Why we Needlessly Feel Inferior, Less Loved or Envious of Seemingly More Blessed Christians

Spiritual Envy

Grantley Morris


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My conviction is that we envy, not out of spitefulness, but because of our neediness.

We were born with a cavernous need to be loved and forever cherished as uniquely special and irreplaceable in the heart of someone we adore. No matter what our age, or how much we try to bury it, it’s a stupendous need that never wanes. This incessant craving is no more selfish, or a sign of weakness, than needing air to breathe. In fact, it is such a fundamental, eternal part of who we are that it will long outlast even our need for oxygen.

Thankfully, our seemingly insatiable need for love can be met by God himself. Our dilemma, however, is that humans fail us, and once we have felt the pain of even partial rejection when someone prefers someone else to us, it leaves us vulnerable to the fear that maybe God will treat us similarly.

It’s not that we are selfish. It’s not that we want others to go without. It’s just that we have a God-given need to know that God sees us as special and irreplaceable; that we are the delight of his eyes; that no matter how fickle human love can be, divine love is altogether superior and utterly dependable. In the words of Psalm 27:10, we need that assurance that “Though my father and mother [or anyone else I think should love me] forsake me, the LORD will receive me,” (NIV).

Having been haunted by this insecurity myself, I feel nothing but deep compassion and empathy for all who question the infinity of God’s love and doubt that it is sufficiently enormous for him to treasure their uniqueness and cherish no one more than them. It is not in my heart to lecture, but to comfort and lift you high. I dare do nothing less, for I am certain that this is God’s heart toward you.

I have identified ten, slightly overlapping, reasons why so many of us look at high profile Christians and needlessly feel jealous or inferior. If you don’t require all the detail in one point, feel free to skip to the next.

(1) Distorted testimonies

Remember Paul’s shipwrecks? Jesus stilled the storm. As if to rub it in, the prophet of God wrote, “The Lord has his way in the whirlwind and in the storm” (Nahum 1:3). Yet Paul, in the very midst of devoting his every heartbeat to sacrificially serving God, was shipwrecked not once or twice but four times! (The ordeal described in Acts that was so terrifying that even hardened sailors barely ate for fourteen days (Acts 27:33). It happened after the three shipwrecks Paul mentioned in 2 Corinthians.) These disasters befalling Paul were not the acts of anti-Christian thugs but ‘acts of God’. How did even this extraordinary apostle get his head around that? Should he have edited it out of his testimony?

Over and over, the inspired Word of God staggers us by refusing to remove details that expose its heroes’ failings, let alone make us wince or doubt or even question God. Today’s less inspired testimonies, however, are usually less honest, with Christians supposing they are ‘helping God’ by omitting embarrassing details. Rather than the intended result of glorifying God, selective truth-telling grieves him because many of his precious children end up feeling failures for living real lives, rather than fairy tales. I’m accusing no one of blatant lies; it is just that even a little editing can have unintended consequences.

(2) Christians who receive more divine blessings than us, often suffer more than us

Each of us is so unique that the exact details of our testimony will never be duplicated in anyone else’s life. For a general idea, however, of what the testimony of an exceptionally blessed Christian might look like, spy on the Apostle Paul. His life tells us that if ‘super-Christians’ have spiritual highs that we would give almost anything to experience, they also have lows that we would give almost anything to avoid.

Consider Paul’s Damascus Road experience. Who wouldn’t like to add that to their spiritual resume? But soon the Lord told Ananias, the man who ended up praying for Paul to regain his sight, “I will show him [Paul] how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). Not so many of us are queuing up for that part of the deal.

Then there was the time when Paul “was caught up into paradise and heard things too sacred to be put into words, things that a person is not permitted to speak” (2 Corinthians 12:4, NET). My enthusiasm wanes, however, when he goes on to say, “By reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations . . . a thorn in the flesh was given to me: a messenger of Satan to torment me, that I should not be exalted excessively” (2 Corinthians 12:7). The revelations and the torment were co-joined twins. It was so torturous that Paul pleaded with God over and over that it should end – and he was refused.

