While I was in seminary, I had the opportunity to pastor two great churches. I was twenty-four when I pastored my first church, and twenty-six when I started pastoring my second church. Both of the churches took a risk when they hired me. I was young, single, and I had little experience. But, both churches loved me, nurtured me, followed my leadership, and let me learn from my mistakes. Looking back a decade later, those were some of my favorite days of ministry. I could not have asked for a better seminary experience, and many guys in seminary would have loved to have gotten the pastoral experience that I was able to get while I earned my degrees. On top of that, I met my beautiful wife while pastoring my second church. Life couldn’t have been any better.
However, at the time, I thought life could have been a lot better. In fact, I thought I deserved better. I was working hard, I was walking faithfully with the Lord, I was preaching my heart out, and I was sharing the Gospel and making connections in my community. What I deserved, I thought, were bigger opportunities and a bigger church. After all, there were several guys at the seminary who were getting bigger opportunities and bigger churches. In fact, if I were to tell you their names, you would know each of them. Today, they are all prominent leaders in Southern Baptist life. In my mind, I was a pretty good leader and preacher, so why weren’t the megachurches calling me? Instead of being content with where God had placed me, I grew more and more jealous of those who were more “successful” than I was.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but in my mid-twenties, I struggled with envy. And if you’re like me, you’ve probably gone through seasons where you’ve struggled with envy as well. Envy is the outgrowing of a dissatisfied heart that is not content with the work of God in your life. The fruit of envy can be disastrous. Envy produces things like bitterness, insecurity, a lack of joy, anger, and ultimately dissatisfaction with God’s goodness to you. Envy will keep you from thanking God and will lead you to resent Him. So, how do you defeat envy before it defeats you?
1. Live to fulfill your calling.
Paul wrote to his young friend in the ministry, Timothy, and encouraged him to preach the Word of God faithfully. Paul wrote, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5). Paul reminded Timothy that he had a specific ministry to fulfill. His ministry was not the same as someone else’s. God had called Timothy and shaped him for a specific ministry that was uniquely different than others who were serving the Lord.
Find joy in knowing that God has called and shaped you for ministry according His unique purpose for your life. He has not called you to the same ministry that he has called someone else to. He has not gifted you in the same way that he has gifted someone else. He has not given you the same resources that he’s given someone else. He is doing a unique work in you and through you. Be content with who He has made you to be and the work that He has given to you. As I grow in my walk with the Lord, the more thankful I am for the opportunities He has given and for where He has placed me in each season of life. I know I’m exactly where God wants me, and I know I’m fulfilling the ministry that He has given me. I have no reason to be envious of how He is blessing someone else or how He is using someone else.
2. Live to invest.
What fuels our jealous hearts is an attitude that says, “I live to gain.” We’re constantly asking the question, “What’s in it for me? What’s this world going to give me?” The best way you can spend your life is to give your life away for the sake of the Gospel by relationally investing in people who need to know the love of Christ. Life is not about what you gain, but rather life is about glorifying God by making disciples of all nations. Who I impact for the sake of the Gospel is far more significant than what I might have or what I might gain through my own accomplishments. It’s easy for me to look at others and be jealous of what they have or what they have accomplished. However, God has not called me to a life of gain or accomplishment. He’s called me to a life of investing. When I am focused on investing in others it becomes very difficult for me to focus on myself. Investing in the lives of others forces me to be selfless as I give my life away for the sake of the Gospel. What about you? Are you living to invest? Or, are you living to gain?
3. Live to be forgotten.
When I was in seminary, I looked at other guys who seemed to have better opportunities and bigger churches than I had, and I was jealous in part because I wanted their notoriety. I wanted people to look at me like they looked at them. I wanted to be noticed for my abilities and my skills. I wanted to be known in our convention for my leadership and my preaching. But, none of those things matter eternally. One hundred years from now, no one is going to know who I was, nor is anyone going to know who my seminary companions were who went on to experience such success in ministry. We exist on this earth for a brief moment in time, and then we are gone. Future generations will not remember nor care about what we had or what we did.
Instead of living to be remembered, live to be forgotten. We can get so consumed with making our mark in the world or gaining notoriety in the eyes of people that we fail to point people to the only One who will be remembered and worshipped for all generations; Jesus Himself! A life that is lived to be forgotten for the sake of the Gospel is a life that is laser-focused on helping people to see the greatness of Christ rather than the greatness of ourselves.
While I haven’t completely overcome my jealous ways, I am so thankful that God has grown me up in Him and helped me to see that focusing on Him and living out the calling He has placed on my life brings me much joy and contentment. I hope that if you struggle with an envious heart you will repent and begin to find true satisfaction in knowing the One who gave His all for you and who has called you to point others to His glory.