YOU CANNOT FULFILL GOD’S PURPOSE FOR YOUR LIFE IF YOU ENVY the lives of others.
While God created each of us for the same five eternal purposes, the way you fulfill those purposes –the time, place, plan, and style—is absolutely unique. God never creates clones, never copies what he’s already made, and never duplicates a life plan. God only creates original masterpieces. As we discussed in Day 30 and 31, God distinctively shaped you for a life unlike any other. Only you can be you. Only you can live the life God designed you to live. But it’s also true that you cannot live a life that God designed for someone else. To attempt to be what you weren’t created to be always leads to frustration, fatigue, and failure.
As humans, we are naturally interested in the lives of others. It’s part of our wiring. We are fascinated with how others look, act, talk, and live. We notice what they wear, what they do, and what they have. There is nothing wrong with this, especially if you can appreciate the limitless variety of people God chose to create instead of making all exactly alike. It only becomes a problem when we resent how God made others, reject how he made us, and start envying what they have. Envy is a trap. In today’s world, where technology allows us to see how everyone else is living, envy may be the most common reason people miss God’s unique plan for their lives. Envy is a global sin. I have witnessed it among every age group, economic group, and ethnic group and every place I have traveled to around the world.
“I observed all the work and ambition motivated by envy. What a waste!”Eccl. 4:4 (MSG)
“Why does she get to live in that house?” “Why did he get that job?” What can’t I be that attractive, that rich, that smart, that famous?” Envy distracts your focus away from what God wants to do in your life and refocuses it on all that you don’t have. Every time you envy, you take your eyes off what God created you to do. You get side-tracked from God’s custom-made plan for you. Envy detours your life, and it always leads to a dead-end. Envy exacts a huge emotional cost without a payoff. You miss your purpose and lose your joy at the same time.
The Envy Trap
The worst part of envy is that it’s an insult to God! Every time you wish you were someone else, have what they have, or do what they do, you are saying, “God, you made a huge mistake with me! You could have done better. You could have made me like that person, but you didn’t!
“Why did you mess up with me? If I were God, I would have made me more like that person!”
Envy is actually a form of spiritual rebellion based on ignorance and arrogance. It assumes that I have a better plan for my life that my Creator does! Really? The Bible reminds us how presumptuous this is: “Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?”
Envy is such destructive attitude that God outlawed it in the Ten Commandments. The last commandment says, “You shall not covet!”2 Coveting is another word for envy. God absolutely prohibits us from envying what others have, how they look, what they accomplish, and who they are because he knows the damage envy does.
Four Harmful Effects of Envy
Envy denies your uniqueness. Just as no two snowflakes are alike, no two human beings are alike. Even identical twins aren’t completely identical! As I mentioned earlier in this book, you have unique thumbprint, eye print, voiceprint, footprint, and heartbeat. No one has ever been, or ever will be, like you. The Bible says, “We are God’s masterpiece.”3 But when you envy others, you can’t see the amazing value of your own unique shape. Envy blinds you to yourself.
When you stand before God someday, he’s not going to say, “Why weren’t you more like your parents or neighbor or some celebrity?” It is more likely that God will say, “Why weren’t you more of what I intended you to be?”
Envy divides your attention. You can’t give your full concentration to becoming what God wants you to be and envy others at the same time. Jesus said, “Anyone who lets himself be distracted from the work I plan for him is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”4 If you are always preoccupied watching what others do, or wishing you had what they have, you will miss seeing what God is doing in you.
Envy misuses your time and energy. Solomon noted that envy is the reason why most people overwork! “I have also learned why people work so hard to succeed: it is because they envy the things their neighbors have. But it is useless. It is like chasing the wind.”5 The result is, “… he is always working, never satisfied with the wealth he has. For whom is he working so hard and denying himself any pleasure? This is useless, too—and a miserable way to live.”6
Envy is the enemy of contentment. Envy says, “I’ve always got to have more: more money, more possessions, more power, more prestige, pleasure, and popularity.” Many people work themselves to death trying to match or surpass those they envy. The Bible says that is foolish: “Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich; be wise enough to control yourself.”7
Envy leads you to other sins. Envy is one of the so-called “Seven Deadly Sins.” These root sins that many other sins grow out of. The Bible says, “Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”8 Note that envy causes “disorder.” Whenever envy raises its head, it creates disharmony, competition, conflict, and confusion. Anytime a relationship seems “out of order,” you should check for either envy or selfish ambition as a possible cause.
James 3:16 also says that envy is a source of “every evil practice.” Can envy cause a person to lie? Yes. Cause a person to steal? Yes. Murder? Of course. Murders motivated by envy make the daily news, and the Bible is filled with examples of envy-based crimes. Cain killed his brother Abel out of envy. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery out of envy. Saul tried to kill David several times out of envying his popularity. The Bible clearly states that the religious leaders had Jesus put to death because they deeply envied him!9
Envy infects everything inside you and affects everything around you. So how do you eradicate envy from your life? The Bible gives us a pathway.
Steps to Eradicating Envy
Stop comparing yourself to others! This is the starting point. Comparing is the root of all envy. Unfortunately, from about the time we each began to walk, we also began to compare. Can you remember all those times you complained that your brother or sister got more ice cream than you? We grow up comparing everything appearance, grades in school, athletic ability, and other talents. As adults we compare clothes, cars (or the lack of one), homes, how much we earn, and a thousand other things. But God says such comparisons are foolish. The Bible says, “When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves to themselves, they show how foolish they are.”10
Why is it foolish to compare yourself with others? Because you are incomparable! So is everyone else. God made each of us “one of a kind.” Besides, comparing leads to one of two negative reactions: pride or envy. You can always find someone you think you’re better than, and you will be prideful. On the other hand, you will always find people that you think are doing better than you, and you will become envious and discouraged. What matters is not who’s better off, but are you doing what God created you to do? Are you making the most of what you’ve been given?
