This fall we are in an incredibly important conversation talking about the most important and ignored area of our lives, we are talking about our soul.  It’s been a journey that started by establishing something very important.  We are spiritual beings with a soul.  Our soul is what gives us life, it is what makes you, you.  This makes our souls so important, and we must care for it.  If we do, it becomes the source of life and health for us, if we do not it becomes the source of our pain.   This is so important for us to see, especially in the world you and I live in today, a world that continues to distance itself from God and ignore the soul, and the results have been and continue to be devastating and painful.  We see and feel the results of this all around us.  After we established this truth, we began discussing many of the internal challenges we face in this world today.  We spoke of things that we may have never understood tied to our soul and to our spiritual health.  These were challenging conversations on things that so many of us are struggling with in our lives, profoundly spiritual issues as our soul processes things in our lives.

We talked about discouragement, which is how our soul processes the circumstances of our lives. 

We talked about depression, which is how your soul processes regret. 

We talked about anxiety which is how your soul processes fear. 

We talked about our value and self-worth which is how our soul processes God’s love and acceptance of you.

And we talked about sin. Sin is how our soul is processing who will run the show in our lives, and the tension between living ourselves or living for God. 

We may have never seen it this way, but that inner struggle, that battle within you, is all about your soul.

After we discussed the things that our souls must process and deal with, the series shifted to a more hopeful and redemptive conversation on how we restore our souls.

We restore our souls through worship.

And that has been where we have hung out over the last few weeks, talking about worship and just how important it is to your soul and your life.  We wanted you to understand that worship is so much more than the six songs you sing on a Sunday morning.  God created us to worship Him.  It’s what we are designed to do, and worshiping God is you and I giving all our lives to Him! It’s us ALL IN!  This means that to live a life of worship is to invite God into all aspects of our lives.  This allowed us to not just talk about what worship is but what it looks like to live out a life of worship.  Living a life of worship means that I’m grateful and processing all God is giving and providing me in life.  It means I see God in every aspect of my ordinary life and know it is all His!  It means that I invite God into every aspect of my life, not just the results I want to see but the choices I make and how I live my life.  It means that I spend time with God, refreshing my soul in quiet, in God’s Word, in Him.  So, we are just a few weeks from the Holidays, and the Soul Series is starting to wind down but there is one more thing we need to discuss, and we will do so over the next two weeks.  We have worked so hard to restore the soul, and we want our souls in a good spot.  So, we are going to need to be aware of the pitfalls and traps our enemy sets for us to destroy our souls.  We are making all this headway into our inner world and health, the last thing we want to do is fall back into the pain and issues we face when our soul is hurting and a mess.  Over the last two weeks of The Soul Series, we are going to talk about the most popular and simple ways our enemy sets traps or creates issues that if we fall into them, destroy our souls and keep us in inner turmoil rather than inner peace.  These are things that are so easy for us to fall into if we aren’t paying attention…so this is going to be a big deal.  Today we discuss the trap of comparing and competing with others, and just how quickly that can destroy your soul.

I’m not sure there is anything that can cause your soul to be more restless and hurting than looking around and comparing and competing with others and if you think about it, you live in a world that is built to keep you looking around and comparing and competing with others! There is just nothing that destroys the soul the way comparing and competing with others does.  Nothing makes us more restless and steals contentment and joy like comparing and competing with others.  It fills us with things that we really wouldn’t like to admit are in our lives, especially if we are Christians, living out a life of love…you know, life as a Worshipper who is inviting God into all aspects of their lives, this should be someone filled with gratitude, joy, love, and able to celebrate others…but if we are honest, that seems pretty rare doesn’t it?

Years ago, I worked for a man who meant a lot to me, who has since passed away.  He taught me so much about job sites and just life and just had this way of dropping wisdom that always stuck with me.  He told me the three most important things I could do on a job site, and frankly, it hits for life in general.  He dropped this on me, on my very first-day working construction and these three life lessons apply to just about every aspect of life and I have carried them with me into every aspect of my life.  He told me, never let anyone see you with your hands in your pockets.  Remember to always work smarter than harder…and the third one he was animate about.  Never, ever talk about your paycheck on a job site.  Now all three of those things stuck with me, but the last one, wow, was that important.  His job sites were always positive, and everyone worked hard.  When I moved on to a larger construction company years later, it was amazing how negative morale was on the job sites, and what was interesting was…everyone knew who was getting paid what.  Nothing destroys the soul like comparing and competing with others.

