Front porch pillars and the old schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The difference between comparison and focus

Is it wrong to focus on other people? Well … like I blogged about yesterday, it’s not a good idea to compare yourself to others around you. That’s the fastest way to make yourself unhappy. But the older I get, the more I’m beginning to think that another cause of unhappiness in our culture is that we don’t focus on people around us.

There’s a big difference between comparing ourselves to others around us and focusing on them.

Front porch pillars and the old schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Front porch pillars and the old schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Philippians 2:3-4.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

It’s so funny how the world has taken what is true in the Bible and twisted it around. You would think that focusing only on yourself and trying to make yourself happy would work. You would think that if you spent all your time and all your money on making yourself happy you would be. You’d think that if you spent all your energy in an attempt to bring yourself contentment that you would accomplish it. But the more you live for yourself, the more unhappy you will be.

There’s a little book with a funny name nestled in the Old Testament. Its name is so funny most people mispronounce it. The book is Ecclesiastes, and I promise you that if you read it, you will spend most of the time cringing. It hits hard and makes you really think about what it means to be a Christian … which is really strange because it was written hundreds and hundreds of years before Christ was born. King Solomon, son of King David, wrote this little book under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit at a time in his life when he was searching for meaning. If you don’t know, King Solomon was the greatest, most wealthy king Israel ever had. But this is what he has to say about being happy in Ecclesiastes 2:9-11.

So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.

King Solomon, the wisest and richest man who ever lived, found that life was meaningless and empty when he lived for himself. Sound familiar at all, America? I think we are there. As Americans, we have everything we could ever want. Even if our taxes are a little high and we may not agree with every political ideal that comes out of Washington, we still have some semblance of freedom. We’ve never endured real persecution. And we have everything. As a good friend of mine says, even King Solomon couldn’t run down the road and buy a hot fudge sundae.

We have computers and technology and food and cars and music and entertainment and hobbies and the list goes on and on and on. We live in a culture that urges us to get what we want whenever we want it, and even if our economy is struggling, we still buy the things we think will make us happy–whether we can afford them or not.

But are we happy? If King Solomon wasn’t happy when he lived for himself, why would we be? So what’s the answer? What did Philippians say?

Don’t be selfish. Live for others.

No, it’s not a good idea to focus on other people for your identity, for your security, for your purpose. It’s not a good idea to compare yourself to other people so you can feel better about yourself. But you can focus on other people without comparing yourself to them. You can live for other people. You can care about what they care about. You can make sure that other people have what they need to succeed. And the more you give to other people, the happier you will be.

By the world’s thinking, it doesn’t make sense to sacrifice what you could spend on yourself to spend on someone else. But as believers we aren’t called to live by the world’s philosophy, and let’s just be honest, what has the world’s thinking accomplished? Seriously?

So do something for someone else today, even if you don’t feel like it and especially if they don’t deserve it. Granted, you have to be wise, and you have to be responsible with the resources that God has given you. But that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to hide ourselves away and never interact with anyone.

Want to be happy? Want to be content? Focus on others, not to compare yourself to them but because you consider their success more important than your own. When you embrace that kind of humility, your life will be different. And so will your perspective.