Sideways Spirituality

By Daniel Darling

Around our house, we’re starting to call my youngest daughter, Emma, the “Me-Too” girl. This is because, at 1, she has practiced and perfected the fine art of envy. Everything her brother and sister have, Emma wants. And she demands it by pointing vigorously at it. And if Mom or Dad get some food or snack, even if Emma isn’t hungry, she’s pointing it and wanting it. She’ll even do this at dinner, pointing to Mommy or Daddy’s plate and we remind her that she has the same stuff on her own plate, if only she’d look down.

It’s kind of funny on a 1-year old. But it’s all too common among grown-ups, especially Christians.


In a way, this is what Peter was doing that day on the beach. It’s the story told at the end of the gospel of John. Jesus had just given Peter his mission, to feed God’s people. He’d reminded him of his calling by reenacting the miracle of Luke 5. And he affirmed His faith in Peter by making him leader of the early church.

But Peter did something all of us do. After hearing the prediction of his faithfulness and then martyrdom, he looked back and said about his friend, John, “What about him?” I love Jesus’ answer. The King James translates it, “What is that to thee, follow thou me.”

In other words, “Don’t worry about John, Peter, just follow me.” This is such an important and needed lesson for us. We tend to practice sideways spirituality, don’t we? I know I do. My spiritual success is measured by what others do. I compare my preaching, the size of my church, my book sales, my family leadership–I use the lives of others as my measuring stick. Sometimes this intimidates me into thinking I should be more. And other times it causes me to stick out my chest and point out the errors of others.

To this, JEsus says, “What is that to you, Follow me?” In other words, each of us have a unique calling and gifting and purpose on this earth. There are no two exactly alike. In a sense, when we wonder why someone else got less suffering than us or more blessings or if we try to impose our calling on someone else or steal someone else’s mission–we are putting ourselves in the place of God. This is why Jesus asked Peter, “What is that to you?” In other words, “Why is John’s life you’re concern?” It isn’t.

Underneath our envy is something much worse. It’s as Dr. Carson would say, “De-godding God.” We’re telling God that we don’t trust his sovereign hand. We’re saying that God messed up by giving others what He should have given us.

More importantly, our focus is sideways–on others–rather than upward on God. The writer of Hebrews reminds us in chapter twelve that the best way to run the race is to “look to Jesus.” Paul reminded the believers of Colosse to set their hearts, their longings, their eyes on “things above” (Colossians 3:2).

This is a challenge to individuals. It should keep us from trying to live someone else’s life. It frees us to be ourselves. It should also keep us from judging others. Just because God uniquely touches our hearts toward some sacrifice like time or money, doesn’t mean everyone else has ato make the exact same choices.

I think this affects churches as well. Maybe it will stop us from criticizing works of God that aren’t exactly like ours. Perhaps we might realize that God is using all kinds of churches and Christians to accomplish His work. It might help our churches keep a singular focus on what God intends in our local areas, how we can be faithful and grow, rather than thinking we’ve got the market covered on ministry.

It seems to me that Jesus is pushing us away from sideways spirituality, Christianity by comparison, and just asking us to simply follow Him.