So, I’ve got a book out in the world. (Yes… I’m mentioning the book, but this post is about character growth. Hang with me.)
You may not know this, but Amazon gives authors a dashboard showing your book’s progress. At one point on launch day, my book was 32 in the top 100 for its category. In that one-hour period, my book was selling more frequently than all the others in its category. Except for 31.
I’m not sure it’s healthy knowing that. Of course, I wanted to know what those 31 books were. I looked. I may or may not have thought that some of them had no business selling more frequently than my book.
The dashboard updates every hour. So all release day long, I got to fight with myself over the urge to check again. What comes with that? Feelings! Feelings that can so easily be turned into meaning. If the the book rose higher in the lists, that felt good. I am a great author who will change the world! But when the book fell lower on the list, what did that bring? Disappointment. Woe. I’m a hack, and nobody loves me!
All because of this little number representing the comparison between my book and a bunch of others.
But what about him?
So much of our frustration and unhappiness seems to come from our tendency to compare. That’s a crazy way to live. Yet, it’s a way that many of us live.
We compare in so many ways. Financially, vocationally, creatively. We compare our homes, schools, and the shape and size of our bodies. We compare our values and religion against other people’s values and religion. It’s normal to notice differences, but it’s not healthy for us to gain value or security or identity from these comparisons. Worst of all, it’s so destructive to compare our spiritual journey with the journey of someone else.
At the end of John’s gospel, there is a strange little interaction between Jesus and Peter. Just prior, Jesus had restored Peter. Then Jesus commented on Peter’s future. (Read the whole story in John 21:17-22.)
When Peter heard this personal revelation from God about his future what did he do? Did he ask for guidance or more information? Nope. His first thought was about someone else’s spiritual journey.
He said, “OK, but what about that guy?” It’s the last thing he should have been thinking about. Jesus’ response makes that clear.
“If I want him to remain until I come,” Jesus answered, “What is that to you? As for you, follow Me.”
Whose Journey are you focusing on?
Here, Jesus teaches us a crucial, yet very often overlooked spiritual discipline: The spiritual discipline of minding your own business.
It may sound easy. It may not even sound that spiritual. But let me tell you, this is not easy. So many things that are easier—and way more fun—than the spiritual discipline of minding your own business.
It’s easier to wonder and gossip about someone else’s marriage than it is to invest in your own. It’s easier to criticize someone else’s theology than it is to carefully examine your own assumptions. It’s easier to condemn the failures of someone else’s religion than it is to acknowledge the skeletons in your own tribe’s closet.
These other things are so much easier because when I’m focused on the spiritual journey of others, I don’t have to face my own. I get to have opinions (That feels so good!). I get to take positions and make declarations, but I don’t have to do anything. I’m not required to change. I don’t have to listen to what God might be specifically saying to ME about MY LIFE.
I’m not suggesting that we should be aloof and disconnected from those around us, or that we shouldn’t be engaged in social issues. I’m not saying that other’s actions and beliefs don’t matter.
I’m only reflecting that for your growth, for your relationship with God, for your spiritual health, your attention is best placed on your own journey.
When your heart complains, “Well, what about him?” Hear Jesus’ words, “What is that to you? You, follow me.” When you’re offended, or put out, or convinced that someone else is a heretic or a flagrant sinner, hear Jesus’ words, “What is that to you? You, follow me.”
Matthew Henry, the 18th-century Presbyterian pastor, and theologian made this comment:
If we will closely attend to the duty of following Christ, we shall find neither heart nor time to meddle with that which does not belong to us.
We are invited to follow Jesus. Personally. Practically. In our thoughts, feelings, and actions. In our relationships, our business practices, and our politics. This is our call to spiritual maturity.
In one way, this gives us enormous freedom. We are free from the need to challenge others on every moral or theological deficiency. That is not our primary burden.
In another way, this is the most challenging thing there is. If we follow Jesus, then we are accountable for our own journey. Every moment is an opportunity to follow Jesus, to respond to the motion of the Spirit.
That takes listening, and non-defensive self-reflection. It takes courage. It takes obedience. That is the life Jesus invited Peter into. It’s the life you and I are invited into again every day.