The Thief of Joy

When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”                                                                                                                 John 21:21-22

For a long time I had a scrap of paper in my guitar case that I had cut out of a magazine as a personal reminder. It said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” My guitar case seemed a good place for it, as I have on more than one occasion let my mood be dampened by perceiving that someone else was a better guitarist, better singer, or better songwriter than I was. That scrap of paper was lost years ago, (There are also a good number of people more organized than I am.) but I am hopeful that my attitude has improved over time and I no longer need a tangible reminder.

The “What-about-him?” syndrome is indeed an effective way to suck all the joy out of one’s day. Martha and her sister Mary are one of several examples in Scripture.

These sisters had the honor of frequently hosting Jesus and His disciples in their home. On one occasion Martha, the overachiever, was doing her thing and stressing out over the preparations. We don’t know what Mary had done earlier that day, but apparently when Jesus arrived, she felt it was time to sit at His feet and just soak in His words and His presence. Now Martha could have chosen to do the same thing. Although evidently not everything was ready, Jesus made it clear that Martha was trying to do too much, that only a few things were necessary – or only one. (I have read that in those days most meals consisted of just one dish, but I imagine Martha was aiming toward something closer to a six-course meal. Perhaps misguided zeal had made her too eager to impress.)

The final factor in Martha’s having her joy stolen was the comparison between herself and her sister – I’m doing all the work, and she’s just sitting there! I suppose Mary could have spoiled her own mood as well, had she thought, Martha’s got all this lovely food to give Jesus, and I’m just sitting here. He’s going to love her more than me! But Mary’s attention was not on her sister, it was on Jesus, as it should have been. And if Jesus had wanted to be served, He had only to ask Mary. (After all, she was the one who was right there and didn’t need to be flagged down.)

In Luke 15:25-32, the brother of the “Prodigal Son” let comparison ruin what should have been a joyous occasion – his long-lost brother had come home! He could have enjoyed the celebration, but instead he only saw that his brother had blown his inheritance and got a party, while he had stayed home and worked for his father and didn’t get a party! I’m guessing that’s not exactly true. The father told him, “Everything I have is yours,” (vs 31) which tells me (1) he will not be splitting his inheritance with his brother again, and (2) he could have had a party any time he wanted to.

At the end of John’s gospel Jesus hinted that Peter would glorify Him in death, and what kind of death that would be. Peter immediately looked at John and said “What about him?” Jesus replied that it was none of his business, Peter’s job was to follow Him.

What is it about human nature that makes us want to compare? If the comparison puts us on top, we can easily get sucked into the sin of pride. On the other hand, if we see ourselves at the bottom, we can get resentful and depressed and not want to make the most of the gifts and opportunities we do have. Either way, we lose, so why play the game?

The Body of Christ is not a competition, it is an organism of a vastly diverse members, and when each one fulfills his or her calling, the work can get done, and we can all rejoice together. It’s not a matter of who’s in a better place, but being faithful where God has put us. Instead of looking around at everyone else, let’s just look at Jesus. I think we would all be happier.

Prayer: Dear Lord, if we are honest with ourselves, we see that none of us deserve the love and blessings You have showered on us. No amount of wealth, status, talents, or popularity could give us what we can only have through a pure love relationship with You. Help us to get our minds off the comparisons and just serve You in the ways in which You have called each of us, for in that we find true joy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

6 thoughts on “The Thief of Joy

  1. Good word. I have been thinking about Peter’s what about him moment. And to think that was his former business partner, friend, fellow disciple. Geesh! How would Peter treat an enemy? If I have to die a bruatal death, what about him? But, without some rythms that include God intervening in my life. We will keep eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and we will keep judging. Great thoughts here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for another perspective. Interesting … I hadn’t thought of Peter as a former business partner – rival, maybe … and maybe a little residual rivalry prompted the question. Whatever the motivation, Jesus’ response was, basically, “It’s none of your business.” ( I’ve had the Spirit of God say that to me a few times. It’s humbling. :/ )

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have used that passage from John 21 several times over the years. It is one that sticks with me. This post provides as good an example as the others:

    I have used that passage several times because it contains more than one lesson, and each lesson requires thought to understand.

    The Bible isn’t something we can read just once and claim we understand, at least not well. We have to think upon the Bible day after day, and if we do so we will be wiser, but we never will exhaust what it has to teach us.

    Liked by 1 person

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