I was going into my freshman year, and I was feeling optimistic about my chances of making the varsity basketball team. The Syracuse Eagles had 3 spots opening up, and I desperately wanted one of those roster spaces. I was above average in height for my age, and I had spent the entire summer practicing dribbling exercises and working on my off-hand layups. The first couple of practices of the season revealed, at least to me, that it was looking likely that I would nab the second or third spot. A couple seniors even affirmed the likelihood of me moving up to varsity, which made me feel even better. Then it happened. The new guy showed up the week before they were posting the 2001 team results.
I was still feeling confident when the roster was posted, but sure enough the new guy got the third varsity slot. I acted like I was happy to be the go to guy on JV. I showed outwardly that I liked the new guy in town and said all the right things about him in front of people. But man did it EVER eat at me when no one was looking. Being blessed (or cursed?) with having that famous Culver competitive nature, I couldn't stand the thought that someone beat me to the spot I was so sure I deserved. In that difficult 9th grade situation, envy grew in my heart.
The account of my freshman athletic experience is pretty easy to write off as the classic envy situation that we feel pertains to everyone else but us. If we're truly honest with ourselves though, envy is far more prevalent than we ever let on. We give envy more room to grow in our ministry lives than we realize. We can seemingly enjoy everything about another ministry or relationship until a certain event happens; promotion. Nothing will reveal the true nature of a relationship like promotion! We like to believe that envy is only an issue with those that we are living at a distance with. But the truth is, it's the closest relationships that make us the most susceptible to envy. Cain murdered his own brother because the Lord didn't accept him in the same way He accepted his brother Abel. Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery. The disciples argued amongst themselves about who was the greatest. We have no problem empathizing with our brother or sister who is down on their luck, but when it comes to celebrating with those who are receiving the blessing of the Lord, something inside of us just won't allow us to rejoice with those who rejoice.
Because envy is a sin that generally stays internal, it's all too easy to convince others and even ourselves that this isn't an issue in our lives. But in today’s information overloaded society, opportunities for envy to grow in our hearts is everywhere. Envy happens in our hearts when we want something badly and we see someone else, normally the ones closest to us, enjoying that very thing that we want so dearly. We envy the same things as generations before; relationships, money, talents, life circumstances, influence; but with social media taking such a central role in so many of our lives, envy is pushed right to the forefront in our hearts.
The primary way that envy stays hidden in our lives is through a false pretense of nobility. This is where envy can be such a killer to those of us in ministry. As a musician, preacher and leader, seeing my friends and comrades experience even the smallest amount of success in the areas I am gifted, brings immediate turmoil in my heart. I'll check Instagram and suddenly feel my mood change after seeing a post by a musician friend of mine having more success on a song or album than I had. Before I know it, I'm finding a decent, even a noble or godly reason to discount or ignore the success that they are experiencing. Or even worse, I'll attack it with my judgmental thoughts or words. “The lyrics in this album aren't even that biblical” or “he doesn't even live out this message in his private life” are thoughts I would think to myself as I see other artists gain influence. In giving into these judgmental thoughts, I'm becoming a critic of what the Lord is doing in someone else's life rather than being someone who blesses and celebrates the Lord's work. As leaders, doesn't it break our hearts when we promote someone under us because the favor of God is in their lives, and others complain about it? How do you think the Lord feels when he blesses someone and the only fruit that comes out of our hearts is sour grapes? We can become like the workers in Matthew 20 that start grumbling and complaining about the Lord's mercy and how he runs his government. How many times could we have received a blessing or gotten part of the reward of what the Lord was doing somewhere or in someone else, but instead we held onto our righteous judgment that really was just envy in our heart. In history, the greatest critic of the current move of God was the group that experienced the last one. We HAVE to do better at speaking well of others in the body of Christ. Is there are place for correction when there is sin or doctrinal issues? Absolutely. But the right thing said with the wrong motives is still the wrong thing.
How do we overcome envy in our lives?
- Acknowledge envy's existence. One of the most effective things we can do to deal with envy is simply to admit that we have it. Envy comes when the dreams and the desires of our own heart, good or bad, are not met. Being honest with the Lord and with others allows us to process and pray through the things that are going on in our hearts. This takes more than just a quick introspective questioning though. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and see if there's any wicked way in us.
- Pursue God's love for others. Love is caring and fighting for another’s greatest good. God's solution for envy is simple; love. Love for God, love for people. If we could carry God's perspective for others and His passion to make His name great, envy would disappear completely in our lives. The next time we're tempted to dismiss a ministry that is seemingly more successful, what if we took the time to bless that person or ministry? What if instead of looking for values that we disagree with or styles that rub us the wrong way, what if we looked for the evidences of the Grace of God?
- Trust the Lord for our own Life. Envy surfaces when we see others enjoying success that we want or that we think we're entitled to. Essentially, envy is telling God that he's a poor leader. It's wishing that God had written our story differently. So have an honest talk with the Lord. Why aren't you happy? Why does certain successes bring up pain in your heart? If we allow the Lord to speak to us and affirm are calling, we develop an appreciation for wherever we are at. We can fight having a critical or envious spirit by being thankful for each season of our lives, and looking for the purpose and value of every situation and relationship.
- Receive our identity in Christ. If we are truly honest, envy takes root because of our identity crisis. We desperately want things that might be in OR outside the will of God simply because we want affirmation that we are successful. If we understood the unimaginable value of being a king and priest before Him, we stop jockeying for positions that fall well short of that calling. Knowing his thoughts and plans for us as people, not just for our external ministry will free us up from wrong expectations of what success is. Success to God is simply this, that we fulfill the great commandment to love Him with all of our mind, soul, and strength.
Like everyone else, this is a daily struggle in my life. I have to fight to keep a heart that is thankful for what the Lord has given me and that looks for the best in others. When I walk in love instead of envy, the Lord is so faithful to provide for my every need. Even if my dreams and desires don't ultimately look exactly how I wanted them to, the reward of resisting envy is enough; love.
Caleb lives in Colorado Springs with his wife Rachel and daughter Aaliyah. He is a Pastor at New Life Church and is the associate director of their young adult program "Desperation Leadership Academy" and serves as the director of DLA's School of Worship. He also plays keyboard for Cory Asbury and Pas Neos.