Last night we talked about living like an animal and living like a human being – and how the difference comes when we see ourselves as a special creation of God, worthy of dignity and respect, and someone loved so much that Jesus was willing to die for you. Accepting that gift of salvation is an invitation to God to work in your heart and make you into a new creation, to be born again.
Last night I divided the thinking using the idea of Animal and Human, but another way of dividing it is between things that fill our spirits and things that kill our spirits. When we think and live like animals we are denying the fact that we have something special that animals don’t have – a soul, a spirit, the special breath of God that no other creature of God has. So tonight what I want to do is spend a little time talking about some things that fill our soul, and things that kill our soul.
I want this to be immensely practical for you, so let me explain what I mean. There are things that we do, ways we think, activities common to all of us, that either fill us up, bring us closer to God, improve our relationships, increase our joy, and make us more like Jesus – and there are things that we do and think that empty our souls, draw us away from God, ruin our joy, harm our relationships, distract us from our God-given mission, and kill our souls. And I want to talk about one of them tonight:
Why is this important? Because a lot of people feel very empty. There is a vacuum inside of them, a gaping hole, that they keep trying to fill up, but no matter what they throw into it, it never feels full. Do you know this feeling?
You’ve got a family, friends, school, work, a hobby, teammates, books, skills… and no matter what you do with them, you still feel empty. Certainly, all these things are good, and for a time, as long as you’re with them, they are distracting… but then, at night when you go to bed, when you’re alone, when the noise stops that empty void inside of you feels just as big as it ever did.
That’s why you spend so much time on the internet, playing games, watching movies, listening to music, texting on the cell phone, sending pictures and videos, exercising your body, sleeping, or doing whatever you can do to fill your eyes and ears – because you don’t like the silence. And the worst part is that no matter what you do, no matter how many friends you have, no matter what chemical you put into your body, no matter how good you do on that test, no matter how hard you hit it, no matter how many people see your video, no matter how much you try, the emptiness never gets better.
God Shaped Hole
What I want to tell you tonight is that the reason that you feel that way is because you’re trying to fill the hole inside of you with something that can never fill it. The hole is too big for anything this world has to offer. No friend, work or distraction will ever fill it.
The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that God has “placed eternity in a man’s heart” which means that there is a God-shaped hole inside of us, an innate longing for something outside of ourselves, something transcendent, something other than what can be found in this world.
But the Bible also says in Jeremiah 17:9 that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick…”. Ecclesiastes 9:3 says, “the hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live…”. We talked about that last night when we talked about our animalistic natures.
Our heart tells us to keep doing the same old things over and over, hoping that they will fill the God-shaped hole. It’s madness to continue, but we keep doing it hoping it will work. We hope that we will finally find meaning, peace, happiness, joy, and freedom in our work, education, friends, sports, money, things, experiences – but the things we are pursuing with such energy are utterly unsatisfactory – not enough to fill the void.
That’s why so many people can’t stand silence, but keep filling their head with noise. Do you know anyone like that? Someone who always has headphones in their ears or their phone in their face? Someone who can’t even lie down at night without filling their minds with noise? They fear silence because it’s in the silence that they start to realize how empty things are – and it terrifies them to think that no matter what they do, they will never shake the empty feeling.
So what can we do? Well, the first thing is what we talked about last night. Turn our lives over to Jesus, accept His death on the cross on your behalf, and begin a relationship with Him. Become a Christian by connecting back to your creator through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
But after that there are some other things that we can do to start filling our souls instead of killing them. And I want to talk about a big one tonight:
Killed by Comparison
The number one killer of our souls that I want to tell you about tonight is Comparison. Comparison kills joy. Theodore Rosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Mark Twain said, “Comparison is the death of joy.” Rick Warren, one of my favourite authors and pastors once said, “You cannot be happy and envious at the same time.” The Bible says, “They use themselves to measure themselves, and they judge themselves by what they themselves are. This shows that they know nothing.” (1 Cor 10:12)
What I’m talking about is the trap that people fall into when they see their life as a competition with others. They’re not happy unless they can say they are better, stronger, faster, richer, prettier, smarter, than others. If they get something, I need to have a bigger one. If you eat one, then I’ll eat two. If you start talking about their vacation, then I need to tell them how much better mine was. Both men and women have this problem – it’s not just a girl or boy thing, though it does come out different ways.
Do you ever get this? It happens all the time, without even thinking.
One person says, “Oh man, I had to go to the hospital for two days because I had an infection.” and what does the other person say, “You think you were sick?! Well, one time I was in the hospital for a whole week!”
One person says, “I just got a new iPhone.” and instead of saying, “That’s great for you!” what do we say? “Well, iPhone sucks. I have an Android! Which one ? Oh, a 5? Well, I’m saving up for a 6.” Or you whip out your phones and start comparing features.
Someone says, “I have a boyfriend/girlfriend.” And you think, “Why do they have someone? What’s wrong with me? Maybe I should lower my standards? Everyone else has a boyfriend/girlfriend? There must be something wrong with me.”
