Soul

The Wolf You Feed (The Battle Between Flesh and Spirit)

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Let’s open up to 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 and read it together. We already studied verses 1-3 last week, but I want to read them again to remind us of the context:

“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?”

If you remember last week, I said that the first verses of chapter 3 are a summary of what Paul has been talking about generally for the past couple chapters, and a transition into some more specific language about God has shown him are some major challenges in this church.

On the broad stroke he tells them that there are two types of people in this world – the “spiritual people” and the “natural” (or “fleshly”) people, which he calls “merely human”. His main concern is that this church, supposedly full of Christians who believe in Jesus as their Saviour and Lord, are not acting like “spiritual people” – knowing right from wrong, good from evil, holy from unholy, helpful from dangerous – but are instead, being driven by their carnal, animalistic, desires.

The majority of the rest of the letter is Paul contrasting the way of the Spirit of God with the way of the flesh – and trying to convince the church to turn away from the natural desires which are destroying their souls and allowing the Spirit of God to guide their conscience and choices so they can be liberated from of the effects of sin and embrace their freedom in Christ.

These out of control drives are seen all through the letter. Listen to the list Paul gives:

  • In chapters 3, 8, and 10 we see them getting jealous of one another, fighting amongst themselves. There is no gentleness, patience, or humility, but are instead are acting like wolves fighting over a piece of meat – each one wanting what the other has, refusing to share, growling and barking at the rest, and then sitting in victory over those who are starving. This causes them to divide into packs and, without their consent, set up their pastors as de facto leaders of their factions.
  • In chapter 4 we see them acting like foolish sheep or strutting peacocks, prideful to the point of believing they know more than the apostles.
  • In chapter 5 and 6 we them acting like animals in heat, their sexual appetites out of control to the point where they engaging in prostitution and becoming more perverse than even the pagans around them.
  • In chapter 6 we see them cockfighting for public amusement as they sue each other in public court.
  • In chapter 11 we read about them strutting and preening like cats or birds, showing off for all to see. We also read of them turning into drunken monkeys, humiliating themselves and others during their sacred events.
  • In chapter 14 they are screeching crows making much noise but having little of value to say.

This church was more barnyard or zoo than a collection of spiritually enlightened followers of Jesus, and it grieved God and their Pastor, the Apostle Paul. Why? Because they had been told the truth, but were now living the lie. They had been shown what life was really like, seeing behind the spiritual curtain that the world doesn’t even recognize is there, and had turned away from it. Because they had been called to so much more than merely pleasing their fleshly desires. This church, full of people who wanted to know God, who believed in Jesus, who wanted wisdom and knowledge – which were all good things – had gone feral. They were being, as verse 3 and 4 say, “merely human” – and that’s not enough.

Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength

Humans are created as multi-faceted beings. The great commandment says we are to love God with our “Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength” (Mark 12:30), and without getting too dogmatic about it, this gives us a good place to talk about the different facets, or different sides, or aspects, of being human.

  • Our strength is our physical body.
  • The mind is our capacity for our conscious thought.
  • Our heart is the seat of our emotions. The soul is that part of us that goes beyond the physical and allows us to connect to God.
  • The soul is that part of us that goes beyond the physical and allows us to connect to God.

God says that we are to worship him with every part of our being – our bodies, thoughts, emotions, and spirit – not just part of it. We cannot merely give God our thoughts – thinking of Him, believing in Him, studying Him, memorizing things about Him, learning and teaching about Him – but keep our bodies to ourselves to use however we would like.

We cannot give God our physical side – denying our fleshly desires, beating our bodies into obedience, waking early and working hard – but not give to Him our spiritual selves by refusing to pray and denying Him worship as we work.

We cannot connect to God with our soul and mind and strength, but then keep our emotions to ourselves, allowing our feelings to drive us wherever they will.

This was the main problem with Corinth. They had given their minds over to God, believing Paul’s words and putting their faith in Jesus as their Saviour – and they had given their souls over to God, admitting that they were sinners, wanting to meet and worship the One, True, God – but they had not done it fully, and they had not turned over their Heart and Strength – their emotions and their bodies. They wanted to keep those to themselves.