Do we envy Paul so confidently declaring, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me,” (Philippians 4:13)? If so, we quickly lose interest when we read the rest of his testimony in which he explains that by “all things” he meant, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12, NIV).

Do you envy those who saw and even handled the risen Lord? If you think them specially blessed, take seriously what our Lord told Thomas after inviting him to touch Jesus’ wounds, “Thomas, do you have faith because you have seen me? The people who have faith in me without seeing me are the ones who are really blessed!” (John 20:29, Contemporary English Version). Does this help ram home to you how distorted our perceptions are?

(3) There are seasons in our spiritual lives. We each have a mix of easy times and hard times

In the words of Ecclesiastes 3, “For everything there is a season . . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh.”

Consider Job. For years and years, he overflowed with just about every conceivable earthly blessing. Everyone must have envied him. Then came a time when he seemed to suffer every imaginable curse, and no one wanted a fraction of his anguish. Study the biblical account, however, and you will discover that throughout it all, God was proud of him.

Or we could detail the highs and lows in the life of Jacob’s favored son, Joseph, or all the ups and downs highlighted in the divinely authorized biography of David, the man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), or in so many other godly people featured in Holy Writ.

Above all, consider the greatest person ever to walk this planet. There was a long season in his life when he lived in obscurity, outwardly achieving virtually nothing that even the Bible considered worth mentioning. Then came a time when people in his home town, hearing one of his recent claims and contrasting it with what they had seen of him nearly all his life, considered him a blasphemous fake, and sought to kill him (Luke 4:28-29). Then there were years when he performed countless astonishing miracles and thousands flocked to him, hanging on his every word. This was followed by a time when he was nailed to a cross, hanging in helpless agony as mockers shouted, “He claimed to save others, and can’t even save himself!” (paraphrase). Each of these seasons was of God. One period was so enviable that even his enemies were jealous of him. Another, however, virtually no one would want.

By no means everyone, but many begin their spiritual lives with a time of rapid growth and a giddy high like those who have just fallen in love. Remember, however, that it is unwise to consult honeymooners if you are keen to know how to have a successful marriage. Newlyweds often seem to have all the answers. They are typically the most excited and talkative and seem to have the best possible relationship. Nevertheless, those who are more sober but still enjoy each other after ten, twenty or more years – especially those who are not a particularly good match – are the ones who really know how to make a marriage work. You can truly learn from them, provided they are ruthlessly honest. Likewise, spiritual honeymooners, despite oozing confidence, have far less to offer than their giddy enthusiasm suggests.

(4) Almost inevitably, we think the other Christian’s field seems greener

It’s time to confess some of my own gut-wrenching battles with this problem.

I have never gone beyond one-way conversations with God. I talk; he remains stony silent. He hears me; I hear nothing. I never receive any verbal messages (neither audible nor inaudible) from him, nor visions. To rub salt into the wound, I’m far from talkative with anyone and I always prefer the other person to carry the conversation. For instance, conversing with my wife means more to me than any other earthly thing, but I love it when she does up to 90% of the talking. When, due to tiredness, she is less talkative and maintaining the conversation is more dependent upon me, I’m left feeling somewhat lonely and isolated.

Like nothing else, ever since I was young, my inability to hear directly from God has been a continual source of pain and frustration to me. I have no idea why my agonized prayers to hear from God verbally have gone unanswered, decade after decade after decade after decade. Even thinking about it brings me close to tears. Nothing is more important to me than communing with God.

My wife, on the other hand, has what I have always ached for. She regularly enjoys genuine two-way conversations with God. She not only talks to him, he speaks to her. I have been deeply envious of her walk with God and have felt very inferior to her, spiritually. To my surprise, however, she sees things in my life that make her envious of my walk with God and she feels spiritually inferior to me.

