Comparison is the Enemy of Contentment

It is (in my estimation) one of the most beautiful prayers in all of Scripture:

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:25-26

It was written by a man named Asaph, who was a worship leader in David’s and Solomon’s Temples.  I am especially amazed by his statement, “There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”  Asaph was reflecting on the immeasurable worth of God and realized that the whole world is unable to offer anything more desirous than Him.  Asaph, a member of the priestly line and having a role inside the Temple, would have lived a luxurious life.  His job came with many expensive trappings—in fact, he lived like a king.  Even so, he was able to look at these lavish amenities and realize that their value paled in comparison with knowing God.

Earlier in the same psalm, Asaph confessed a serious sin.  Envy.  It seems that he had some friends or acquaintances who were wealthier than he was.  Not only that, but they seemed to be undeserving of their material blessings.  He wrote, “I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (vs.3)  Asaph was confused about why some people could be blessed by God even though they were wicked.  In quite vivid detail, he described how disgusting they appear to him, concluding with this disdainful phrase, “Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.” (vs.12)

Paradoxically, Asaph was both disgusted and envious of his friends.  He hated them and he wanted to be them.

Have you ever felt this way?  Have you had a friend or relative who experienced some unexpected blessing, like a huge bonus or inheritance, and had mixed feelings about it?  Perhaps you thought, “Ugh, why did he get that blessing? He doesn’t deserve it!” while at the same thinking, “I wish I had gotten it instead.”  This is precisely how Asaph felt in the first half of Psalm 73.  It’s hard to be content when we constantly compare ourselves to others.

So how did Asaph change his heart from envy to worship?  How did he escape the downward spiral of social comparison to declare, “There is nothing on earth that I desire besides [God]”?  He was so disgusted and envious in one verse, yet so awe-struck by God’s beauty in another.  He went from comparison to contentment.  What changed?

Asaph went to church.

“When I thought how to understand this,” Asaph wrote, “it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God.” (vs.16-17a)

A simple encounter with God during worship in the sanctuary changed Asaph’s perspective.  Like a person with a dirty car driving through the tunnel at Splash Car Wash, Asaph emerged from the sanctuary with a clearer windshield and a whole new view of the world around him.  Previously, his vision was clouded by disgust and envy of his friends; he could only see the fault in them and the (false) righteousness in himself (see vs.13 and 21).  But in the sanctuary, God cleared away the grime of sinfulness and allowed Asaph to see clearly.  With clear eyes and a full heart, Asaph gazed upon his Savior and saw him for the treasure that he truly is.

What is my point in sharing this prayer with you today?  If you haven’t already figured it out, I’m encouraging you to get yourself into the sanctuary.  Go to church.  Statistics show that even devout Christians are attending church less than they used to.  It’s easy to see when our cars need washing, especially this time of year when the pollen is heavy.  But it can be less obvious to realize when our souls need a cleansing reorientation in the sanctuary of God.  Do you want to escape the cycle of social comparison?  Do you desire to be truly content?  Come, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” (Psalm 122:1)

See you in the sanctuary.
Nathan

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