It doesn’t matter if there isn’t anything wrong with you, that you have high standards, and that no one meets them yet! That’s actually a good thing! It doesn’t matter that other people are hooking up and breaking up every week and that you’re not. But comparing yourself to them makes you feel terrible. Comparison kills your soul, doesn’t it?
And then it inevitably happens that you can’t compete with someone. You come across someone that really is smarter, faster, prettier, wealthier, more talented and more popular than you. And no matter what you do, they keep winning. So how do we react? A person who lives by comparison doesn’t react well.
They get depressed because they don’t have what the other person has – and may never have it. They get angry because that person doesn’t deserve it as much as they do. They get bitter and lash out at the person, treating them badly, even if they’ve done nothing, simply because they perceive them as a threat. And even if that person is somehow eliminated – they move, you finally beat them, or something else – then you live in constant fear that someone else will come along that will challenge your superiority.
That’s the danger of living a life where you are constantly comparing yourself to others. No matter what you achieve, you will live depressed, angry, bitter and afraid. You may look amazing on the outside, part of the crowd, or rising above them. You may project confidence and strength. You may have everyone else fooled, but inside you are always afraid someone is more loved than you. You are always angry, and you don’t really know why. You don’t see people as people, but as competitors, rivals, stepping stones.
And that colours all your relationships. If you think like that, then everyone else must as well. They’re just waiting for you to screw up so they can take what you have. They’re laughing at you behind your back. And now you’re even suspicious of your friends. Does anyone know this feeling?
Maybe this has seeped in because of the tonne of books and movies that keep feeding you this. Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, X-Men, I Am Number Four, Twilight, Harry Potter, are all fun movies to watch, but they all have the same underlying message: You are very, very special. You are on top. You are the chosen one. Only the chosen one is really important. Everyone else is second class. Every wants to take what you have. Trust no one. If you’re not special, you’re nothing.
Maybe you have had this pressed on you by your parents. You have to be stronger, fasters, smarter than others. They’re telling you about their failings and how you need to rise above. Telling you that you need to do well in school or sports, to have a great job, and get lots of money – you don’t want to be like your loser uncle whatever do you?
That sets you up for a life of comparison where you see everyone as a threat, and it’s a terrible way to live, and will kill your soul. But it’s so tempting, so persuasive.
Why? Because all the comparison boils down to chasing love. They believe that popularity equals love, wealth equals the ability to find love, being beautiful means being loved, being smartest, most talented, or strongest means people will need you and therefore love you. Having great toys and tech means that there’s someone out there that will give you good things because they love you. Having a boyfriend/girlfriend means that you’re loved.
But is that true? Not necessarily, right?
Can you be popular, but unloved? Sure. There are lots of people that are widely known, but hated.
Can you be rich, but unloved? Absolutely. Some wealthy people are very lonely.
Can you be beautiful and unloved? Certainly. Sometimes how we look on the surface, even being beautiful, becomes a barrier to a real, deep relationship.
Can you get presents every day, but still feel unloved? Certainly. Receiving gifts doesn’t always mean closeness. I get a birthday card from my insurance company – but they don’t love me!
Can you be in a relationship where you see each other often, have committed to be boyfriend/girlfriend, but have no love? Sadly, yes. Some of you know how that feels.
So what do we do? We go chasing after that love. We want so desperately to fill that God-shaped hole inside of us that we are willing to do almost anything to fill it – even if that means compromising who we are.
We want that popularity, we want people to like us, love us – but they won’t accept us the way we are. So what does our wicked, deceitful heart tell us to do? Change ourselves, lower our standards, pretend we’re stupid, pretend we’re someone else. People laugh when I do this stupid thing, and then they think I’m cool, so I’ll keep doing that. We hang around people we don’t really like, because they’re the crowd we’re expected to hang around.
We want that wealth, because we want people to love us, so what do we do? Stop doing something we love so we can take a job to make money. Pretend to be richer than we are. Steal things so we have more. Borrow money we can’t pay back. Buy things for people hoping that we will impress them enough that they will be our friends.
We want to be considered beautiful, because we think beautiful people are more loved, so what do we do? Look at blogs and glossy, airbrushed pictures of beautiful people and try to dress and act like them. Go on crazy diets, work out too much, take pills that destroy our bodies. Spend money on hair, nails, skin, eyes, clothes, shoes, sunglasses to look like someone else. Worry so much about what we look like on the surface that we forget to feed the soul inside. Which is why you panic every time you look at the closet. It’s because you’re afraid that if you don’t look perfect, people won’t love you. And then, after a time, you get used to it. You realize that people react positively whenever you show up looking this certain way, so you move heaven and earth to keep looking like that, even when you don’t really want to, even when it makes you uncomfortable, even if it compromises your values. Because you’re desperate for love.
Do you know this struggle? I know you do. So do I.
