Comparison is the thief of joy Theodore Roosevelt
In the very strange world that we’re living in at the moment, while I’ve been able to keep my ‘hand’ in with praying for a large number of people – over the internet and over the phone – and some speaking, again online to churches and groups, while I’ve enjoyed the latter, it doesn’t have the same ‘feel’ as preaching in a church understandably, especially as frequently it’s just a computer screen and not people in front of me! One of the things I love doing, that I’m not able to do in these months, is to sit with the people I’m praying for and see, as well as feel, their needs, and pray with an arm around them…
I’ve had time to pray, and read – which hopefully will come in useful in the future when – or if? – the world returns to ‘normal’ and if I am remembered by people who once invited me to speak!. I think we’re looking at a new and unknown ‘normal’ whatever happens. I’ve purposely chosen to read things that have challenged me, and given me fresh impetus for the future. Included in my reading has been two books about China and it’s amazing revival and churches – ‘Lilies among Thorns’ (a biography of sorts about The Heavenly Man, Brother Yun), which I’ve read many times now since it was published: and one I’d not read, ‘Bold as a Lamb’, the biography of Samuel Lamb, who had so much impact on my life spending time with him when visiting China a few times in the late eighties, and who, until his death aged 88, in 2013, was the prime mover in leading the House Church movement and shepherding the revival after Wang Ming Dao had passed away in 1991.
It made me long to see God do in the western world what He’s done and is still doing in China. One thing that really impacted me so much when I met Samuel a few times, and in the book – apart from his 21 years of in hard labour and the incredible attitude he had in those years – (with hundreds getting saved in 15 years in a coal mine in Mongolia) – was his desire not to ‘compete’. His incredible humility and his determination led him not to be in competition either with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (the state church), other pastors, or the government. He never compared what God had told him to do with others, either. I’ve tried to learn from him since meeting him in the late 1980s, and from his book. He’s now in glory with Jesus, who was his main inspiration.
Over the years, I’ve been involved with people and events where there has been real competition between speakers, comparison of numbers, the competition to preach – even on the teams I’ve taken with me over the last 40 years, I’ve found that ministry – or the desire for a ministry – can bring the worst out of some people, and had occasions where people have tried to ‘steal’ the place we’ve been in from my future involvement as they would be ‘better for you here than Paul’… I love to build good friendships with the people I go to, and those who have tried to ‘oust’ me have discovered the strength of those relationships built, and the ‘local’ people told me what was said to them. Those people don’t feature on my ‘invitation’ list to be on a team with me since those days, nor do they go to those places either!!! I’ve tried to learn – and still try – not to take offence, to forgive, and move on, though that doesn’t mean they’d be included in further trips!
Heather Tomlinson, of Christianity Magazine, wrote this recently about ‘celebrity’ Christians, the ones who are frequently in competition for status and position:
I observed that (Jackie) Pullinger’s behaviour at a Christian conference was very different from many Christian ‘celebs’ I’d come across. She did no hob-nobbing with the pastors and Christian leaders, preferring to stay with the recovering addicts she’d brought with her. She was trying her best to avoid being interviewed and photographed by me. When I finally cornered her and dragged her in front of my dictaphone, she was reluctant, and only warmed up when I raised the issue of her celebrity status, which she described as “very” difficult.
It’s anti the gospel,” she said. “God said: ‘I will pour my Spirit out on all flesh.’ So, the more you put one person on a pedestal, the more people think there’s a special anointing or something, which is not So, the more you put one person on a pedestal, the more people think there’s a special anointing or something, which is not true, and it actually makes the Church go backwards and not forwards. We’re not going to reach the ends of the earth if we’re relying on a few specially anointed or gifted people. The good news is that the job was given to every ordinary, weak kind of person.”
It’s always amazed me that, even with someone as insignificant as me in ministry, there are people who want to use ‘friendship’ with me as a means to develop and establish a ‘ministry’ of their own. It’s another form of competition – even using ‘supporting me’ financially as a carrot for me to ask them to go on trips with me. I’m very glad that, while I’ve never had much money, God’s enabled me to not be driven by the love of money, though, of course, I do need it(!) and I’m eternally grateful to the core of people who support me.
In the lockdown, I’ve seen on social media lots of people in ministry reporting on meetings they’ve done – some (not many!) seem to be busy – and I’m so glad for them. It’s been a very tough time for everyone, none of us would ever have imagined how 2020 would turn out. It would be very easy to be envious of these ‘more famous than me’ people, but I can honestly say I’m pleased for them.