I still worry that my inability to hear God is somehow my fault. To employ the powerful analogy of the body of Christ, however, perhaps it is like an ear and a hand comparing themselves with each other and feeling envious and inferior because what comes easily for one is beyond the ability of the other. There is no point in a hand wishing it were an ear or, even worse, resenting its Maker over it. If every part of a person’s body were identical, the result would be hideous and utterly malfunctional. It is vital that we never settle for less than God’s best for us, but it is equally important that we be content with God’s choice for our lives.

There’s another possibility. To illustrate, I’m forced to reveal things about myself that will confirm to most readers that I’m weird. From my early teens, I craved marriage more than any other earthly thing. I prayed in vain for a girlfriend for many years, until I began to feel deeply challenged from 1 Corinthians 7:25-40, about something so awful I wished I could somehow dismiss it. What if I could end my torment and marry with God’s blessing, but it would give him slightly more glory if I kept denying myself decade after decade? Since God deserves the ultimate I am capable of giving him, I chose to offer what seemed the costliest sacrifice, and yet was not worthy to be compared with the enormity of Christ’s sacrifice for me. My offering was no one-off act. The pain continued every day of every year. It was not like being locked in prison and tortured every day, however. I believed I could end my torment at any time. It was my conviction that with just one prayer, my loving Lord would soon bless me with a wife. Nevertheless, by the grace of God, I refused to ever utter that prayer. My on-going agony was so intense that often I did not want to live. At times, I worried it could drive me insane. Not until my mid-fifties did the Lord indicate that the time had arrived when marrying would maximize his glory.

I will not bore you by listing the many elements to my on-going pain. One of them, however, is relevant to this webpage. During my interminable years of being single, there are sure to be people whose yearning for a hug has equaled mine. Nevertheless, my craving was so excruciating that I cannot conceive how anyone’s torment could exceed mine in this regard. I frequently wished the Lord would hug me, but it never happened. Innumerable times when she was single, however, my wife felt God hug her. Other people have, too. Why had I missed out? Was I second rate? Or did my lack of relief increase the value of my gift to God?

(5) Mistaking the approval of other Christians for God’s blessing

Far too many Christians foolishly presume that people having a torrid time must be making some fundamental spiritual mistake. In reality, those sneered at – and who tragically often even see themselves as spiritual failures – are commonly the very people who impress heaven.

Job is a glaring example. Blinded by over-inflated opinions of their own wisdom and spiritual understanding, his do-gooder, holier-than-thou, spiritual advisors were sure Job must have blundered. They had no clue that what they sincerely believed was helpful advice, was so off-track that their mistaken accusations angered God (Job 42:7). In fact, the Almighty would not forgive them unless Job intervened on their behalf (Job 42:8).

The man they had convinced themselves must be suffering divine judgment was seen by the Almighty as so exceptionally godly that on at least two different occasions the Holy One boasted about Job to Satan, saying, “For there is no one like him in the earth, a blameless and an upright man, one who fears God, and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8; 2:3). Even very many generations later, toward the end of the Old Testament, the Lord still rated Job as one of the most spiritually powerful people ever to have lived. In Ezekiel 14:13-14 (repeated in Ezekiel 14:20), the Almighty Lord chose to include Job in his list of the three people who, in all previous human history, epitomized those who had the greatest ever influence with God. Still later, the New Testament puts Job on a pedestal as an example for all its readers to emulate (James 5:11).

Job suffered the indignity of being appallingly misjudged by those who knew him best – his wife (Job 2:9) and his closest friends. Not only were they so horribly wrong about this astonishing man of God, even today, despite all the advantages of hindsight and all the biblical affirmations of Job that his contemporaries lacked, staggeringly many know-alls still do not get it and instead prove how unbiblical and unspiritual they are by misjudging Job. Even many superstar preachers make this blunder. They are so embarrassed by God lavishing praise on someone who lost his wealth, health and social standing, that they side with those who angered God (Job 42:7) by being critical of Job. Respected preachers making this mistake dramatically demonstrate how utterly dependent all of us are upon the undeserved mercy of God. None of us has spiritual infallibility and (surprise, surprise) fame and riches do not change this fact.

