I squeezed into the back row of the small Sunday school room, clutching my plate of brunch goodies–a blueberry muffin, some egg and bacon casserole, a piece of quiche. As I nibbled, I surveyed the pile of neatly-wrapped gifts in the corner, including mine hastily added on the side. Then a hush fell over us as Kari, our pastor’s wife, walked up to the podium to begin the celebration.
“We’re here today to honor a lovely lady and the child that God has given her…”
After sharing some Bible passages, she announced that they would go around and everyone could introduce themselves, since we had some visitors.
“Hi, I’m Emily, I’ve been married 15 years and I have three children.”
“Hey, my name is Paula and my husband and I have four little ones.”
By the time they got to me, I couldn’t hold it back. “Hi, I’m Rebekah, and I don’t have a husband or any children.”
There was some uncomfortable laughter, and a lady said, “Don’t worry, you will! Just wait and see.”
I didn’t know why my heart felt so heavy and my eyes were on the verge of filling with tears. Why can’t I just be happy for other people for once? I chided myself. What’s wrong with me?
Envy. That’s what was wrong. It had taken over my emotions, and I had handed it the reins. And that wasn’t the first or only time, either.
You see, I’d given into a lie. A lie that said, “If only I had what she had, everything would be better.” Or, “everyone else has that, why can’t I?”
I did get married, at 26 years old, in May 2016. And marriage has been a blessing! Yet to my surprise, it did not cure my envy. I still continue to find other things to covet: other women’s bodies, their children, their nice houses, their incomes. I’m ashamed to say it, but envy is one of the hardest sins for me to resist.
Maybe this is true for you, too.
A year or so ago, I began singing the psalms. It has been an amazing gift to be able to make melody to the Lord with His Word. I remember singing through Psalm 37 recently and being forced to reflect on my own sin of envy:
Do not fret because of evildoers,
Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity.
For they shall soon be cut down like the grass,
And wither as the green herb. -Psalm 37:1
I thought to myself: well, I’m not envious of the wicked (usually). It’s mostly other Christians. So does this psalm apply to me?
The more I read it, the more I realized that the remedies God prescribes apply to any form of envy. And the New Testament affirms that members of Christ’s body should not envy one another. Take a look at these passages:
Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. -Romans 13:13
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up… -1 Corinthians 13:4
Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. -Galatians 5:26
I knew I had to listen to the Lord’s voice and obey Him rather than my flesh–for the sake of my relationship with Him and others, and for His own glory.
As I journaled on Psalm 37, I found five specific commands that serve as cures for the envious heart:
1. Exchange fear for trust.
Trust in the Lord, and do good… -verse 3a
Envy and worry often go hand-in-hand.
Our “if only” thoughts find their root in a deeper “What if?” Not just the obvious questions like “What if I never get married?” But the deepest ones of all, the ones about God Himself:
What if I need to be satisfied in something more than God?
What if God is purposefully withholding something good from me?
What if I can’t accept what God has for my life?
We probably wouldn’t articulate these fears out loud, but I know at least for me, they were there, hidden underneath the temporary things I was fretting about: my body, my clothes, my marital status, my income.
The only solution is to know the Lord’s character, to see His goodness proven, in the Word and in our personal histories. To embrace His providence. To trust Him utterly with the direction of our lives and refuse to trust ourselves and our own thoughts. Prayer is an expression of trust–saying, “Not my will, but Yours be done,” and letting the truth of that sink in to our hearts. Trust takes time to grow, but the more we see God’s plans trumping our own, the more we learn to lean on Him.
2. Exchange fleeing for dwelling.
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. -verse 3b
You’ve heard the old proverb, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” Something about envy makes us want to pack up and move–not necessarily to another land, but to another situation. We feel an anxious urgency to change things in our lives, the sooner the better, so that we can reach that greener grass where everyone else seems to be.
“I have to take this diet pill now because all my friends are so much skinnier than me.”
“Maybe I should start lying like my coworkers do–they always get raises, and here I am, making barely enough.”