Have you ever been around youth sports?  My children played them for years, and my kids were on all sides of the athletic spectrum from starters and star players to those hoping to make teams and struggling with the pain of not playing, and getting cut from teams.  But one of the wildest things to do around youth sports is just listen to the parents on the sidelines, listen to how they talk about other children, about the coach, the politics, the favorite player who can do no wrong. Watch and listen to them when we get the opportunity to truly see a high-level athlete come through our small town.  Do they celebrate and support that girl or boy, more often than not, we complain and compare, and jealousy and envy take over where joy, peace, and contentment should be.  It’s ugly, but nothing destroys the soul like comparing and competing with others.

Have you ever really stopped and thought about social media and what it is?  It is everyone sharing their highlight reel moments, and everyone else looking at them, wishing they were doing what the other was doing.  It can be a world of competing and comparing yourself to others, of scrolling while thinking and saying “It must be nice” over and over again…and you need to hear me, nothing destroys the soul like competing and comparing with others.

So before we turn to Scripture I just want to ask you a few questions and I want you to be honest.  Would you say that you are content?  Are you happy and at peace with what you have?  Can you celebrate others?  Would you say that you are genuinely happy for someone when they succeed?  Do you compare and compete with others?  Do you rank people out, and know who is important and who isn’t?  Do you wish you had what they had, or were doing what they were doing?  If so, I wouldn’t feel too bad, I think it makes you human, but we must understand that nothing destroys the soul like comparing and competing with others.  You know, as Christians we are to live in such a way that our lives are overflowing with love.  Paul explains that there should be fruit coming out of our lives…

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. NIV

This is clear and we know this, and it just sounds so refreshing, but Paul also says if we don’t live for God but continue to live for ourselves, that fruit will be seen as well…

Galatians 5:19 It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; 20 trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; 21 the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. MSG

While an entire sermon series could be built around this concept, I wanted you to see this, when we live for ourselves, this is what our lives look like.  Wouldn’t culture and our world look so much better if more of the first list were seen than the second?  But that isn’t our reality today, is it?  We, humans, tend to hit that second list more from Paul more than the first one we looked at, wanting to get our own way all the time, a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage, I mean the list is incredible there…and describes our culture so well!  But, did you notice there in verse 21 what it said?

Galatians 5:21 The vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival… MSG

There is nothing that destroys the soul faster than comparing and competing with others.  There are so many warnings about this in Scripture, but for the sake of time and to stay on task, I’m going to take you to two of my favorite stories in Scripture.  These two stories show us some of the damage comparing and competing with others can do to our lives and our souls.  The first one will show us just how quickly comparing and competing with others can stunt our Spiritual Growth…check this out…

Luke 18:9 He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: 10 “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. 11 The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people — robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. 12 I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’ 13 “Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'” 14 Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” MSG

Ok, so I love this story and I just want to point out a couple of things here.  First, the two men in the story are very different, like complete opposites in the times they lived.  We have talked often of the Pharisees, and religious leaders of Jesus’ time, so we know that while we often make them out to be the bad guys of the New Testament, they weren’t necessarily bad people.  Yes, they killed Jesus, which is a horrific thing, but they were the good people of that time.  They had good jobs.  They were leaders of the church, and they loved God.  They were very well respected and considered the elite people of that time.  Which would be the opposite of the other guy in this parable.  The other guy is a tax collector.  These guys were considered the worst of the worst of the worst.  So, we see two people that are completely opposite in this world…one coming from the top, and one from the lowest of the low.  Knowing that, look at these prayers.  They are as opposite as the two men are.  I love the Pharisee’s prayer, basically, he says “Lord, thank you that I’m not like that guy!”  Wow!  While it is funny to hear this and easy to pick at the guy for praying something so prideful and hard-hearted towards the tax collector, I think it is easier for us to slide into this than we realize.  In so many ways, it’s easier to look around at everyone else and compare issues to theirs, but think about how prideful and how unaware this is…Paul speaks to this about this type of thinking…

Romans 2:1 Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. 2 But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done. MSG

This shows us just one of the pitfalls of comparing and competing.  When it comes to spiritual things, we compare which is pretty rough.  We may not pray as this Pharisee did but we do similar things.  You ever think, ok…I may not be the holiest person in the world but look at this person or that person.  At least I’m not like them!  I don’t sin like they do.  Makes you feel better, doesn’t it?  I mean how many times do we sit in church and hear a Pastor preach and think…I hope so and so is listening to this one because they really need to hear a talk on this subject!  When we do that, we don’t have to look at our own heart condition, do we?  Frankly, it is a nice way to live…it keeps you from ever having to deal with your heart, but you simply won’t grow.  Listen to what Pete Scazzero says about knowing yourself in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.

