Sorry, it has been over a week since my last blog. Life began testing my family once again. Although life is hard at times, there are valuable lessons to be learned in the valleys, as I have said in previous blogs. This week has taught me to look within. To look at how far my journey has really brought me. Last time I wrote, I shared my journey from death to life. From the power of darkness to the power of God. I shared my testimony. Our stories are meant to inspire hope in others. To share that all things are possible with God. That we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength (Philippians 4:13). But the enemy also has a way to bring doubt to others through our stories.
There is a tool the enemy has in his bag, a lie, it is his greatest asset, it is called comparison. What do I mean by that? Think about it. What makes us more prideful, more puffed up, than to compare our lives with others? The enemy can convince us that we are not as bad as others, so we stop trying. We think, “Hey, I could be worse.” “I’m good here.” “At least I am not like so and so, my sin is not out in the open, so God loves me more.” We fall in to the trap of comparison by pride.
That is not the only way he uses comparison. It can work in the opposite way as well. In the form of unbelief, doubt, and self-condemnation. “I will never be as good as so and so.” “I envy (enter a name), they have a strong walk with God and I will never get there.”
My family has been through so much in the last 5 months. I have been sharing our struggles in weekly blogs. I have met many people who say these very things to me. “You are so strong in your faith; I could never be like that.” “I wish I could have peace and joy in the face of trouble like you.” They have fallen in to the trap of self-doubt and condemnation, by comparison. A trick of the enemy.
You are not alone. There are so many Christians who fall into this trap. We see the strong. Those who have a deep relationship with God and walk on water, go through the fire and the flames, and walk in the darkest valleys; and they maintain a steady faith. We envy them. We think, why doesn’t God want a relationship with me like that? Why can’t I walk through life with a faith like that? Then we tend to give up and sit down. Like children who don’t want to play a game anymore, we sit down in the dirt, cross our arms, and pout. The trap of comparison has us.
I have fallen in to this very trap. I have watched my father take leaps and bounds in his walk with Christ. He has grown into one of the strongest Christians I have ever met. I used to get discouraged and fall into the trap of comparison with him. I would compare myself to his walk, and beat myself up because I was not anywhere near that strong of a Christian. I will come back to this in a bit.
I always wanted a faith like Paul. That man was a great man of God. How many others in the new testament wanted to be like Paul? How many Christians want to be like Paul? But we must ask, how did Paul get to be like Paul? We all know the story of how he was transformed from Saul to Paul, blinded by the light and spoken to by Jesus himself, but what happened after that? How do we become solid; faith filled Christians? How do we walk amongst lions and not get eaten? How do we walk on water and not sink? How do we walk through fire and flames and not get burned? How do we walk through life and not fear the circumstances? The answer is training and trust.
Paul’s ministry did not begin right away. He went back home to Tarsus for fourteen years (Galatians 2:1). He went home to study the scripture, to learn the truth, and to set up his ministry to the gentiles. How many of us are willing to give God 14 years to teach us the truth and trust? How many of us rookie Christians compare ourselves to the 10-year veterans; and our spirits deflate because we are not as strong as them? And how many Christians have been watching people pass them because they are sitting on the sidelines, unwilling to spend that much time learning? Step one, Paul spent time with God, learning.
Paul spent 14 years training for the marathon he was about to run. We fall into the trap of comparison and think that we can change overnight. The truth is, a lot of the strong Christians, like my father, spent 10 plus years, reading, fasting, and praying; training their bodies for the endurance needed to persevere through the race they are about to run. Learning to deny yourself in training for many, many, years is what it takes. Runners do not just enter a marathon having never trained a day in their life! It takes, weeks, months, years of diet, self-control, and training to run that far. Paul tells the church of Corinth, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly: I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ESV).
I had been comparing myself to a man, who had prepared himself for the race he would run. My father has fasted nearly a year of his life (not all at once), fasting for 40 days twice, and 30 days once. He, like Paul, is not running aimlessly, or boxing air for no reason. He had a purpose. To learn to live the way God intended. To be so in tune with God that he could run in the dark, letting the word of God lead him (Your word is a lamp unto my feet, Psalm 119:105). I was comparing myself to a man who had trained for years. That was my downfall. I expected to be as wise as he was. Wanted to be like him overnight, and that is not possible! It takes years of training.