Maybe you’d spare a prayer for preachers who, like me, don’t have a big (or little!) organisation behind them other than pray-ers and advisers, and are ‘on their own’, as the gifts from preaching are a vital lifeline financially – for me, about 40% of my ‘income’ comes – or rather, came(!) from that source. I’m so grateful for people who support what God has called me to do, so I’m not complaining, just explaining! I know that God told me never to seek prominence right back almost 42 years ago: and the countries he’s taken me to have been mainly poorer countries and ‘under the radar’
Comparison and competition are so destructive – it causes people to put others down, devalue their ministry/calling by God, devalue them as people. I’m grateful for what God has called and enabled me to do for the past 42 years. I have no desire to be someone else or be like someone else. Folk I take with me on trips, whether in the UK or overseas, would tell you that, when we’re away, my desire is for THEM not to listen to me preach, or watch me pray for people, but for them to preach and pray for people and to believe that God will do miracles through them. More often than not, I take people with me who I KNOW are better preachers than me (that’s not too difficult!) and who have gifts that I don’t have. I LONG to see other people released into something new for them: competition isn’t relevant (unless I’ve not discerned correctly the people I ask, and they have hidden agendas).
One of the areas God dealt with me on was numbers – that dreadful threat as leaders we can get into where the number in our church is concerned. Excuses as to the size of our church often precede the admission of numbers…Many years ago I was at a big conference (great catchy title – The International Charismatic Convocation on World Evangelisation!!), 5000 from all over the world. and I was, at that time, in a church of 60 people. A seminar speaker said to introduce ourselves to someone we didn’t know: I didn’t know ‘Miguel’ sitting next to me, assumed he was from Spain (didn’t know any Latin American countries at that time!) and that Spain was tough for evangelicals. I discovered he was from Chile – I’d heard nothing about what God was doing in Chile, and he wasn’t from Santiago, so a ‘small town man'(!!), and he was a Methodist… so I was no longer in fear of telling him ’60 people’ if he asked… He got in first, asking where was I from/what sort of church/how many people…. and I wasn’t too ashamed to tell him…. then the floor was his in our conversation. Not Santiago? Methodist? How many in your church, Miguel? 425,000… I was gobsmacked. I’d already compared, competed in my mind, and judged him…. Never again would I judge – or be ashamed…..
“Comparison is corrosive. It either puffs you up to pride or drives you down to despair.
Don’t compare yourself with other Christians, your gifts with their gifts, your ‘success’ with their ‘success’. We are all on the same side. We should be trying to help, love and encourage one another as we fight the spiritual battle together.”
Comparison and competition are not on God’s agenda. I love to listen to and watch people who have the same heart as I do, but who are much better at what I do than I am. I’m always wanting to learn from people, including people less time in ministry than me, and younger than me. When we compare or enter into a competitive attitude with others, we devalue the, and the superior’ attitude that results is incredibly destructive. We need to value each other, not compete. Underestimating the value of others
When we undermine the value of others by putting ourselves up against them, we miss out on the best God has got for us. This story below sums that up:
A father said to his daughter “You graduated with honours, here is a car I acquired many years ago. It is several years old. But before I give it to you, take it to the used car lot downtown and tell them I want to sell it and see how much they offer you. The daughter went to the used car lot, returned to her father and said, “They offered me $1,000 because it looks very worn out.” The father said,” Take it to the pawnshop.” The daughter went to the pawnshop, returned to her father and said,” The pawnshop offered $100 because it was a very old car.” The father asked his daughter to go to a car club and show them the car. The daughter took the car to the club, returned and told her father,” Some people in the club offered $100,000 for it since it’s a Nissan Skyline R34, an iconic car and sought out after by many.” The father said to his daughter,” The right place values you the right way,” If you are not valued, do not be angry, it means you are in the wrong place. Those who know your value are those who appreciate you. Never stay in a place where no one sees your value
I’d love, at the end of my life, for this testimony to be my story – this was found in the desk of a young Zimbabwean pastor who had died for his faith some 40+ years ago: No competition with anyone, just utter determination to nail his colours to Jesus’s mast…
I am part of the Fellowship of the Unashamed.
The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure.
I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colourless dreams, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I now live by presence, lean by faith, love by patience, lift by prayer, and labour by power. My pace is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my Guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, deterred, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed.
I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I must go until Heaven returns, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes.
And when He comes to get His own, He will have no problem recognizing me. My colours will be clear.
It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t mind who gets the credit.
I’ve never wanted fame, nor ‘big’ platforms, I’d prefer to honour others who are better than me (and that’s a vast crowd), give others opportunity to see God in action, to preach if they’ve never preached, to see healings and miracles if they’ve had little opportunity or success in the past – I hope if you were to ask 95% of the people I’ve taken with me on trips over the last 35-40 years (and local ‘nationals’, too) that they’d say that’s true. I’m a facilitator as much as I’m a minister…