God doesn’t judge you for talents you don’t have or for opportunities you didn’t get. He evaluates your faithfulness by how you lived and what you did with what you were given.
Remember this: God has not called you to be the best in the world at anything! He has called you to be the best you can be, given your background, experiences, opportunities, and abilities. So…decide right now that you are going to break the habit of comparing yourself to others. It will take some time, but you can train yourself to refocus on something else whenever you are tempted to compare. Just tell yourself, “I’m not going to go down that path,” and start thinking of something else.
Celebrate God’s goodness to others. Instead of resenting others, rejoice with them! The Bible tells us to be happy when God blesses those around us. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”11 Now the second part of that verse is easy to obey. It’s not hard to offer comfort when people hurt or experience loss, even if they are a rival. It’s much harder to celebrate others’ success, especially if you aren’t succeeding in that area.
How do you handle the promotions of coworkers? If you’re single, how do you handle the weddings and baby showers of friends? What’s your first gut reaction to news that someone you know has experienced a windfall of good fortune? When was the last time you thanked God for what he did for somebody else?
One reason we sometimes find it hard to “rejoice with those who rejoice” is because we fear that there is only a limited supply of God’s goodness and grace, so if others get a bigger slice of cake, then I may not get as much. But God’s grace is boundless. There is plenty to give to everyone and still have an infinite amount left over! Ephesians 3:8 speaks of “the unending, boundless, fathomless, incalculable, and exhaustless riches of Christ.”12
The embarrassing truth about envy is that the people we envy most are usually those who are closest to us: family members envy each other. Neighbors envy neighbors. Teammates envy teammates. Musicians envy musicians. Farmers envy other farmers, and preachers envy other preachers.
If you would like to increase the amount of happiness you experience in life, here is one of the secrets: learn to enjoy the successes and joys of others. If you are only happy when good things happen to you, then you will be unhappy for much of your life, since no one experiences only good things. But if you can learn to enjoy other people’s victories too, you will always have something to be happy about.
Be grateful for who you are and whatever you have. Everything you have is a gift from God. The Bible says, “Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what’s the point of all this comparing and competing? You already have all you need.”13 When you find yourself beginning to envy someone else, instead of wishing you had their job or talent or boyfriend or children or whatever, remind yourself that “God has given me some unique gifts they don’t have, and besides that, I don’t know the downside of being them.”
Envy is based on the popular myth that having more will make me happy. But both the bible and the testimony of millions show that is not true. Solomon, the wealthiest man who ever lived, had this to say about the desire to acquire more: “Those who love money never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth –except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers!”14
Happiness is a choice. You are as happy as you choose to be.
Envy asks, “Why them? Why do they get what I don’t have?” Gratitude asks, “Why me? Why do I get all that I have?” David modeled this kind of gratitude when he prayed, “Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?”15 Years later, his son would write, “It is better to be satisfied with what you have than to be always wanting something else.”16
Let me be clear: Having ambitious dreams, a desire to be better, and faith goals are all good things, if they come from God, benefit others, and are pursued in faith for His glory. You should want to make the most of your life, create beauty, and help others. But envy poisons everything it touches and prevents God’s blessing on you efforts. Why you do what you do matters the most to God.
Trust God when life seems unfair. One of the signs that envy has entered my heart is when I start feeling, “It’s not fair! It’s not fair that I don’t have what they have!” Anytime we accuse God of unfairness, we doubt His goodness. Envy is the fever, the symptom, but doubting god is the disease.
Anytime you envy others, you doubt that God knows what’s best for you. You question His love, His justice, and even His wisdom. Anytime I accuse God of being unfair, I am foolishly implying, “God, I’d make a better god than you, because if I was God, I’d be fairer than you are.”
The next time you start to rant about God’s unfairness to you, remind yourself of these facts:
1. Everything I have is an undeserved gift from God. I wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for God’s grace. The next breath of air I take is a gift of God.
2. I don’t know what God knows and I can’t see what God sees, so I should trust Him.
3. Life on earth is unfair because of sin, not because of God. Our rebellion against God has broken everything on the planet. This isn’t heaven, where everything works perfectly. Nothing works perfectly here.
4. God sent Jesus to save us from the judgment day when he will balance the books, right all the wrongs, and administer justice.
5. It was not fair for Jesus to die in my place for my sins. But HE did.
In Matthew 20, Jesus told the story of a landowner who hired several men at different times of the day to work in his field. At the end of the day, the landowner unexpectedly paid all of them the same amount for their work. Obviously this didn’t bother the last-minute hires, but the men who had worked all day complained loudly that the landowner was being unfair. They said, “These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun!”17
I love the landowner’s reply: “Friend, I didn’t cheat you. I paid you exactly what we agreed on. Take your money now and go! What business is it of yours if I want to pay them the same that I paid you? Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Why should you be jealous, if I want to be generous?”18 I love the landowner’s frankness: “Take what is yours and go your way!”19 In other words, “Stop resenting my grace to others, be grateful for what you’ve got, and move on with your life now!” That advice will keep you from getting caught in the envy trap and being detoured from the path God has laid out for you.