Phew! We’ve talked a lot about envy: what it is, how damaging it is, the ways it can manifest itself, etc.
At times, it’s important to take a deeper dive into certain areas, especially when most people consider envy simply a part of life. Seeing envy as commonplace can deceive people into thinking it isn’t that bad. Or we may even see being the object of someone’s envy as a backhanded compliment or something to take pride in. In so many ways we’ve been conditioned to accept envy rather than war against it!
Consider how the world around us makes money and drives competition by capitalizing on envy! After all, “keeping up with the Joneses” is big business! The world, therefore, will do its best to keep you in a chronic state of envy. Since love and envy can’t coexist, we must do what we can to separate ourselves from a world system that sabotages God’s love in our lives.
Deep study can bring freedom and a renewed mind. Using a gardening illustration, to pull out a particularly stubborn weed, you have to dig around it and dig deep, which is what I hope we’ve done with this study. Surface study yields surface insights and results. Deeper study yields deeper insight and results.
Since there are so many ways to conquer envy in a person’s life, the ways listed below aren’t exhaustive. They’re just things that come to my mind as I’ve prayed and reflected upon the subject. My suggestions tend to be umbrella principles, with a potential for a variety of personal applications.
STOP GAZING AT STUFF THAT MAKES YOU ENVIOUS
This seems obvious, but may be hard to do when a materialistic culture surrounds you with tv commercials, billboards, magazine covers, countless glamorous photos of celebrities, etc., etc. These advertisers want you to first covet and then buy, buy, buy their products and services.
Always remember we can nip this process in the bud by choosing what we put in front of our faces.
What we focus on we can become!
The Bible gives us insight into the dynamic between gazing, wanting and becoming.
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. –2 Corinthians 3:18
Here we see that gazing upon the glory of God will change us more into His image.
God calls us first and foremost to look upon Him!
When God created us, He meant for us to gaze at Him, as David did in Psalm 27:4. The more he loved and worshipped God, the more he became a man after God’s own heart. Like Phinehas, he became a man who cared about God’s will and reputation above his own well-being.
One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to GAZE on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. –Psalm 27:4 (CAPS mine)
If we’re not gazing upon God, what are we gazing upon? We have to be careful where we place our focus, because gazing can lead to worship or envy.
We can reproduce what we focus on for good or for ill.
In some cases, we can reproduce in our lives that person or thing that holds our gaze. It can happen in both a positive and negative sense and in things that bring us closer to God or draw us further away from Him.
In Genesis 30, Jacob sought to separate himself from his father-in-law Laban, so he asked for “every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat” to be his wages. (verse 32)
Jacob did something very strange to ensure that his flocks would increase:
Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. -Genesis 30:37-39
Jacob placed before his drinking and mating flocks an image of what he wanted them to reproduce! Every day they’d see the same image over and over again.
Isn’t that what Satan does when he bombards us with advertisements, the next great thing to have or the ideal way to look in our culture? Irrespective of any outside influence, the devil can also attack us with recurring thoughts and images in our minds and imaginations. In other words, he tempts us to gaze!
Examples are everywhere.
Food network shows cause us to covet better food than we eat any night of the week. Home remodeling shows leave us dissatisfied with the state of our homes, so we seek to remodel after the pattern we see on tv. My friends all have the Instapot, so now I want the Instapot. Flipping through magazines, I feel discontented about the way I look, so, as a result, I strive to look like the people I see in the magazines. Etc., etc., etc.
It can be as simple as commercials that repeat themselves. I was in a state recently where whatever I watched, they’d show Subaru commercials. After a while, I was actually thinking how nice it would be to have a Subaru. The hatchback is so cool and I could pile my things in the back and go camping. (Ok, didn’t that exact scenario resemble a commercial I just watched?)
This is just one reason why I personally don’t have cable, even basic cable.
There’s a difference between looking and gazing.
Since I live in the world, I can’t help but see things around me. But, to gaze means I look in a prolonged way. I can also be considered “gazing” when I look (and think about) the same thing repeatedly.
I find I want fewer and fewer things when I stop gazing at stuff that makes me envious. I no longer have to “keep up with Joneses” on anything, because I don’t want what they have. Here’s where “out of sight, out of mind” really helps! It’s difficult to want what my eyes haven’t seen.
SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS
One of my favorite verses for many years has been James 1:16-17:
Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
Only our Father in Heaven can give us perfect gifts! He knows what we need when we need it and how we need it. Meditating on this verse has kept me from going after things harmful to me. It has also kept me from going after good things/ God things prematurely, disconnected from God. Notice God gives us these gifts; we don’t attain his gifts through our own self-initiative and self-effort, divorced from the leading of His Spirit.
