It is simply the fallen human nature of people to look at the success of others, and our own lack of it, and conclude with the question, “Why not, me?” This is a fairly typical garden-variety kind of envy. Yet, if this envy is dwelled upon and nursed, it can easily turn into something more sinister. Believing that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, we might buy into the notion that our gifts and abilities will be better used somewhere else where they are more appreciated. As a result, people right in front of us, with real needs and a bevy of concerns, are not ministered to and do not have the faithful presence of a caring pastor in their lives.
The wise man keenly observed that “a heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (Proverbs 14:30). When we begin to think that people, even God, owes us something then our souls become tainted and the rot of envy sets in. Like a slithering snake we think more about what a congregation can do for us rather than what we can do for them, and for God.
Joe Pew Sitter also may struggle mightily with envy. Believing that he has a right to be spoon fed by the pastor and leadership, he quickly moves onto another church when his perceived needs are not met. “I’m not getting fed,” “I don’t like the worship style,” and “I didn’t like the decision the church made,” are all too common statements from envious parishioners who desire attention they are not getting. Perhaps there are others who harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition because they were not asked or were passed over for some important ministry or project. Rather than facing the rot in their own hearts, they move on to another church hoping, like the Pharisees of old, to get their fix of recognition from others.
The place to begin in addressing envy is to see it for what it is: not just a common predilection that everyone has, but a sin of believing that I deserve something that God is not giving me. That puts God in the position of holding out on us, much like Adam and Eve’s original sin of grabbing a forbidden fruit in the belief that God was not providing everything they needed. Turning from evil pride and becoming satisfied in what the Lord has already provided are the remedies to an envious heart.
Thankfulness and gratitude are spiritual practices that, when engrafted into a daily walk with Christ, provide a strong antidote to keeping envy at bay. So, instead of wondering why God is not blessing my life and ministry in the ways I think he should, maybe we ought to be rather intentional about identifying and counting the blessings we already possess and enjoy. Some of the greatest joys around us are the simple pleasures of everyday life – holding and sipping a hot cup of coffee; a quick kiss good-bye to my spouse on the way out the door; the opportunity to curl up with a good book on a rainy day; these and many more are blessings given to us by a heavenly Father who cares for us deeply.
It might be a good thing to spend some time in your next leadership meeting, or your next time of prayer, and speak out many of the blessings that currently exist in your life. For example, in the last week my wife had two surgeries performed on her spine. Rather than wishing that she would have not have to endure this and envying the healthy, I rejoice that she is with me and that we enjoy one another’s love and companionship every day whether it is in times of health or in seasons of illness.
As the season turns colder and the holiday of Thanksgiving comes closer, let us celebrate with grateful hearts that pushes the rot of envy far from our souls.