“You can go to church for 20 years and listen to the gospel and still do life in unhealthy ways.  That requires the work of Discipleship.  You cannot change what you are unaware of.” Pete Scazzero

A very easy way to stay unaware of yourself is to look at everyone else, and never deal with you!  This stunts our spiritual growth!  Nothing will destroy your soul faster than comparing and competing with others.  And I want you to see that this trap can keep you from growing Spiritually into the person God created you to be.

One more story, to show us another challenge we face when we slide into this trap of comparing and competing…and that is that it just won’t allow us to fully follow Jesus.  Now this example comes from Peter, and it is my favorite scene in The New Testament.  It comes in the last chapter of John, so this is after The Cross, the Crucifixion, and The Resurrection…John has already run faster than Peter to the tomb, and things are kind of back to normal. Peter and the disciples are out fishing, catching nothing, and early in the morning, Jesus appears on the shore, but they don’t realize it’s Him at first.  He tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, and when they do, they catch so many fish they almost sink the boat, but the nets hold strong…Peter realizing it is Jesus jumps off the boat and begins swimming to shore.  The scene is amazing. I will just read it to you.

John 21:7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.  9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” NIV

I can just picture this moment, the sea, the sunrise, the fire, and a soaking wet Peter, still hurting from what he had done, remember he had denied Jesus’ name three times.  Jesus restores Peter three times asking if He loves Him…and all three times Peter says He does, and each time Peter is a little more hurt than the last time because He doesn’t totally get what Jesus is really up to, and as they walk along the beach, Jesus then begins to explain what Peter’s life is going to look like, and what kind of end his life will have…and Peter turns to see John, walking behind them and we find another moment of comparing and competing here that we need to see…

John 21:18 I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”  19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” 20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” 22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” NIV

Here we see another issue that this trap of comparing and competing leads us into.  We simply can’t faithfully follow Jesus if we are always looking over our shoulders comparing and competing with others.  Now I have to say this in Peter’s defense.  John seems to be a bit much.  I mean, the guy calls himself, “The One Whom Jesus loves” he makes a point to tell you that he runs faster than Peter.  I’m sure in many ways Peter, who tends to live heart first and makes plenty of very well-documented mistakes, is tired of John…who of course, just happens to be walking behind him and Jesus in this profoundly intense and personal moment.  So, Peter does what I think most of us would do.  Jesus, if I’m going to die in a horrific way, then shouldn’t everybody?  I mean what about John here?  What is interesting is Jesus’ reply.  Sounds a lot like my old boss years ago, saying “Never talk about your paycheck.”  Jesus asks, why are you worried about him? What does it matter?  I’m talking to you, Peter. What does Jesus tell him to do?  You must FOLLOW ME.  Don’t worry about him, that isn’t any of your business. Your assignment is to feed my sheep. Jesus wants Peter to realize something important…You can’t follow Jesus if you’re always comparing yourself to someone else.  We will never be able to go ALL IN for Jesus if we are always looking around comparing and competing with others. “What about them? What do they have? Where are they going? What are they doing? Why are they more blessed than me in this area?”  There is nothing that will destroy your soul faster than comparing and competing with others.

This is something we can slide into very easily, and to close this thing down today I want to give you 3 very practical ways to break away from and protect yourself from this trap of comparing and competing. Then we are going to talk about the only way any of it will be lived out in your life.

Practical Tip #1 – Make A Point To Celebrate Others…With Your Words!  

Ok, there is nothing more challenging than this as we compete and compare ourselves to others, but there is also nothing that can break us out of this trap faster.  Scripture tells us our words have power…

James 3:3 A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. 4 A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. 5 A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything — or destroy it!  MSG

We must pay attention to what is coming out of our mouths.  This is important because we know that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks!  So, the first and fastest way to break out of this comparing and contrasting game that is blocking our spiritual growth and keeping us from fully following Jesus is to be very intentional with our words.  Scripture says that our words have power!  Instead of criticizing someone or something that you see as a rival or competition, it’s time to get intentional and speak positively.  Let’s look at an example or two.  So, at the next game, your son or daughter is playing, when the star player scores a tremendous goal or makes some sort of play, instead of rolling your eyes and grumbling, make a point to speak something positive out loud about that child.  At work, when the person in the position you wish you were in or your boss and leader in your organization makes a decision, instead of running around criticizing and complaining and questioning them, speak something positive…and good about them and what they are doing.  We need to understand the power of our words.  If you can’t do this, or refuse to do this your heart is really telling you something needs to be looked at there.  I have said this before…the things that bring you tension, or as the kids say, the things or people that trigger you are revealing things in your life that you still don’t have freedom from in your life.  So, if this is a struggle, keep working on that, be intentional here.

Practical Tip #2 – Be very intentional and focus on all that God has given you!  

