When I was about fifteen or so, a friend called me on the phone while another friend listened in to our conversation. He brought up the friend who was listening and I had a lot of negative things to say about him. A little later the friend who was listening in called doing the same thing. I’ll never forget that. But worse, even though life went on with these guys, that is to say, their knowledge of how I talked about them in their absence didn’t seem to phase them. Nothing changed, as far as I could tell, between us. I’m not sure whether that would have been the case had the tables been turned. That’s because they were better people than I was. I wish I’d known that then. The Bible tells us to let nothing be done through strife or vainglory but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves. (Phil 2:3) This is not a command for church life, but a command for life in general, and you would do well to make every effort to live it out even though it goes against your sinful nature.
When I was young, and even when I was much older you see, I was like a black hole. My entire worth, life’s meaning, and all my effort in life revolved around the gaining of praise and appreciation from my fellow man. That was a sad state. But worse, it was a one-way street. I never praised another for their accomplishment. I only sought it. It simply never occurred to me that others might have had, to some degree, the same need or desire. And even if I had seen some reason to praise someone else, I wouldn’t have. I saw the success or unique abilities of others as a threat to my own place in this world, and the last thing I would have done would be to encourage anyone. I actually found it to be strangely comforting to hear negative things about other people in general, and my friends in particular. Everything in life, you see, was on a scale. And so it was my mission to bring everyone down to my level. I can tell you, dear children, that a mentality like that will bring you pain and hardship, and worse, it will bring those around you pain and hardship too. Not only will you not ever really like yourself that much, you won’t be able to like anyone else either. And it will cut you off from some of the most valuable life’s lessons that you could ever learn in being a decent human being. But worse than that, it will cut you off from learning how to love and be loved.
I somehow reasoned then that if I was better at everything, or could hide it when I wasn’t, then I would be more liked by others. I would have worth. It was of course nonsense, yet I believed it. I had no one to help me work through these deficiencies in life skills. I didn’t even actually know I had any deficiencies, and I’m sure if I had known I would have worked tirelessly to hide them. Looking back, however, I now realize that they were like neon signs to the world around me. So if I have anything to do with it, you will not suffer the pain and sorrow that I did because of this warped view of yourself among the people of this world, and reality. So here are a few pointers:
First, you have your own gifts and strengths that were given to you from God. As life goes on it will become ever more clear what your particular strengths and abilities are. And God didn’t put those gifts in you just for your own benefit, but also for the benefit of others. People around you need what God has given you. As you discover these gifts, it’s up to you to develop them. It’s also up to you to redeem them so that they will be put to use in God’s kingdom and not Satan’s.
Second, others will have similar gifts as you, and some will be better at exercising them than you will be while others will not. That’s a fact of life. If you have a gift in music, and you decide to exercise that gift on the piano, know that there will always be a better piano player out there somewhere. Let that person inspire you. He is not a threat. If that person happens to be your friend, then esteem him as the better player. Be delighted in your heart for your friend when he excels. You do have control over such things. It’s fine to be challenged by your friend to be better yourself, for the purpose of developing your gift. Avoid pride and competition with your friend for vainity’s sake. Such will not work righteousness in your heart, and it will not develop the depth of your friendship.
When I was young I raced motorcycles. On one particular day, a friend of mine was in first place and I was in second and he fell. But he was far enough in front of me that he had time to almost get up and get going again before I could pass him. So when I approached him I didn’t go around him like I should have, rather I purposely ran into him in order to knock him back down. I couldn’t have my friend, of all people, beating me in a race. That’s the kind of guy I was. I should have been happy for him to win fairly.
Third, help your friends discover and develop their God-given gifts. Look for people’s strengths and point them out. Build them up at every opportunity. Help them in their weaknesses too. But train yourself in sincerity. Flattery is ugly and it has no place in you. Always check your motivations in everything you do. Never lie to a person about their abilities in order to gain their favor. It’s my hope that you’ll have enough confidence in yourself, and your own gifts, to not seek or need to use such trickery to get someone else to approve of you.
Fourth, not everyone is going to be your best friend forever. I can even guarantee you that there will be some out there who might not like you that much, even though they don’t really even have a good reason. They may not even know themselves why. And you might feel the same way about someone else too. This is life. Accept it without malice. Decide to love that person anyway doing nothing in retribution for a feeling they may have about you that they cannot even help themselves. You will not win everyone you meet as a true friend and that’s fine. That’s just the way it is.
Fifth, and mostly, encourage all at every opportunity. Some are gifted by God as encouragers. For others it takes work and we never get that good at it. But nevertheless, be on the lookout for things to encourage others about. And remember, do it with sincerity. Not only does everyone like being encouraged, they need it, just as you do. Expect nothing in return for your encouragement. I’m sure that there are others out there like me who couldn’t give an encouraging word if their life depended on it. They need it more than anyone else I think.
Finally, beyond God, people are everything. They, like you, bear God’s image. Your relationship with people will be a big determiner of whether or not you will live in joy. Boasting and showcasing your gifts, which God gave you, will not bring you joy, only pride masquerading as joy. Be joyful when you see what God has given to someone else, or what God is doing in another’s life. Be satisfied with what God has given you. Life is very momentary. The pride of life and the lust of the flesh lie to us. They promise a joy that never comes. They are like the thirsty man drinking saltwater. It only makes him want more until it kills him.
I pray that you, dear children, will be humble of heart. I pray that you would work hard at developing the gifts that God has given you, and that you will be generous with your gifts, and most of all that you would be generous at building others up.