Training allows us to deny ourselves and walk in the face of suffering and not waiver. Paul suffered much and still stood strong. “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one, I am talking like a madman, with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked: a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold from exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27 ESV).
The 14 years of training Paul went through, allowed him to rely on God when the pain started. The new testament compares this life to a race. A lot of us are training for the 100-yard dash, but in reality, life is a marathon. Like in all marathons, there is muscle fatigue, cramps, and pain. We look at those who are running and think, “I could do that.” Then when the pain racks our bodies a mile into the race, we tend to give up. Because we haven’t trained for the marathon. We trained for short races.
Pain is how we grow. Paul had to go through the things he did to ensure he would finish his race. The years of training, along with the pain life brought, helped him to persevere and finish the marathon. If we do not train ahead of time, we will fail. I have heard it said, “If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” So, we must train. Spending time in the Bible, spending time with God, listening to the Spirit, for as long as it takes! Until we can complete a marathon. That is when the journey begins.
Like watching my father, I only saw how he handled himself when the going got tough. I forgot about all the work he put in beforehand, to get through it. Most forget that Paul went home and studied for 14 years. My father spent years in training, so when life got hard, I would crumble and he would stand strong.
The problem once again, is that we fall into the comparison trap. I fell into it often. But after 15 years of learning and growing myself, I now see that the work you put in, pays off. If you want to stand in the face of trouble and walk in faith, hope, and love, then your have to put in the work. It allows us to stand in the face of uncertainty; walking in the dark, with the only source of light being the word of God and his promises guiding our feet.
In Hebrews the writer talks about the race as well. He says, “therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses (see Hebrews 11), let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
My father has a teaching on the cloud of witnesses coming out soon in the local paper, I encourage you to read it when it comes out. I want to focus on another part. See the “lay aside every weight” part? The marathon runners used to carry weights when training. So, when the race day came, they would drop the weight and run even faster. Training to run 26.2 miles while carrying weights, will make you that much stronger when the race comes. If we train day in and day out while still carrying the burdens of life, how much faster will we run, how much further could we go, if we dropped the weights?
People look at me and think, “how does he walk through this time of trouble with joy and peace?” I hear this often enough. The truth is, it has taken me 15 years of training to get to the point where I can shed the weight and sin that entangled me, and run with endurance this race that has been set before me.
If you are reading my story and thinking, how does he do this? Now you know, years and years of trials and training have allowed me to push past the pain and keep moving forward with endurance. I have my father before me to use as an example. But we cannot let the spirit of doubt and condemnation by comparison keep us from reaching the finish line. Too many times, new Christians give up because they see people running the last few laps a race and they get discouraged when they cannot run one lap. They tend to sit down and quit. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, cheering us on! But I believe we are also surrounded by a great sea of believers trapped in the lie of comparison; sitting on the sideline, unwilling to run, because someone is better at it than they are. The “never be good enough” lie has them.
Its time to stop comparing ourselves to others. Romans 8:1 says “There is therefore no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus.” God does not condemn. The devil does. If you feel condemned because you are not strong enough, good enough, or running the race fast enough, it is a lie of the enemy. Maybe it is time to shadow box with passion. Maybe it is time to train and not run aimlessly. Maybe it is time to build endurance, to train for as long as it takes, even if it takes 14 years!
If you want to compare yourself to anyone, compare yourself to yourself. If you have been in the race for years and haven’t moved forward, it’s time to start training again. If you are in training, take a look at how far you can run now. If you can run further every time, you are making progress. If you are in the race, take a look back and see all the miles under your feet. Then look up into the crowd and listen to them cheering you on, and look forward to the joy set before you; your King, Jesus, who has a crown just for you.
Now stop pouting, stop comparing yourself to others, and stop running aimlessly! Run your race! Train daily and start moving forward. To quote Rocky Balboa, “one step at a time, one punch at a time, one round at a time,” that is all it takes. Start small. You got this! I’m rooting for you.