Let’s talk about success because I think how you deal with success has a lot to say about your character; I’ll even go so far as to say that it’s a reflection of the condition of your soul. Pretty heavy stuff, right?
You may be wondering what I’m talking about. Success is easy, you’re thinking. Who doesn’t like winning? Winning is great. I always feel good about myself when I win. Even if it’s playing Chutes and Ladders. Me: “In your face punk. Hope you enjoy riding down that big slide.” Winning is great. Making lots of money is amazing. Rising in the company feels terrific. Hitting the game-winning shot is fantastic. In those moments I have lots of good Facebook posts and Instagram pictures to share with the world.
But I’m not talking about how you handle your own success; I’m referring to how you handle the success of others, especially the success of your friends. How do you respond when you are perusing Snapchat and Instagram and Facebook and you notice how successful your friends are; what car their parents bought for them; where they vacationed; or the promotion they got at work?
As with all things we are dealing with in this day and age, even Social Media envy, there’s a great Biblical example which can show us the right way and the wrong way to deal with others’ success.
The Right Way
In my last post, I looked at the second best known story in the Bible…David and Goliath. While killing Goliath with a single shot may have been David’s biggest success, it wasn’t his only one. As the Bible tells it David was on a roll:
Whatever mission Saul sent him on, David was so successful that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. –1 Samuel 18: 5
In everything he did he had great success, because the Lord was with him. –1 Samuel 18:14
The Philistine commanders continued to go out to battle, and as often as they did, David met with more success than the rest of Saul’s officers, and his name became well known. —1 Samuel 18:30
David was the captain of the football team, dating the head cheerleader and he just got a 2300 on his SATs. Do you know what that kind of success feels like? Me neither. But David does. At this moment in David’s life, everything he touched turned to gold.
King Saul was so impressed with David that Saul decided to bring him back home with him. How do you think King Saul’s son, Johnathon, felt when that happened? How would you feel? Here you are the heir to the throne, the next in line to be king of the nation of Israel and your dad shows up with another guy who he seems to like better and who does everything well. I don’t know about you but I’d be ticked. Sure I might smile and say all the right things, but under the surface I’d be sizzling. Don’t judge me. Admit it; so would you. Johnathon had the most to lose so what did he do? Well, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer:
1 After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. 2 From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return home to his family. 3 And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. 4 Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.–1 Samuel 18:1-4
Jonathan had the most to lose when David showed up, but rather than hating David and trying to torpedo his career, Jonathan does the opposite. He removes his robe and gives it to David. Some believe this is Jonathan’s royal robe. This robe may have indicated Jonathan’s status as the king’s son. Then he gives him his sword and his bow and his belt. He even gave him his tunic, which is like giving him his underwear. A tunic in Roman times indicated status. Perhaps that’s what’s happening here. It is likely that Jonathan in this moment is giving up his rights to become king. Either that or these are gifts from one friend to another.
If anyone had the right to hate David, it would be Jonathan. David was a better warrior than he was. David was climbing up the ladder quicker than he was. Jonathan was the rightful heir to the throne that David was charging hard for. Jonathan could easily have tweeted his displeasure in all caps. Instead, in this moment Jonathan willingly gives up his rights to become king because he sees the hand of God on David. This is his friend. They are one is spirit. BFFs.
Johnathon’s response was support and encouragement; wouldn’t it be great if that was our reaction as well to the successful people around us…but it’s not. If you keep reading, you’ll see how Saul, the king, the man in charge, the one who should know better, handled David’s success.
6 When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres. 7 As they danced, they sang: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”8 Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” 9 And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David.–1 Samuel 18:5-9
There are two ways to respond to the success of others. We can celebrate them or we can be discouraged and angry and frustrated because it was that guy that found success and not me. The word that seems to be at the heart of the issue here is this one: “comparison.” Comparison is part of our lives. I wish it wasn’t, but it is. It’s incredibly difficult to avoid. There are all kinds of ways you can compare. If you like shoes you will notice shoes and you will inevitably compare shoes. Does she have nicer shoes than me? Are they cuter than mine? More expensive?
- If you like clothes you will notice clothes and compare clothes.
- If you work out, you’ll compare fitness and muscles and waist size.
- If you like cars, you’ll compare cars and wheels and sound systems. If you like sunglasses, you’ll notice who has Maui Jims and who got theirs from mini-mart.
- If you’re an insurance agent,
you’ll compare number of clients.
- If you’re a parent, you’ll compare kids.
- If you are an student, you’ll compare GPAs and SAT scores
And the list goes on. Am I right? (On a completely separate note, my son just got home from Harvard Law last night.) You see comparison is bad, even for a King.
Comparison Kills Kings
Comparison is part of all of our lives but it keeps us living just slightly miserable. And it can even be a dangerous game; at least it was for Saul and David.
At this point in the story, Saul lets comparison get the best of him. In 2 chapters of the Bible, Saul would make 12 difference attempts on David’s life.
- Twice he tried to pin David to the wall with his spear.
- He tried to kill him with a spear 3 times
- He tried to talk his son into murdering him
- He gave David his daughter in marriage only to lure him into what he thought was an impossible task (the task, by the way, was to bring him the foreskins of 100 Philistines. Weirdest wedding present ever.)
The success of others can be a telling snapshot of our character. It can reveal the truth that lives inside our soul. So who do you want to be? Saul or Jonathan? The answer is obvious but the reality is it’s a much more difficult choice than we want it to be. Somehow we’ve got to overcome our habit of comparison.
Two Ways to Overcome the Comparison Trap
1) Trade self image for God’s image
All of our lives we’ve heard about developing a positive self image. It’s been taught to us in school. It’s the subject of every episode of The Brady Bunch and Full house (“Michelle, you just have to believe in yourself.”) It’s an unstated goal we all have. I just happen to think it’s not God’s goal for us. The phrase self image is never used in the Bible. The closest we get is in Genesis 1 when man is created.
God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.–Genesis 1:27
That’s the only way image is used when it comes to us. God isn’t all that concerned with our self image. He wants our image to reflect his image. Colossians 3 puts it like this:
Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.–Colossians 3:10
It’s not super important to God that we have a great self image. Self image is me focused and I’m not typically a better person when I’m me focused. But that’s what self image does. When I’m self image focused:
- I want to prove myself
- I want others to like myself
- I want my self to be better than yourself
- I add up all the things my self has and compare it to all the things yourself has
I don’t think God is that concerned with our self image. He wants us to reflect his image. God is not me focused. He’s others focused. He’s all about building up other people. He sacrifices for people. He gave up his son for people. That’s what he wants for us.
2) Trade your goal for your success to helping other people find success
If your goal for your life is to get all the other people in your life to value you, let me tell you one characteristic that will be true of your life: you will be exhausted. You will be tired out. Trust me; I’ve tried to get everyone to value me and it’s just too much work. If you spend your life trying to raise the value of yourself, you will be worn out.
Let me give you another goal. Instead of trying to raise your value with everyone around you, spend your life trying to raise the value of everyone around you.
- Find the good in the people near you
- Celebrate victories when other people succeed
- When someone is down on themselves, you be the one to encourage. (“Encouragement” means to pour courage into the life of someone else.)
- When you are shopping, keep your friends in mind. Buy them something that lets them know you are in their corner.
- Don’t miss the opportunity to tell someone how much you value them
Let’s be Jonathan’s and not Saul’s. Folks, let’s be a group of people that stop trying to get people to raise our value. Let’s be people that raise the value of the people around us.