A few years ago, I developed a strange habit. It started when I installed a new refrigerator in a 75-year-old house. The new fridge had a water dispenser on the door. My wife and I were excited about the prospect of quickly filling our glasses with cold, filtered water. There was one problem though. Our old house had weak water pressure so our new dispenser took up to a minute – or more – to fill a glass. How do I know exactly how long it took? With every cup I filled, I would count the seconds as they passed. It has been nearly two years since we moved from that house and I am still counting.
Measuring water in minutes rather than volume has caused me to reflect on other things that we use the wrong standard to measure. How well would a cake turn out if the recipe called for an inch of flour? What would a house foundation turn out if the concrete mix called for two minutes of water? Obviously, how we measure things matters.
Most of us spend a lot time measuring ourselves. We measure our successes and our failures. We compare our performance, possessions and popularity to the perceived level others have in these areas. We are chronically trying to keep up with the Joneses.
My grandfather used to warn me not to compare myself to others. He told me I could always find someone who is doing better or worse than I was. He taught me to do my best, rather than indulge in the endless cycle of competition and comparison. My grandfather was wise, but if we don’t compare ourselves to others then what is our standard?
I hear people say, “I’m a good person.” Often, this phrase is followed by a set of criteria that helps establish what it means to be good. In my experience, it seems that each person has his own definition of what it means to be good. In the end we are not quite sure how to measure ourselves.
We are often left to wonder if we’ve tried hard enough, done well enough or accumulated enough stuff. It’s normal to feel like we will never be able to satisfy the demands of our jobs, our kids, our spouses, our parents, our friends, ourselves or even God. Living up to our own standards or the standards of others is exhausting. But, what if there was a better way? Instead of leaving us on our own to figure things out, I believe God loves us enough that He’s given us a standard.
At first, this sounds like bad news when we consider scriptures like, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The Bible tells us that only God is good, and that His standard is perfection. Unfortunately for us, we all fall short of this perfection.
We are prone to respond to this bad news in a couple of ways. Some of us devote ourselves to religious activity. We work hard to be good. We become perfectionists or, at least, try to be better than the people around us. Some of us devote ourselves to rebellious activity and work hard to redefine what it means to be good. We become performance-based creatures or pleasure-seeking souls. We live according to our own standard of good or, at least, try to do things that make us feel good.
The truth is that both religion and rebellion will eventually fail. But there is a third way of living called the gospel of grace. Our true standard of measure should not be based on what we do, but what Jesus has already done for us. We don’t have to lean on our own goodness, but can instead lean on the goodness of God. Jesus came to set us free from religion and rebellion. Jesus lived the perfectly obedient life that we should live. He then took on our weakness and moral failure and died as a sacrifice on our behalf.
One day, God will measure us all. We will not be graded on a curve, but rather will be measured according to whether we were willing to trust Jesus to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Jesus achieved the perfection that we can’t. He invites us to share in the benefits of that perfection.
Are you ready to give up on the cycle of comparison and competition, ready to be measured by something other than your own goodness, or ready to try the third way of living? Go to your heavenly Father and tell Him you are ready. He’s been waiting. He’s ready for you.
Jason Moore is the Organizing Pastor of New Creation Presbyterian Church located in Wentzville, Missouri. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Covenant Theological Seminary. Most importantly, he is child of God who has been saved by the finished work of Jesus Christ. Visit New Creation on the Web.