Marilyn Monroe once said it would be nice to enjoy success without so many people envying you because you do. She may have been onto something there - for success to one may actually cause another to stumble. The passage today comes from the psalms of Asaph - not likely one person in scripture, but a group of Temple singers. They number 12 psalms included in the Book of Psalms. One in particular caught my attention this morning as I considered the types of things which seem to "get hold" of us from time to time in life, causing us to lose focus, or drift a little off-course. One of those things is envy - another word for this is jealousy. As most of us understand, envy is really a feeling of discontent - discontent because another's advantages, success, or possessions get us feeling a little like we haven't "arrived" at the same place in life as they have. The discontent can sometimes get us up and moving in the direction which will propel us forward, but sometimes it acts as an anchor holding us right where we are at and keeping us from ever making any headway in life.
When I was beleaguered and bitter, totally consumed by envy, I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox in your very presence. I’m still in your presence, but you’ve taken my hand. You wisely and tenderly lead me, and then you bless me. You’re all I want in heaven! You’re all I want on earth! When my skin sags and my bones get brittle, God is rock-firm and faithful. Look! Those who left you are falling apart! Deserters, they’ll never be heard from again. But I’m in the very presence of God—oh, how refreshing it is! I’ve made Lord God my home. God, I’m telling the world what you do! (Psalm 73:21-28 MSG)
Look at what the psalmist describes as the state of heart and mind which he endured as long as he held onto the discontent - beleaguered, bitter, consumed, ignorance - not some of the characteristics we'd want to have in our lives, right? Yet, so many times, we allow envy to slip in between the "cracks" in our lives, leading to these very damaging emotions. The most important thing I'd like us to see about envy is its ability to be "totally consuming" - it doesn't take over just a little piece of us, it invades us! It is like a virus - replicating at astronomical speed until all cells are affected. No wonder we feel "yucky" when envy has become "seated" in our lives!
The opposite of envy is zeal. Envy is very internally focused, while zeal is externally focused. With zeal, we have our eyes on another - hopefully this is Jesus! Here's one thing we need to get hold of if we are to keep our focus correct - everything we receive into our lives is not because of our own doing, but because Christ has provided for us everything we need for life and godliness. We may pursue a whole lot of "stuff" which neither apply to giving us life, not achieving any form of godliness, but it all pales in comparison to what Jesus does in our lives. Our psalmist got hold of this in his life - for he proclaims he as dumb as an ox in God's presence until he realized God wanted to bless him! We sometimes forget this truth - God is concerned with our GOOD not our GREAT!
The good news - even when we are struggling with envy, we are still in God's presence. He doesn't just turn away from us because we struggle with this stuff. In fact, he draws us in closer because he wants us to redirect our attention. I had my eyes tested yesterday. What a different experience it is today from the "olden days" when the doctor flipped this lens and then that one, until somehow you figured out which was the clearest focus you could get. Now, with this day and age of computerized everything, they start at almost crystal clear computerized lens positioning and just improve from there. She sat at the console, directed the machine what to change to correct my vision through the little goggles and TA DA - new prescription was produced! I wonder if God really is trying to do the same thing for us - getting us close enough is not really how he functions. He wants our vision to be perfect! He wants us close enough to see him, then he gets us focused even better when we are!
Some very basic things which keep us from letting go of envy in our lives:
- Fear: Nothing keeps us in a place of envy more than fearing we will never arrive, never have, will always deal with, etc. Look at the words there - ALWAYS. Fear keeps us focused on the ALWAYS and when we are focused so intently on the ALWAYS we never see the possibility of the NEW WAYS.
- Worry or Anxiety: Envy gets an inroad through worry because it focuses on what we don't have or what we have not achieved. The issue with worry - it keeps us focused on the what if's. The problem with the what if's - we hold onto the regrets and never venture forward.
- Wrong Desire: Some might call this greed or covetousness. In essence, anytime we desire something which God knows will not be good for us right now, we almost certainly form some type of tunnel-vision toward that object. In turn, we cannot see the things God places all around us which are designed for where we are right now. When we focus on the thing which is NOT for the "right now" in our lives, we soon forget about "now".
So, this is not rocket science, but it bears repeating once in a while. We all deal with wrong focus on occasion. I just like to do some introspective soul-searching once in a while to ensure I am remaining on course with where God wants me today. Hope you will do the same. Just sayin!