I understand that struggle because I lived it. When I was growing up I was pretty unpopular. Actually, that’s an understatement. My family moved around a bunch and I ended up attending four different schools from grade 1-7 – in the same town. But there was only one high school, so when I went there, everyone knew me as the weird, new kid that never quite fit in. The kids were pretty mean to me.
I remember some of them would wait for me to leave after school so they could throw rocks at me. Add to that the fact that I had really bad acne, was a computer nerd (way before Big Bang Theory decided nerds were cool), and was, as far as I could tell, the only Christian in the whole school. I was pretty smart and had skipped a grade, and was also one of the smallest and certainly the youngest person in my grade. I have no fashion sense so I wore weird clothes, and spent a lot of time by myself.
I hated being on the bus. I hated being at school. I was an outsider’s outsider.
I did have a few friends. My “best friend” would invite me over to his house sometimes a couple hours before he hosted his house parties. We would play some Nintendo, get the place ready for the party, and then I’d go home. I didn’t belong at parties. This was the same friend who actually pushed me away when “the popular” kids came around because he didn’t want to be publically associated with me.
By grade 12 I really started hating my life. I remember begging God to change me. I asked Him over and over why He gave me this family, this body, this face, this brain. I considered suicide to end it all, but God prevented that from happening. I wanted to change everything about me, but I didn’t know how. And I was absolutely miserable.
I went to college to study computer engineering at at 17 years old. That year was spent alone, in a basement, doing nothing but watching TV and drinking milk. I flunked out badly.
So I went home that summer a total failure. I had no friends, no future, no peace, and the only thing I was good at – computers – was a total bomb. Now what?
My dad suggested I go to Bible College, so I got a job so I could pay for it, and went for the first year. I stayed in the dorm and paid extra so I wouldn’t have a roommate. It was a split gender dorm with guys on one side and girls on the other, so I was surrounded by Christian guys all day, every day. And I treated them like garbage.
Everyone I’d known, all the way though school treated me badly and I learned to trust no one. And I came to that dorm full of hate, anger, resentment, fear and a commitment to not let anyone get through my shell.
But these guys wouldn’t leave me alone. The more I lashed out, the more they came into my room. They kept inviting me to things, asking to talk, asking to pray for me, including me in movie nights, game nights, band nights… and they never treated me badly. So one night I had it.
We were all sitting in one guys room and I told them how angry I was. How I hated myself and hated everyone else. I told them how I kept waiting for them to hurt me, and how afraid I was that I would never be loved. And they did something that I never expected. They told me to sit on the bed and prayed for me. They put their hands on me and started to pray. I don’t remember what they said, but I do remember that at first I wanted to break their arms. I was shaking with anger, turning red and sweating as rage coursed through me. I hated them.
And then I suddenly stopped and something changed. It’s like a switch flipped in my brain. I realized that I was loved. I was loved by these guys. They weren’t going to hurt me. And then, more importantly, I realized I was loved by God.
Over the next coming days God told me a lot of things about Him and myself. He said He’d been there all along, and that He never left. He said He let me go through those hard things because He wanted me to be able to see and know things that few people get to. He said that every single one of those experiences, as terrible as they were, were going to be things that He will use to help others. He told me that I wasn’t a mistake, and that all of my weirdness was exactly who He created me to be – on purpose.
And suddenly, I felt more free than I had in my whole life. I recommitted my life to serving God no matter where He wanted me to go. I signed up to stay at the college so I could train as a minister. Because I knew God’s love, and could love others, I met a girl and married her that same year.
The moment I stopped thinking that I was a mistake… the moment I stopped comparing my life to others, my happiness to others, my body and mind to others… I was free. The moment that I understood that I was loved by God for who I am, and that I don’t need to do anything in order to be loved more… I was free.
And God gave me a chapter of scripture that would be something I would read and share and teach over and over and over: Romans 8. And I want to read it to you because it means so much to me:
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!… There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’… For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 7:25; 8:1, 14-15, 22-39)
So what’s the solution to the problem of comparison? Contentment in God by following Jesus. Contentment means being mentally and emotionally satisfied with the way things as they are now. That can’t happen if you believe that satisfaction comes from things outside of you, or things that can be taken away – like popularity, wealth, beauty, friends… Contentment is extremely rare and is only found in people that know they are loved no matter what. Show me someone that knows they are loved, and I will show you someone who isn’t caught up in the comparison game.
Tonight I want you to know that you are loved.
You are loved no matter how popular or weird you are.
No matter how wealthy or poor you are.
No matter how intelligent you are.
No matter how you look.
No matter how strong or weak you are.
No matter what your family is like, what you have done, or what you haven’t.
You are abundantly loved by a God who sees every moment of your life and no matter how hard it is, He promises that He will walk with you through it, and use every part of it for your good, His glory, and to help others. He won’t waste a drop of it because He loves you.
Stop comparing yourself to others. It will kill your soul. Instead, learn who God created you to be and live as that person — because that person is richly loved.