Contentment has an enemy. It goes by the name comparison. Few things will dissolve your sense of contentment and gratitude faster than the habit of comparing your life and situation to those of others. It's a slippery slope that results in us sliding rapidly down into a swamp of resentment, envy, discouragement, and pride. God does not want us comparing ourselves to others. In fact, it's a sin.
I've observed that women tend to notice each other's purses and shoes. Men notice each other's watches and cars. Both sexes use these cues to gauge their status and prosperity relative to others. But it's a dangerous game.
Once you're living in comparison mode, you are constantly evaluating and scoring every person, every circumstance, and every possession you encounter in relation to yourself, your circumstances, and your possessions. And that evaluation can essentially be boiled down to a simple binary judgment of "better than" or "worse than." Every encounter, every waking minute of every day becomes an exercise in determining, "Am I doing better or worse than this person? Is my house better or worse? Is my spouse better or worse?" And depending on how you answer the question each time, you're either feeding insecurity or pride. You're feeding either a sense of inferiority or one of superiority through comparison. Neither are of God. Indeed, both are rooted in the spirit of Mammon.
Comparison is also a sin because it invariably produces anger and resentment toward God. Once you’re focused on your neighbor who seems to be doing better, it's not a long step over into blaming your heavenly Father and questioning His goodness and care. Please notice that I said a neighbor who "seems" to be doing better. The truth is you don't know what's going on behind the closed doors of his or her home, much less what's going on in the confines of his or her soul. You don't know what darkness, hurts, grief, or despair a person may be concealing behind a smiling facade. Yet when we compare our outward circumstances to theirs, we're in grave danger of developing an angry, ungrateful heart toward our sweet, gracious Father.
Comparison opens the door to one of the ugliest sins of all – envy. How ugly? Well, the Bible tells us that it was envy that motivated the religious leaders in Jesus’ day to have Him crucified:
But Pilate answered them, saying, "Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?" For he knew that the chief priest had handed Him over because of envy. (Mark 15:9-10, emphasis added)
That's right – when Satan wanted to inspire a group of people to brutally kill the sinless Son of God, his weapon of choice was envy. It's that powerful. It's that dark. That's why it is so vital to avoid the comparison trap.
When you focus on someone else's situation, you take your focus off of God's good plan for your life. In Hebrews 12:1, the Word of God exhorts us all to "run with endurance the race that is set before us." God has set a race before you that only you can run. Your race is unique to the one-of-a-kind set of gifts and callings God has placed upon you, and to the specific role He created you to play in His kingdom plans and purposes. Run your race. That means keeping your eyes on the Lord and your path – and off of whatever is required for the races of others. Following Jesus' resurrection and before His ascension into heaven, Peter and Jesus were having a conversation about Peter's future and fate. In the middle of that talk, Peter pointed to John, following at a distance:
Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, "But Lord, what about this man?"
Jesus said to him, "If I will that he remains until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me." (John 21:21-22)
Allow me to paraphrase Jesus’ response to Peter: "Run your race. And let John run his." We will only be truly happy when we are in the center of God's will doing what He created us to do. You see, real joy comes from purpose, not pleasure. Here's what I mean by that.
Deep genuine happiness and fulfillment stem from living out your true purpose, not experiencing worldly, carnal pleasure. If you’re fulfilling the purpose for which God created you, you can have nothing and still be deliriously happy and content. Conversely, you can have everything the world says you should desire, and if you're not living out your God-given purpose, you will be utterly miserable. If you lose your direction, you will lose your happiness. This is why the comparison trap is such a serious pitfall.