“My house is nice, but not nearly as beautiful and put-together as hers. I better go out and buy a bunch of new stuff.”
On the one hand, there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be healthier, advance in your career, or adorn your home. But when the motivation is to compete with others, especially when it requires drastic measures, something is wrong.
God calls us to contentment, to dwelling with Him and living obediently in the situation He has given us for this season. To do this without envying, we must feed on His faithfulness–look to Him to satisfy our wants and needs, rather than trying to get them fulfilled on our own. Every day we may be tempted to flee to the greener grass, but every day we must abide in Christ and wait until He makes our steps clear.
3. Exchange discontentment for delight.
Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart. -verse 4
It is a constant battle for me to delight in the Lord more than the things of this world.
I enjoy many things. I love wearing pretty clothes and dressing up for a date night. I love watching movies with friends and playing games. Special trips to new places and restaurants excite me. When my days are filled with these things, my heart often is, too.
Those moments are exactly when I must remind myself to take pleasure in the Lord above all. He is the Giver of the gifts, and He far surpasses them in greatness. He is worthy of all my adoration. The gifts are meant to lead us to joy in our Creator–not become a replacement for Him. They should never take up more of our devotion or affection than God Himself.
There are two ways of looking at the second part of this verse. One, that God will fulfill our desires; and two, that God will give us the right kind of desires. I think both are true. The more we delight in the Lord, the more our hearts will align with His. The more we want what He wants for us, the more we will find our petitions granted.
Jesus satisfied Himself in God. He didn’t have a warm bed to sleep in, or fancy clothes, or relaxing vacations. But He did have the presence of the Father. And that was more than enough.
4. Exchange control for commitment.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass. -verse 5
How many times in my life have I tried to fix the outcome of something in my favor–without relying on the Lord?
We can know God’s sovereignty in our heads–and be able to rattle off verses about it–but the truth that God is in control has to move to our hearts and to our hands. Like it says in James 4:13-15, we shouldn’t presume upon God’s plans for our futures, whether positive or negative. Our lives are like vapors. We must say, “as the Lord wills.”
Not only that, we have to entrust God to do what He has promised. If we’re frustrated by our sinfulness, the key isn’t to try to change ourselves in our own power. We have to cry out to the one who said He is faithful, and He will do it (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24), reminding Him of His own Word. The Lord loves the soul that trust-falls into His promises.
In Psalm 37, the specific situation is the godly envying the unbelievers for prospering. We hear the promise that God will defend us in a world of wickedness and, in time, make known our godliness like the light of noonday (v. 6). Trusting Him to do this keeps us from avenging ourselves or mimicking the wicked in order to find success.
But no matter what our situation is, we have to give up our control to God. We are responsible for being obedient; He will grant us His good providence.
5. Exchange agitation for rest.
Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him… -verse 7
I can be very impatient at times. Not just while driving, standing in line, or working with kids, but in my relationship with God.
Are we there yet? I don’t word it that way, yet when I become agitated with God’s timing, it’s essentially the same question. Are we there yet, God? When are You going to do ____ for me? When will you give me ____?
We need to humble ourselves when we feel this way, and rest in the Lord’s hand. It is amazing that He does not punish or destroy us when we become so ungratefully impatient with Him, pridefully thinking our ways are better than His. It’s because of His mercies that we are not consumed (Lamentations 3:23).
I had a friend who, whenever you asked him, “How are you?” would say, “Better than I deserve.” Constantly having a gospel-focused mindset like that is a major way to cultivate humility.
So what does resting look like? Imagine sheep lying down in a pasture. They aren’t worried about getting out of the valley or to their next food source. They aren’t afraid of the wolves. They know the Shepherd is caring for them. They just keep their eyes on Him.
Fighting envy isn’t a one-time deal. It’s a lifelong struggle for most of us. But that doesn’t mean we should give up. We have Jesus to satisfy us, Jesus to be with us, Jesus to guide us. He is our Good Shepherd. We can rest from envying in Him.