Keeping first things first!
Seeking first His Kingdom puts all things into proper perspective. When I have my priorities in their right order, God can then choose what He’ll bring into my life for my ultimate good. Aware of both our needs and wants, God often goes above and beyond what we can ask, think or imagine in giving to His beloved children. He doesn’t disappoint when we leave the choices up to Him.
For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. –Matthew 6:32-33
Sadly, those who don’t have a relationship with God have to “run after all these things” and do all they can to get them. They must fend for themselves. But, with God as our Father we can be both satisfied and peaceful.
If our desire is to please God, then all of us who’ve been trained in our humanistic culture to tolerant in silence everything around us, must wrestle with these passages. Even though our flesh may chafe at what I’m writing, nothing I’ve written contradicts Scripture, but only affirms God’s holiness and His desire for His people to be set apart from the world.
Through the pattern, paradigm and example Phinehas has set, God tells us that standing up for righteousness and truth will lead to peace, not being passive, tolerant and silent.
Not to say, there won’t be a measure of backlash, persecution and rejection. Most likely, there will be. But, if God gives you the “covenant of peace,” you can be sure none can take it away!
Do we want what we can get or what God can give?
For example, I’d much rather have Abraham’s portion over and above Lot’s portion. [Read Genesis 13]
Abraham, the Father of our faith, journeyed away from his homeland at God’s word. He took his nephew, Lot, with him. Eventually, both he and his nephew grew rich with many possessions, which led them to separate, due to a lack of space. Each of their herds needed more space to roam and feed.
When they separated, Abraham gave Lot first pick of his desired area. He chose the lush, well-watered area near Sodom. (Even though he chose what the world saw as better, that prime real estate later destroyed his family.) In contrast, God gave Abraham both a “promised land” and an eternal inheritance.
The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. –Genesis 13:14-15
Focus on God’s good gifts for you!
Interesting how God wanted Abrahm to look upon and to see the land that He would give him. God has things for you that will delight your heart and blow your mind! And, when the time comes, He’ll want you to look upon those wonderful things He’s already determined to give you.
Has God ever spoken to you about something you couldn’t let go of and couldn’t stop thinking and dreaming about?!
STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHER PEOPLE
Meditate for a moment on why God gave us individualized fingerprints. Even twins in the womb have different fingerprints from one another. Those fingerprints signify your individuality. No-one is quite like you! You cannot be reproduced! In all the world, there is only one you! In all of human history, there has only ever been one you! So, how can you compare yourself to anyone else???
Comparisons are unwise!
God encourages us through the apostle Paul not to fall into the comparison trap!
We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. –2 Corinthians 10:12
We each have a path to follow, a specific call to fulfill and good works to accomplish! Since we’re each so original and significant in our own right before God, there really is no basis for comparison.
God wanted to spare us the pain of comparing ourselves to others, which can lead to discontentment, even destructive competition!
Peter compares himself to John.
After Jesus reinstated Peter in John 21 after his three denials, he began to tell Peter about his future, some of which would be difficult for him. Maybe, Peter felt like he was getting the “short end of the stick” or the consolation prize as far as callings, because he then began to ask about John’s life. What will you do with him, Jesus?
Peter turned and SAW that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter SAW him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” –John 21:20-21 (CAPS mine)
In this passage, the Holy Spirit pointed out twice how Peter first looked at John and, then, compared himself with him.
He actually turned his focus away from his own path and, more importantly, Jesus, to look at John and his life. In other words, Peter’s gaze turned to John, which resulted in comparing himself to him.
Jesus told Peter essentially to mind his own business and to focus on his own life before God. John’s life was none of his concern.
Remember, in our war against envy, it’s important where we fix our gaze.
Are you looking at someone else’s life and comparing your life to theirs?
Comparison leads to destructive competition!
The disciples still had a comparison problem, even after spending all that time with Jesus. Asking “Who is the greatest?” will get most people into trouble, no matter who you are. As we know, people can still think the question in their hearts, even when they never speak it aloud.
An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. –Luke 9:46
There may be only two of you, and, yet, the question may arise, “Who is greater?”
This question can show up in a variety of ways:
- Who has the greater ministry or following?
- Who is more popular?
- Who has the stronger gift?
- Who has the greater invitations and opportunities?
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting significance and doing your best. God places those desires in us, so we’d seek after His will and purpose for our lives! Instead of focusing (ahem…gazing) on others, we can seek to be the best that we can be, apart from competition and comparisons.
Comparison leads to dissatisfaction!
When I find myself dissatisfied with my own life, I may want to see if I’ve fallen into the comparison trap.