Their feelings and their physical desires were still big influences in how they made decisions. They lived by their feelings, lusts, cravings, and desires.

Desires

I really want to park on this concept of being driven by our emotional and physical desires because it’s so key to understanding our world and the Christian life. We are driven by our desires – and that’s not always a bad thing.

When our physical bodies are hungry or tired, they send a signal to our brains to tell us that we need to sleep or eat. That’s a good thing. That desire is helpful. When something happens to us – whether it’s something good like meeting a friend or something bad like getting into a fight with that friend – we have been given emotions that kick in to allow us to process the situation. That’s a good thing.

God has given us internal signals that tell us to pay attention – a gut instinct that says you should do something, an internal lie detector when dealing with a shifty salesman, a feeling of foreboding when walking in the dark, or a sense of excitement before a big event – and they are good things.

We have the capacity to think through things, remember details, mull over problems, imagine solutions, invent entire worlds and conversations and possibilities, all in our minds – and that’s a good thing.

Many of the thoughts, feelings, sensations and longings we have inside of us are God-given and good. We should desire to be loved and cared for. We should want to be safe from pain and danger. We should be creative. We should be attracted to other people. We should want to get away from repulsive things.

Before the fall, when Adam and Eve were in the garden, they had natural desires in all four areas of their being – and they were good. They loved each other. They felt hunger and thirst and physical attraction. They used their minds to name creatures and make conversation. They had a desire for meaningful work. They wanted to walk and talk with God.

So, what I’m not saying is that desires are all bad. But what I am saying is that all our desires need to be evaluated for their truthfulness and turned over to the Holy Spirit. Why? Because of sin.

Sin has caused us our desires to get out of whack. All four facets of our being have been affected.

  • Our bodies are now attracted to things that are dangerous.
  • Our biochemistry and environment are out of whack and create some big problems with our bodies, feelings, and thoughts.
  • Our souls are bent away from God and want nothing more than to usurp Him, place ourselves on the throne of the universe, and declare ourselves gods in His place.
  • Our bodies are prone to give us false information, get addicted to any number of things, and cause us to crave activities and things that cause harm to us and others.
  • All manner of influences, from social media to the demonic forces, are working hard to play with our emotions so we can be manipulated for their benefit.
  • We are surrounded by lies, innuendo, gossip, and misinformation, and therefore have a hard time knowing what we think about certain topics – that is, if we haven’t already burnt our brains with either chemicals or dulled them through entertainment.
  • Our souls are either dried out, or are in a constant state of “drying out”, which drives us to find the waters of purpose, joy, hope, love, and meaning somewhere; the desperation often causing us to take in the polluted waters the world offers, rather than seek out the pure waters of the Gospel.

The World

The world uses their desires as an excuse as to why they do what they do. Whether it’s making a case for addiction, anger problems, sexual sin, or greed, you’ve heard the arguments before:

  • I was born this way, so therefore I must live this way.
  • My feelings are so strong in this area that they cannot be denied.
  • Anyone can do whatever they want, so long as there is consent and there is no harm done.
  • I am free to say whatever I want because I have the right to express my feelings.
  • No one should stop anyone else from pursuing their dreams.
  • How can something be wrong if so many people agree that it’s good?
  • The greatest way of living is if everyone is free to do whatever makes them happy.

In other words: if I believe it, feel it, or think it, then it must be true, and therefore must be good, and therefore must be done.

That’s simply not true. Morality does not change based on our feelings or opinion. Morality has been given to us as a gift from God. He is the One who wrote it on our consciences and in His Book, and it is for us to line up to His standards – not for us to create our own.

Not that this is a new way of thinking. This is a quintessential human problem, not only prevalent in the ancient Corinthian church, but well before it and continues to be popular today – even in churches.