Make a point to be grateful and focus on God’s provision in your life!  This is another way that we can break out of the comparing and competing game…stop focusing on what everyone else has and recognize and focus on all the good God has given you.  This is so important, as powerful as your words are, so are your thoughts and what you focus on!

Philippians 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. NLT

This can be a game changer.  If you want to find peace, contentment, and joy in your life, you must focus on the good in your life, and stop looking around and comparing and competing.  While you may not have what someone else has, God loves you and has given you so much.  If this is a struggle for you, start to really get focused and intentional here.  Start your day by listing out the good things God has provided you in your life.  Focus on them all day long.  When your mind drifts, do it again.  Fix your thoughts on the good and what is praiseworthy in your life, it changes your mindset…and helps us break out of this trap of comparing and competing.  Write out lists if you need to of all the blessings in your life…while what you have may not look like someone else’s, God is providing for you too!  We must be intentional with this!

Practical Tip #3 – Get Off Social Media! (Or at least limit your time on it)  

Listen, I’m not telling you that social media is evil, and you should never use it or be on it.  But, if you are spending hours scrolling through other people’s lives, it can be harmful to your soul.  Ask yourself, how am I spending my time?  Is it helping me or is it hurting me?  It’s another very intentional and important question.  So many of us get stuck scrolling with a case of “The It Must Be Nice’s!” We get triggered and almost sucked into competing and comparing because when you stop and think about it, that is really all social media is!  It’s you seeing the highlight reel moments of someone else’s life that can easily slide us into this trap, and we must understand that nothing destroys our soul faster than comparing and competing with others.  This can be challenging if you have spent years in that world, but think, be intentional, and find things to fill your time that restore and build into your soul, rather than things like social media that quite, frankly, oftentimes make things worse for us.  So, it can be this clear and intentional.  Ask yourself, is social media helping or hurting my soul?  Then take the next step and fill that time with something that could bring health and life to your soul.  What could you do with your time that would help and build into your soul rather than hurt it?

So, we have talked about the fact that nothing will destroy our souls faster than comparing and competing with others.  We have looked at how comparing and competing with others can stunt our spiritual growth and block us from fully following Jesus.  I have shown you three very practical tips that can help us break out of the trap of comparing and competing with others, and I just wanted to end with the thing.  It’s the one thing that must happen if we are to walk in freedom. It’s the only way we will find contentment, and live in the kind of love that would allow us to be so secure in who we are that we stop comparing and competing and start celebrating others, and sharing God’s love with this world.

You must walk closely with God, allowing His love to flow into your life, and out of your life into others.  Without walking closely with God, engaging God’s Word, living out His commands, praying, worshiping, and embracing His love for our own lives, and truly experiencing the shift in focus, where the focus shifts off of us and onto Him, we will never truly experience peace, joy, contentment, and all we are talking about today. When we live fully in Him, we find our value and security in Him.  When we do find our value and self-worth in Him, we lose this need to compete and compare, which is the fastest way to destroy your soul…and we are learning just how important our soul care really is!  You can put all the practical tips in place, and still struggle to live a life of love…if you aren’t allowing God all the way into your life.  You can talk about your faith, and do your best to be a good person, but until you truly allow God all the way in, the fruit will never be seen in your life, and life will never quite be what it could be for you.  So, let me ask you, have you asked Jesus into your heart?  Do you spend real time with God?  Do you invite Him into your day, your choices, your relationships, how you spend your time, and how you view life and other people?  Is God invited into all of it?  Do you see the product of God in you coming out of your life?  Remember what that should look like?

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. NIV

Is this how your life is seen, felt, and heard?  This is an important moment here, and we love you too much not to really push in on this.  So, a couple of questions as we close. Are you caught in the trap of comparing and competing?  If so, have you ever stopped and asked yourself, why?  What is that?  Be intentional and think about how to break out of this comparing and competing trap.  For some of you, it’s time to start celebrating others, out loud, with your words.  Your words have power.   For some, it may be time to start truly fixing our thoughts on all we are given by God rather than what we are not.  Your focus and your thoughts have power.  For some, maybe it is time to get off Facebook and Instagram for a while.  I want you to truly think about this.  If you feel restless, defeated, unsettled, and like lately.  If you feel like you are losing, ask yourself, why is that?  Is that what living in the overwhelming victory of Christ should look like in my life?  For some of us, it may be time for a spiritual reset.  This is a big moment.  All this comparing and contrasting, this lack of peace and joy, this restlessness can be our hearts and souls crying out for help, and you can have it today!  You can start a new way today.  It happens as you make the choice to restore your soul through worship, through giving God every aspect of your life.

Remember nothing destroys the soul faster than comparing and competing.  Nothing.