Let’s talk about envy a little more.
It doesn’t play nice. You’re walking along enjoying life, and suddenly someone appears on the sidewalk or television with a bigger house, relishing a career they were born for, holding someone’s hand or pushing a stroller. Boom. Envy sweeps over you like a tidal wave. The tabloids and self-help mags shout from the supermarket rack about everything that you’re not. Pow. The life you have seems to darken and pale. You hear a story in church about how someone else has finally reached the end of a debilitating trial. Crunch. You sigh even as you celebrate, wondering why God hasn’t delivered you.
The rush of envy doesn’t yield. If it’s not a deluge, it’s a leak that gradually covers the floor and wreaks havoc with your soul’s drywall. Let your guard down and your day is shot.
Envy is a menace.
And how do we typically answer?
Well…we sigh, try to count our blessings and remind ourselves of the goodness of God. We try half-heartedly to distract ourselves.
And then we wonder where our joy went.
Perhaps the problem is that we’re resisting a gale with a small pink umbrella. Scripture actually commands us to do more. Much more.
It’s not a sin to have desires. Sometimes God actually uses them to propel us into his will for our lives. It’s when you don’t have joy in Jesus rising up alongside and surpassing your other desires that you’ve reached idolatry.
King Josiah didn’t pull his punches in dealing with Judah’s idolatry.
The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the priests next in rank and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the Lord all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron Valley…he did away with the idolatrous priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense…he took the Asherah pole from the temple of the Lord to the Kidron Valley…he ground it to powder and scattered the dust over the graves of the common people. He also tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes that were in the temple of the Lord…
He desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice their son or daughter in the fire to Molek. He removed from the entrance to the temple of the Lord the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun…Josiah then burned the chariots dedicated to the sun. …
He pulled down the altars the kings of Judah had erected on the roof near the upper room of Ahaz, and the altars Manasseh had built in the two courts of the temple of the Lord. He removed them from there, smashed them to pieces and threw the rubble into the Kidron Valley. The king also desecrated the high places that were east of Jerusalem on the south of the Hill of Corruption—the ones Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the vile god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the people of Ammon.
Even the altar at Bethel, the high place made by Jeroboam son of Nebat, who had caused Israel to sin—even that altar and high place he demolished. He burned the high place and ground it to powder, and burned the Asherah pole also. (2 Kings 23)
The tearing down and action verbing goes on for twenty verses. By the end of Josiah’s whirlwind, the Kidron Valley is choking with the remnants of Judah’s sin.
What refreshing gumption. The kingdom needs more of this. Josiah took no prisoners. He set himself even against the legacy of his own ancestors. God honors him in Scripture – “never before had there been a king like Josiah” (v. 25) – because of the thoroughness and vigor of his actions.
We need to stop seeing envy as smoke that can be idly waved away. Enough with the passive, halfhearted measures. It’s a fire, to be fought with a hose of Living Water. It’s a system, buoyed and harnessed by the world (in order to make money) and the devil (in order to make disheartened Christians). If you want to be free of it, you’ll have to do what Josiah did – fight.
This means a game plan. Rearranging your life, eliminating envy’s breeding grounds.
For some of us, this means turning off
the television Netflix. I don’t know what happened to shows like Roseanne, which celebrated the struggling family in the modest house, but my generation gets the glamour and wealth of The O.C. and Gossip Girl. It cuts off contentment at the knees. Same with the tabloids; how much more content might you be if you saw your supermarket’s “family-friendly” aisle as a refuge from envy?
Perhaps it’s social media that needs to go, as some of my friends have found. “Here’s everything you didn’t get invited to!” They oughta call it Envybook. Contentment was so much easier before. The product placements, the strategies-for-success humanism that leaks in from sponsors…if these things make it harder to appreciate what God has given you, why set them before your eyes? Fight for your contentment; break envy’s supply lines; allow no place for ambushes.
Single ladies – may I intrude? – put down the dimestore novels and chick flicks. Why would you shoot your contentment in the foot like that? Single guys, guard your eyes. Lust isn’t just horrific sin, it’s the first step to being dissatisfied with your future wife. I’ve known a few singles who stopped going to weddings. A radical step, maybe, but they know they owe God more than they owe their friends, and what they owe God is their contentment. They mail the newlyweds a certificate to Bed, Bath, and Beyond and turn their eyes upon Jesus. And they find the joy flows more easily.
This is all quite disruptive. I’ll be the first to confess thinking of such steps and going (best whiny voice) Aww, do I have to?
Well, no, you don’t. You don’t have to escape the “quiet desperation”, as Thoreau put it. You can stay there if you like.
But my testimony is, if I want joy, I have to get off the couch and ensure it.
The necessary steps will be different for everyone, but my point is that Christian discipline has been made to look passive for far too long. God didn’t give us Ephesians 6 to be poetic. There are things to be fought for, and one of them is the happiness that comes from enjoying what God has already given us.
Pray. Turn your eyes. Rearrange what you must. Leave no trace.
May God keep our arms raised.