The War Within

All through scripture we read about the war within us, the battle between our flesh and our spirit. And one important lesson we get from these passages is that it is a battle, and we are meant to engage in combat. God gives us hundreds of reasons not to believe our fleshly desires when they are steering us towards sin: they will destroy our bodies, harden our hearts, soften our abilities, corrupt our mission, dull our senses, and create barriers between us and God and us and the ones we love. God also gives us hundreds of ways to avoid being driven by these desires. He gives us personal help by the presence of the Holy Spirit, but also teaching about how to arrange our lives wisely and carefully and get our priorities straight. He tells us in no uncertain terms where the boundary is between right and wrong, and then gives us ways and means to evaluate everything in between.

But we must engage in that battle. We must realize that what we think and feel isn’t always good, right or best. We must admit that we are sinful creatures with sinful natures, with flesh that desires the things we shouldn’t want and makes it harder to pursue the things we should want. We must admit that our souls have been corrupted, and that we are not yet perfected in Christ, and therefore we cannot trust all our gut feelings and personal interpretations of what we think God has said. And once we have admitted that – which is essentially admitting that we need God’s help – we must commit our lives to God, ask for His help every day, and enter into the battle.

God, in 1st Corinthians, is telling us that our natural selves will lead us to danger – and then gives evidence of the consequences of what they’ve already done. But, it says, when we listen to God’s Word and God’s Spirit, as it is given to us in the Bible, in prayer, and through the church, we will have the capacity to enter into the battle and be victories.

Later, in chapter 9, Paul will say,

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to take the prize. Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable. Therefore I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight like I am beating the air. No, I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

Paul has an incredibly important reason to win the battle of the flesh vs the spirit. He knows that his ministry, his connection to Jesus, and the reputation of the Gospel for most of the believing world, rests on his personal holiness and character. If he looses touch with God, gets prideful, or gets caught sinning, then all that he has worked for would be sorely damaged. So he works hard to make sure his desires are turned over to God.

The Wolf You Feed

Let me close with an old, but apt illustration. It is a Cherokee legend, but it is loaded with truth:

Once, and old man and his grandson were walking through the woods when the grandfather turned to the young man and said, “Young one, inside all of us there is a battle raging between two wolves. You have felt it even in your young years, and I have felt it all my life. One of the wolves is evil – he is anger, envy, greed, regret, arrogance, resentment, lies, hatred, and ego. The other is good – he is love, joy peace, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, compassion, truth and faith. Everyone has this battle going on inside them.”

They walked a little further in silence, until the young boy stopped and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?”

The wise, old man simply replied, “The one you feed.”

 

Now, you and I may not have the weight of the missionary work for an entire generation on our shoulders – but nonetheless, we have some important incentives to evaluate our desires and engage in the battle against our natural selves – to feed the right wolf.

  • Your spiritual life and connection with God depends on this. The more sin we have in our lives, the less connection we have to God, the less we will hear Him; the less wisdom, love, and peace we will have.
  • Your family depends on it. The more we allow ourselves to be driven by our human nature, the more we mess up our marriages and children. They are watching us – and if we don’t care about what we see, hear, say, do, and think – then neither will they.
  • Our church depends on it. We need maturing, passionate, faithful believers in this church. We need people who are listening to God, obeying His Word, and living out their spiritual gifts. The teachers should be teaching, the leaders leading, the encouragers encouraging, the prophets preaching, the administrators administrating, the healers healing, the wise governing, the merciful helping. But if you are being driven by your natural desires for wealth, fame, power, lust, or comfort, then you won’t have the time, energy, ability or desire to live out what God has called you to do in this church.
  • Your community depends on it. They don’t need more nice, busy, shallow, disengaged, mindless consumers. They need godly people who are working hard to listen to and obey Jesus.

So my final question is this: Are you engaged in the battle? When was the last time you questioned why you do what you do, go where you go, post what you post, buy what you buy, watch what you watch, think what you think, feel what you feel, pray what you pray? Are you constantly evaluating the desires of your heart, soul, mind and strength – or are you merely human? Which wolf are you feeding?

 

The Soul Killer (Youth Camp Talk)

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2 How To Kill Your Soul

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:

Empty People

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?

Chasing Love

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.

My Story

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.

Romans 8

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)

The Solution

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.