(6) The sins of covetousness and worldliness can entice us to pine for the wrong things, such as money, fame and ease

Carefully weigh the implications of each word in this revelation from God:

    1 Timothy 6:6-11 But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we certainly can’t carry anything out. But having food and clothing, we will be content with that. But those who are determined to be rich fall into a temptation, a snare, and many foolish and harmful lusts, such as drown men in ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some have been led astray from the faith in their greed, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, man of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.

Do we concur, or do we think God foolishly mistaken? In fact, do we not only pronounce the God of unsurpassable wisdom a pea brain for having these values, but break his heart by continuously breaking the Ten Commandments by coveting someone’s spouse or house or possessions or whatever (Deuteronomy 5:21)?

The world’s values and those of the holy Lord are locked into a catastrophic collision course. The way most of humanity sees things it the very opposite of how it’s eternal Judge sees them. The very things humanity exalts, declared Jesus, are an abomination to God (Luke 16:15). That might not seem to mean much at present, but the eternal ramifications are horrific, or indescribably thrilling, depending on one’s life before the Great Reversal (Judgement Day). For example, the person who is eternally exalted in the one who has been humblest (Matthew 18:4), and everyone’s lackey (Matthew 20:26-27; 23:11-12). Who’s your role model: Jesus or someone rich and popular? Do you look at preachers in fancy clothes, flashy cars, and beautiful homes and wives, as examples of blessed Christian living? Or do you look to Paul, the writer of much of the New Testament and see him with no children, no marriage, back bleeding, feet in stocks, in too much pain to sleep, stirring himself to sing praises in the middle of the night in a Roman jail (Acts 16:23-25)?

(7) “Do what you wanna do, be what you wanna be,” is the Evil One’s favorite song

Those catchy words, repeated twelve or more times in a hit song, sound to many of us not just innocent, but the most liberating and inspirational advice anyone could give. It seems to epitomize what today is touted as the pinnacle of human thinking and good parenting. Nevertheless, it is a seductive lie on par with the serpent’s, “You won’t really die, for God knows that in the day you eat it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God . . .” (Genesis 3:4-5).

If the previous point about coveting worldly comforts, status, relationships, and so on, is hard to swallow, this one is the size of a whale! The same principle applies to everyone, however. We each have a unique calling that, at least at times, we will be tempted to resent. Nevertheless, our Lord and Maker expects us to submit to it, just as Jesus did.

Did Jesus, sweating blood in Gethsemane, grab a guitar and sing that song? Don’t you think he was sorely tempted to envy the billions who are not called to be tortured to death? Are we followers of Jesus, or followers of the masses hurtling down the highway to hell?

“You are not your own, for you were bought with a price,” Scripture tells Christians (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The alternative is, you can do whatever you wish, you have not been purchased by Christ, you are still in your sins and headed for a Christless eternity.

In the words of Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”

The world says indulge yourself; Jesus says deny yourself. Who will we follow? Will we conclude with Peter, “To whom else could we go? You alone have the words of eternal life,” (John 6:68, paraphrase). Or will we side with the masses fighting over who can get to hell first?

(8) Unlike most of us, God knows it is not miracles but hard times that end up achieving the most of lasting (eternal) value in people’s lives

Years ago, hoping to help and inspire various addicts, I collected testimonies of people who had experienced miraculous, effortless and instantaneous deliverances from serious addictions. Through an act of God, their cravings and withdrawal symptoms simply vanished. As I kept these people talking, however, they inevitably ended up confessing that, to their frustration and bewilderment, they had another addiction that refused to budge.

What was going on? To have real answers for addicts, I needed to seek God about this mystery.