God, how come they get to… (fill in the blank) and I can’t.
God, how come they have…(fill in the blank), and I don’t/I’m still waiting.
I’ve found myself saying (or, at least) thinking these same things here and there throughout my life. If I focus my mind and heart on these things for too long, I can even get into a funk.
I must die to these comparisons and get my eyes back on Jesus. I must also put my focus back on my own path and on my own race. Ultimately, God will reward us for how we ran our own race, not someone else’s.
PRAY FOR THE PERSON YOU ENVY
Nothing will crucify the flesh faster and more thoroughly than following this suggestion.
Most people would call it good, if they simply refrained from thinking negative thoughts or doing anything bad to sabotage this person’s success. Yes, I suppose that would be good.
But, to really be set free from envy and to help prevent future cases of envy, pray for and bless this person.
Cutting off your nose to spite your face.
As Christians, we’re all on the same team and part of the same body. If one part of the body is blessed and exalted, that person’s success will eventually promote and bless the rest of the body, since we’re all interconnected.
But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. –1 Corinthians 12:24b-26
A message about envy almost tempted me to envy.
It’s so cool how God interjects His own stories and thoughts, when you meditate on a particular subject. In my car, I happened to be listening to a message about, you guessed it, envy. I didn’t look for it, but it was there on the Christian radio station. I involuntary said, “YES!” with a fist pump. Since my mind and heart have been on this subject for some weeks, I recognized envy as something that needs to be addressed throughout the body of Christ.
Ironically, the situation spoke to my own capacity for envy. This pastor has a successful church, famous ministry, has written all kinds of books, etc., etc. He also has a huge following!
When he shared the topic to a much greater following, I was tempted to envy him. When he did a better job than I did, had the heart piece and was more practical, to be honest, I started feeling a little envious.
But, in the midst of a potential swirl of envy, I found myself glad he had spoken on the subject at all!
His success became my success!
No doubt, all kinds of people in Radio Land listened to what he had to say, which, in turn, fulfilled my desire for this message to go out further to reach more people. His success became my success, which was one of the lessons he shared in his radio broadcast. In fact, I borrowed heavily from him to write this one section about praying for this person you envy.
To top it all off, he shared a story about how one famous minister prayed for the man he strongly envied and the lesson God showed him. [Read the following short story that inspired the above pastor’s illustration!]
It would seem that when F.B. Meyer was in the very zenith of his ministry in London there came to London a nineteen year old boy. And overnight that boy was world famous, throngs were going to hear him, and his name was spoken on every street by every heart. Any guesses who that “boy” might be? If you guessed Charles Spurgeon you are right!
How do you think that made F.B. Meyer feel? He says in his autobiography that it filled him with envy (no surprise there, right?).
What did he do with that envy? F.B. Meyer says:
“I took it to the Lord; got down on my knees and on my face before the Lord, and I said to the Lord, ‘It’s not right, this feeling of envy that I have in my heart.’”
And then F.B. Meyer did something spectacular. He began praying for Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the boy preacher. He began asking God to give him a double portion of the Spirit from heaven, give him twice as many souls. Give him a fame that circles the world ten times, not once. And F.B. Meyer says it was not long until he began to look upon every triumph of the young Spurgeon as though it were his own. When Spurgeon would preach to thousands of people, Meyer said he’d rejoice as though he himself had done it. And when Spurgeon won throngs to the Lord it was as though Meyer had done it, he said, he so prayed for the young man and rejoiced in his glorious ministry.
As time went on, F.B. Meyer’s church also began to grow, because of the overflow of people saved from Charles Spurgeon’s ministry.
Satan wants to use envy to divide the body and hinder our own spiritual growth in God. God, on the other hand, wants to use envy as a catalyst to die to ourselves, build up others and to care about something larger than our own personal ambitions and platforms.
F.B. Meyer’s influence touched my life!
F.B. Meyer, in the face of envy, grew in stature and became an even greater man than he already was. May we all respond in similar ways!
Incidentally, I have this huge book of devotional passages through the Bible written by F.B. Meyer. Incredible insights, great Bible teaching and no fluff. I’ve had it for more than a decade and God has spoken to me from it consistently. As a result, in my own particular life, F.B. Meyer has had a greater and deeper influence on me than Charles Spurgeon ever had.
Don’t let envy stop you from your own God-given influence!
What if F.B. Meyer had stopped at the point of envy? What if any of us did?
Next week, we will go over more ways to combat envy.
A link to the great message I heard on the radio regarding envy in case you’d like to hear it. I happened upon part 2; there’s also a part 1. It’s by David Jeremiah and it’s called Slaying the Giant of Jealousy.