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What is in Your Heart – Envy or Contentment?
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV).
Hebrews 12:1 teaches us that God has prepared a “race” for each of us. To me, this means we each have our own unique life. We don’t all have the same race, experiences, joys, and failures but we each have a unique race. God has a plan that He wants us to pursue that is better than any plan we could dram for ourselves. We need to be persistent and focused to live into His plan.
However, we tend to compare ourselves to others, and if they appear to be ahead of us in the race, we become envious. This could happen if our neighbor gets a new boat, a family member wins the lottery, or a coworker gets promoted. We tend to shift our attention away from our own race and become preoccupied with someone else’s race. These are all distractions to our real purpose – understanding and living out God’s will for our own lives.
Henry David Thoreau was an American naturalist, essayist, poet, and philosopher. He wrote in the book Walden that the “mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” My readings and understanding of Thoreau indicate to me that he had a deep appreciation of nature but his relationship with God was hindered due to the rigid nature of Christianity in New England. I suspect that he himself led a life of quiet desperation, as do many men today, because they do not follow the greatest commandment in the Law as spoken by Jesus. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5) but we also have nothing which to me is the very essence of quiet desperation.
I enjoy watching horse races and have noticed that some horses wear blinders (also called blinkers) next to their eyes when racing. The blinders are usually made of leather or plastic cups placed on either side of a horse’s eyes – attached either to a bridle or to an independent hood. Many racehorse trainers believe that blinders keep horses focused on what is in front, encouraging them to pay attention to the race rather than to distractions such as crowds. I wonder if envy would gain much traction in our human hearts if we kept our focus what is in front of us.
As I think of envy, my mind goes to the story of the vineyard workers (Matthew 20:1-16). A group of workers were hired at the start of the day and agreed to work for a denarius, which was a typical daily wage. Different workers were hired throughout the day for an unspecified wage. At the end of the day, those hired last, who worked the least number of hours, received the same pay as those hired at the start of the day, who worked a full day. Those that worked a full day for the same amount of money as those that worked less than a full day were angry.
The response of the landowners is a great lesson for us all when it comes to envy. The landowner responded, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:15 NIV, emphasis added).
Envy can be defeated once we begin to discover and pursue the unique purpose that God has for our lives. We can then be released from the tyranny of always having to be best. Life is simpler when our focus is on growing closer to Christ each day and bring others to Him rather than trying to outcompete others. Each day I want to see more Jesus in me and less of me in me. Some days are more successful than others. My success is largely determined by how I honestly answer and respond to two questions. What baggage am I carrying that I need to release, and what spiritual practices do I need to improve? These two questions will help us all to successfully run our own races and claim the peace that transcends all understanding. Be blessed as you bless others.
Prayer: Dear God, Help us to avoid distractions that take our focus away from you and your plan. Help us to always embrace your sovereignty and providence. Amen.
Meet the Author
Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
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