The Lord revealed that although miracles get all the attention, they only do a superficial work. Typically, they change behavior, but not hearts. People who stop a sin because it no longer satisfies a craving, are just as self-serving as ever. It is only through intense, prolonged battles, usually accompanied by many defeats, that one learns to truly hate sin and die to self.

Temptation did not miraculously disappear for Jesus. His sweat oozed like blood as he agonized over doing God’s will. Was he setting a poor example? Eventually, an angel turned up. Oh, wow! Am I envious! What was the upshot? The visitation led to more agonizing temptation (in fact, it preceded his blood-like sweat – Luke 22:43-44), followed by betrayal and the cross. If only you and I had such thrilling spiritual experiences.

(9) The body of Christ has many different parts, each of which is indispensable and must be treated differently

Every part of Christ’s body is infinitely precious and indispensable. Even if you think of yourself as just a little toe in the body of Christ, who would want to lose their little toe? Who would even want to lose his fingernails?

We get things so twisted that, from the way we revere a few parts and denigrate the rest, you’d think the ideal body of Christ consisted of a giant set of flapping gums, a fingernail emitting divine bolts of power, and a few emaciated odds and sods.

Except perhaps for a malfunctioning part of our body, our hair usually receives more attention than any other physical part of us, even though it is the least important. This paradox, insisted Paul, is typical of the way God deliberately arranges honor, prominence and attention among the members of his church (1 Corinthians 12:23-25).

Though Old Testament prophets rasped a message as comforting as burrs in bed-linen, they were the talk of the nation. As welcome as slugs in cabbage soup, but their names were on everyone’s lips. They were Israel’s most wanted – special guests at rock concerts; proudly hung in public exhibitions; sawn in half by popular demand; that sort of thing. Centuries later, Paul so excelled that everyone thought of him as the man to beat. Some left no stone unturned in their eagerness to leave a lasting impression. A few even took the time to rock him to sleep (Acts 14:19-20). It’s hard not to be envious, isn’t it?

Such vocations, by their very nature, grab the headlines. They get the bouquets and the bricks through the window. Other ministries send tremors through the spirit-world without attracting human attention.

Of necessity, singers perform in public; sound mixers and prayer fighters serve off-stage. Everyone sees your eyebrow. No one sees your liver. But which is more important?

Your average evangelist steals glory for soul-winning from those who prayed, witnessed and worked the miracle of enticing non-Christians to a Christian meeting. Many of the evangelist’s ‘converts’ either found Christ before the evangelist arrived or through counseling after he left. Though few preachers are deliberate glory thieves, there will be many reversals in the next life.

We are pressured to evaluate a ministry by how much it reaps. But this is an invalid measure. It often reflects merely the nature, not the success, of one’s service. “One sows, another reaps,” taught Jesus. (John 4:37 – note also verse 38; 1 Corinthians 3:5-10) If you are called to sow, then to reap is to abdicate your responsibility. You might impress a few people, but not the One who counts.

If neither ‘reaping’ nor public acclaim indicates success, neither does the amount of time devoted to spiritual work. Part-time service is by no means intrinsically inferior to full-time service. Even the great Apostle Paul typically divided his time between tent making and ministry. And we know that in just three days our crucified King accomplished more than the combined efforts of the entire human race from Adam until now.

It is essential that the human body consist of very many different parts, each of which has unique abilities and functions and must be treated differently. Your eyes, for example, must not be treated as you treat your hands or your mouth, nor must your lungs be treated as your stomach. For anyone to treat different parts of your body identically would not only not be loving, it would be extreme abuse. So it is with Christ and his body.

Christians wishing they had the abilities of others are nightingales coveting a peacock’s beauty or soaring eagles envying the powerful legs of an ostrich. Yet don’t we all feel like this at times? (The embarrassing thing about our brain-waives is the spelling.)

