Envy and Trusting God With the Future


My pastor recently preached a sermon on envy. I didn’t like the sermon very much — because I tend not to like things that make me squirm and expose my sin. I didn’t like it, but I needed it. I needed it because it shone a bright light into a part of my heart that had been dark enough for me to ignore.

In the week or two prior to that sermon, I had felt hurt by and frustrated with a number of people. Most of the situations involved were minor, though some touched on more major wounds or past hurts. My feelings, though, were so strong that it was hard for me to think rightly about how to respond or to be prayerful about why I was feeling these things so deeply and personally. But as I listened to that sermon and thought back on those particular hurts and frustrations, it became clear that at the root of them was this ugly little thing called envy.

One of the sermon texts was Proverbs 23:17-18, which reads:

(17) Let not your heart envy sinners,
but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day.
(18) Surely there is a future,
and your hope will not be cut off.

As I read those verses before church that Sunday morning, it struck me to see the words that followed verse 17. The words of verse 18 revealed something in my own heart by speaking directly to it: When I am envying another person, part of what’s happening inside of me is that I am struggling to believe that there is a future, and I am questioning whether my hope will be cut off. Indeed, as Derek Kidner writes in his commentary on this verse, envy “[springs] from an undue occupation with oneself and with the present.”[1] I don’t know what the internal monologue of envy sounds like for you, but for me envy looks and sounds something like this:

When I see someone else succeed or receive the recognition I long for, I find myself thinking… No one notices me. There goes my chance.
When I see someone else pursue and excel in something I’m passionate about, I find myself thinking… Why do I even bother? I should just quit. 
When I see someone else get engaged, married, or have children, I find myself thinking…Well, guess I’ll just be single and childless for my whole life. 
When I see someone else being included in the kind of community I’d love to be a part of, I find myself thinking (in the words of that awfully hilarious, or hilariously awful children’s song)… Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms.

My envious heart quickly throws the kind of pity party that only the fatalistic and hopeless are welcome to attend. It’s a party of one, and that one feels very forgotten.

But the truth is that this one is not forgotten; rather, she has forgotten.
Forgotten that she is part of a bigger Story.
Forgotten that she is created, adopted, and loved by a big God.
Forgotten that she is called to love, worship, and trust this God, and that he is worthy of her reverent trust.
Forgotten that He sees more than she ever could — including a future beyond what she can imagine.
Forgotten that He will not withhold from her, abandon her, or cut her off.
Forgotten that in Him, her future and her hope are secure.

(17) Let not your heart envy sinners,
but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day.
(18) Surely there is a future,
and your hope will not be cut off.

There is much grace in the gentle reminder of these two little verses — the grace of conviction, but also the grace of assurance. That conviction leads me to examine my heart and repent of my envy as well as the distrust behind it and the distance it creates between me and those I envy. That assurance invites and encourages me not only to continue to hope, but to imagine what it would look like to celebrate for and with others who have cause to rejoice, rather than envying them for it.

I pray, for myself and for all of us, that as we are tempted towards envy we would look to the One who sees us, continue to offer him our reverent trust and loving obedience, and remember that in Him, our future and our hope are secure.

DSC_7437Jenilyn Swett is a daughter of God who is passionate about hospitality, education, and helping others to know God and themselves better. She believes that all of those things go hand-in-hand, and can be best accomplished when good food, good music, a whiteboard, and fresh flowers are involved. Jenilyn grew up in Minnesota, spent four post-college years in Alabama, and now calls St. Louis, Missouri home. She received her MDiv from Covenant Seminary and serves as the Director of Women’s Ministry and Adult Education at Crossroads Presbyterian Fellowship.

[1] Derek Kidner, Proverbs. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Volume 17 (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 144.



One thought on “Envy and Trusting God With the Future

Comments are closed.