There is a machine inside of every single one of us. I call it the meaning machine.
What Does a Machine Do?
My wife and I recently acquired a smoker. It’s a box that you fill with wood chips and is meant to cook things like ribs, pork, or roast. You doctor up your meat — in our case, ribs — you let the smoker get to temperature, and then you put the raw slabs into the smoker. Hours later, you pull out some amazing, fall off the bones ribs.
In essence, the smoker is an example of a machine. You put something in it, it does its thing, and then some things come out of it. There are input and output, and a machine in the middle.
Input -> Machine -> Output
What comes out of it is affected by the woodchips, the smoke produced by the wood chips, the sauce or seasoning that you use, how long they are in the smoker, etc. Done right, the smoker produces some tasty ribs! But with a faulty process, it can produce awful ribs as well.
We have a machine inside of us. It’s not a smoker: there are not wood chips. But it does produce something – it produces meaning.
Similar to our example, we have input and we have output, what happens in-between is the meaning we give to something. It’s how we interpret a situation.
Let me give you an example. Have you ever been trading text messages with a friend and they responded with a single word, something like: sure?
What you brain has to determine is what does that “sure” mean. Was it capitalized? Did it have an exclamation mark or just a few periods after it? Was there a thumbs up emoji behind the word? Your brain — the meaning machine — has to produce meaning.
With the absence of that information, our brains go to work to try to figure out what that “sure” means. When there is ambiguity, when there is a lack of context, when there is no other data, our brains go to work. The machine kicks into gear and produces something.
Do you Believe the Best or
Assume the Worst?
Here’s what I’ve found, we typically create meaning based on 1 of 2 filters:
We either believe the best or we assume the worst.
So let’s go back to my bbq smoker illustration. The output is affected by the sauce, the time, the temperature, the quality of the meat.
So what affects our output? Definitely human nature, our upbringing, past circumstances, and more. But as a believe who is trying to live a better story, we need to add a few other inputs to the machine: Christ’s commands, the fruit of the spirit, and my daily striving towards being like Christ.
Here’s what we add to the mix:
- Christ’s commands – Love your neighbor as yourself.
- Fruits of the Spirit – Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
- Striving to be like Christ – Walking in step with what Jesus would do.
Now if we’re not careful, we’ll justify why it’s OK to assume the worst. But here’s what I want you to try today. When someone does something that your brain would normally process in a negative light, write it off, and say in your heart, “They probably didn’t mean that.”
Paul tells us a bit about the meaning machine in Romans 12. He says in verse 2, ” Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
So today, I want to encourage you to change the way you think. Try applying the positive filters of Christ’s commands, the fruit of the spirit and personal striving to choose to believe the best. I know it will make a difference today!
There is a trap that is called the comparison trap. Chances are you have fallen prey to it before.
Comparison is dangerous. It is a silent, deadly killer that can take all that is good in your life and rip it apart.
Track with me for a minute.
Comparison takes place anytime you judge your life against some standard that God never intended for you to judge it by.
That’s comparison. And everybody does it.
There are at least two symptoms of comparison.
Symptom 1 – We distort other people’s success.
We have all done it. This distortion happens when we assume that everybody else’s life is better than ours. We believe their life is better than it actually is.
- We hear them describe their last vacation, and we think, “It must be nice to get that much time off.”
- We see the pictures of their house, car, or gadgets and think, “It must be nice to make that much money.”
- We see them post a picture of their family and think, “I wish my family had it together as they do.”
These thoughts indicate distorted thinking. We end up placing their lives on a pedestal and assume that it is better than it actually is.
There is a second symptom of comparison.
Symptom 2 – We discount ourselves.
These two symptoms often go hand-in-hand. When we distort what we see in somebody else’s life, we often discount what is going on in our own lives.
If we’re not mindful of this, we will develop catastrophic thinking. We anticipate the worse will take place in our lives.
“Things are fine now, but I know the other shoe will drop.”
“Things always fall apart at the last minute.”
“Nobody notices what I do for them.”
“Nobody gets me.”
“I’ll never have enough.”
“I don’t have what it takes.”
When you see these two symptoms in your life, its a sure sign that comparison is rearing its ugly head.
Comparison is a Thief
Here’s the truth: you don’t know what somebody else’s life is really like. You have no idea the pain, struggle, and heartache they are going through.
Don’t be fooled by what you see online. Most people post their highlight reels, not their day-to-day struggles.
I like what author Jon Acuff says, “Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. Comparison is poison.”
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of Joy.”
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” -Theodore Roosevelt
I’ve seen both of those to be true.
Galatians 6:4-5 provides a great reminder to us:
“Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct.”
Paul points out that we all have our own work, our individual assignment. There is something that each of us is meant to do. Comparison causes us to focus on the work of others and neglect what he has intended for us to do.
By focusing on our own work and doing it well, we gain greater satisfaction and fulfillment. We fight our way out of the comparison trap.
Don’t Drink the Poison
Today, be grateful for what God has given you to do. Start and end your day with a time of gratitude.
Work hard today. Do everything you do as if you are doing it for the Lord.
Complete your assignment. This life is not about competing. It’s about completing what God has called you to do.
The world needs more of what you were uniquely designed by God to do! Don’t drink the poison of comparison.