparing ourselves to others. We discover it by spending time with the Lord through prayer, His Word, keeping in step with the Spirit and being with other believers.

4. Comparison Thinking Promotes Boasting In Ourselves, Not The Lord

Paul says in verses 17-18, “So let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. For it is not the one commending himself who is approved, but the one the Lord commends.”

When our focus is on Jesus and the ministry He’s called us to we’ll boast in Him; We won’t feel smug or small, only worshipful. Another way we can dodge the comparison bullets is by keeping our focus on the Lord’s approval. I remember being left out of something that deeply undercut my confidence as a teacher. I remember thinking, “what will this person think?” or “that person when they find out I wasn’t chosen?” As clearly as I know the voice of the Holy Spirit He asked me, “What about what I think of you?”

I felt the Lord’s love for me and His approval in that moment. I was reminded that He had a ministry field for me and His plan hadn’t been derailed. I was also grateful to realize that His approval was more meaningful to me than that of the people I was looking to. This was a blessing to discover.

My prayer is that you’ll know the Lord’s love for you and rise to the challenge to which He’s called you. I pray you won’t be swayed to the left or right by ever-changing standards. When you’re tempted to compare yourself with others, remember that what you’re really longing for is God’s approval. And when you receive His commending, you’ll be so content that you won’t be threatened by the blessings of others; rather you’ll rejoice in them. And this is very wise.

***If you’re looking for more on this topic you may want to look at Kelly’s All Things New: A Study on 2 Corinthians

  • Melissa Henderson

    Needed to read this message today. I am writing my first Christian fiction novel. I do not want to compare my writing to anyone else’s writing because each of us are on a different path. 🙂

  • Tina Powers Francis

    Thank you so much for this reminder Kelly. I have always had a low self-esteem and I constantly need to be reminded of “What God thinks of me.” I have been the Ministry Assistant at our church for 15 years now. I can honestly say that God has brought me down a long road in dealing with this. Two years ago He put on my heart to lead a core group. We have several core group bible studies on Sunday nights. I just finished leading your study “All Things New” I LOVED IT!!! and I also purchased your Hymns and Hallelujahs CD. It really lifts me up whenever I’m feeling down. Four of the ladies (including myself) are attending Cultivate this weekend in Jackson, MS. I am SO Excited! Looking forward to seeing you this weekend! Blessings, Tina

  • laurel

    I was at that Phoenix event and was so thrilled to see you were the final speaker. My small group just finished “all things new” so I knew i was in for some inspiration. The thing about each of the people this weekend is that you each brought your unique perspective on life and how God is working through you and how He works in each of us. I came out that day refreshed and ready to take on the work that God has in store for me. Thank you for your service, and I’m so glad you shared a song with us too it’s the perfect way to end a bible study.

  • Patricia Campbell

    Kelly your music has helped me so!! every morning I put your hymns on and feel so close to my Lord. My day is beautiful after listening and studing God’s word!!

  • Mary

    This is the very thing that pulls us slowly but surely away from our Father in heaven. Such a great reminder! It is truly a daily battle to find our identity in Christ! I recently started a Blog surrounding the topic of finding your identity in Christ alone! Truly a conscious decision to not compare my beginnings with other peoples middles! Thank you for your point of view!

  • Meghan Weyerbacher

    #3 wow! Thanks Kelly!