Don’t despise the unique blend of abilities bestowed on you by the keenest Mind in the universe. Stop envying the ministry of others and start clarifying your own call. If, to your thinking, that call seems insignificant, the thing to be ashamed of is not your calling but your thinking!

Imagine an orchestra in which every instrument is identical and produces the same notes at the same time. Yes, there would be a bland equality eliminating the senseless temptation to feel inferior, but not only would the result sound pathetic, there would be no point in having most of the instruments. That sort of ‘equality’ would devalue everyone. Rather than be upset that all of us are different and assigned different roles, this is precisely what we should delight in, because it makes each of us indispensable.

God wants harmony. His evil enemy, the god of this world, wants rivalry. Which God do we serve?

(10) Love: the joyous antidote to envy

Rather than envying those who seem disproportionally blessed, God’s Word tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). Doing so can be exceedingly challenging, but isn’t it what loving others as if they were ourselves is all about? Like treating an open wound, applying love might sting at first. If we grit our teeth and keep pouring love onto the wound, however, our pain will eventually turn into joy. Moreover, it will bring us eternal honor.

Lover of God or Lover of Trinkets?

If you remain envious of others because of what God has given them, I am forced to wonder if you are like a despicable gold-digger who fakes love in the hope of financially bleeding a gullible man of all he has. Do you ‘love’ the One who is the opposite of gullible for what he gives, or do you love him for who he is? Do you view his gifts to people as mere trinkets compared with the priceless privilege of knowing him? Would you rather be in a concentration camp with Christ than in luxurious bless without him? If not, I put it to you that you desperately need to make seeking God top priority until you begin to discover who wonderful he truly is. Once you begin to glimpse him, you will be so captivated that you will long to make this never-ending discovery your top priority for all eternity.

Conclusion

In love, and in all morality, God is the one we are to pattern ourselves on:

    Luke 6:35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil.

    Ephesians 4:32 And be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God also in Christ forgave you.

    1 John 4:11 Beloved, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another.

Related Scriptures

There can be no trace of hypocrisy in the holy Lord. Your perfect Role Model expects you to love him with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength, because that’s precisely how he loves you. He instigated it all:

    1 John 4:19 We love him, because he first loved us.

    Romans 5:7-8; 10 For one will hardly die for a righteous man. Yet perhaps for a good person someone would even dare to die. But God commends his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. . . . while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God . . .

Logically, God loving you with all his heart, soul, mind and strength makes it impossible for him to love anyone more than you. He cannot even love his flawless eternal Son more than you. That’s why Jesus said such things as, “you [Father]  . . . loved them, even as you loved me,” (John 17:23) and “that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I in them,” (John 17:26) “Even as the Father has loved me, I also have loved you” (John 15:9).

Our own insecurities and inability to understand the infinite mind of God cast shadows, haunting our overactive imaginations into supposing we have glimpsed numerous reasons for suspecting God loves some people more than us. But there are no shadows in God (James 1:17; 1 John 1:5). Regardless of whether we are smart enough to see through the lies, every one of those apparent reasons for jealousy vanish in the light of divine truth.

There’s More

It is time to confess that after completing this webpage I crippled it by ruthlessly stripping each of the above points of about half the proof and reassurance it originally contained. The words I removed were just as powerful as what I kept. I took this drastic action for the sake of those whose need is so minor that they are now utterly convinced. I dare not abandon, however, the very many who crave more comfort, and want further help in fighting insecurity so that they can snuggle deeper into the certainty that no one is more loved or divinely treasured than they are. If this is you, please read Part 2:

Back to Why God’s Love Seems a Sick Joke

Most of the above is adapted extract from my webpage Signs of God’s Approval. Parts, however, are adapted from portions of my book Waiting for your Ministry.

Not to be sold. © Copyright, 2021 Grantley Morris. Not to be copied in whole or in part without citing this entire paragraph. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings by Grantley Morris available free at the following internet site www.net-burst.net Freely you have received, freely give.

 

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