Revive Our Hearts Podcast

How Unbelief Leads to Envy

Leslie Basham: Here’s Melissa Kruger.

Melissa Kruger: I think we think that we can get out of relationships what only Christ is really able to provide. And so Christ alone can fill our relationships and fill the other things in our lives. When we start hoping in those items to be our savior, they’re always going to fail and disappoint us.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Holiness, for Wednesday, August 16, 2017.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Yesterday, we heard the first part of a conversation between Erin Davis and Melissa Kruger. Erin heads up the Lies Young Women Believe blog for Revive Our Hearts, and she met up at a Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference to talk with Melissa Kruger.

Melissa’s the author of a book called The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World.

Now, yesterday Erin and Melissa began helping us realize some of the subtle forms that envy can take. And today, as we pick back up, we’ll see how envy can be evident when we compare ourselves to others. Let’s listen.

Erin Davis: As you were retelling Eve’s story, I was thinking how easy it was to trick her. I mean, she fell for it. Really, there wasn’t any convincing; they didn’t have to hash it out. I think those lies are so close to the surface of our heart that we fall for them. I know I do, over and over again.

Melissa: Oh, yes. It’s just those little questions . . .

Erin: You give three characteristics of coveting. They’re heavy hitters, these characteristics.

One: Coveting is a sin pattern, not a circumstance. Ouch! What’s the difference?

Melissa: Well, I think what most of us can see. We can look best at a pattern in our lives. Just think back: What did you really want when you were fifteen? You might laugh at yourself now. You’re like, “I’m so glad I didn’t get that!” And you really wanted something or someone, and then you look at your twenties, and you were aching for something else. And then you go to your thirties, and you’re aching for something else. And then you’re forty and there’s this pattern that continues in life.

I realized it really is a sin pattern that continues to rob us of joy. It’s not just our circumstances. The reality is, as Jesus said, “In Me you will have peace. In this world you’ll have trouble. Take heart, I’ve overcome the world” (see John 14:27).

It’s like we don’t want that second part. We want to hear about the peace, and so we think it should just descend on us. But He’s saying the world, the circumstances you’re going to face are full of trouble. In Me you’ll find peace, not in the circumstances I give you.

When we feel enslaved to our circumstances, we’re just always reacting to them, and we feel beat up about life. But when we recognize it as a sin pattern, we know we can fight a sin pattern. We can’t fight a circumstance, except we do try to control it and make it happen the way we want.

Sarah did that with Abraham. It didn’t go well. We have examples of people who did that. But the reality is, this pattern is going to continue no matter what our circumstances are. So we need to accept: I may get the thing I want, but my heart will still be struggling with this pattern.

Erin: I think there are women of every age who will be listening to this, and maybe right now, as they’re driving or sitting at their desk, and for the first time realize, I’ve always operated this way. I really just thought it was circumstance to circumstance. But looking back, I can see I’ve always had this struggle with envy, with covetousness, with greed, those things that you described. So I appreciate the hope that you offer them.

The second characteristic of coveting is: Coveting is marked by comparison and entitlement.

Melissa: Yes. Those are fun words. Right?

Erin: They’re hard! I mean, I think, if we’re honest, we all fall into one of those camps, or both of those camps, where we have a propensity to chronically compare or fight feelings of entitlement.

I don’t know if you feel this way, but motherhood tends to aggravate the entitlement one for me the most.

Melissa: Oh, yes.

Erin: Just this week, we’d had a really busy day. I’m putting my kids to bed early, and I was just looking forward to “Netflexing.” So I got the laundry going and the dishes going, and it was going to be my moment, and I hear this little voice, “Mama. Mama, me sleep with you? Mommy, you sleep with me?”

And I was like, “No!” I wanted my comfort more than I wanted to comfort him. And what that was was entitlement. And it was ugly—ugly!

Melissa: Yes, it really does. We wrestle with what we think it should be, and sometimes we’re comparing to our image of what my night might be.

So you have an image: “I’m going to sit, and I’m going to relax, and I’m going to put my feet up.” And so you’re thinking, This is not what’s happening. This is not the evening I was hoping for. And it really does just overflow, often in my heart at least, with anger or bitterness or frustration.

It was such a difference when I started to say, “I’m going to accept from the Lord whatever He brings into my life.” Well, let me say this: It made a difference in that I learned what I was fighting quicker. It doesn’t always happen immediately.

But I do think it’s important to note that we’re not just comparing because sometimes we can say, “That’s a blue shirt and a red shirt.” That’s a comparison. But it’s comparison filled with the entitlement, and that’s when we get into problems.

When I’m looking in your life, and I’m saying, “Her husband gets home at six every night. I could be such a better mother, but my husband works out of town a lot or he’s not home at or he doesn’t get home until seven, and so I kind of have a right to yell at my kids tonight.”

Erin: Yes. That’s the, “That’s not fair” cry of covetousness that you mentioned.

Melissa: Yes. We justify our sinful reactions because we’re not getting what we want. Often I find that's where I compare the most, that I am struggling with this sin the most. That’s a big helpful thing for me to figure out: Where is the sin in my life? Often, it’s where I compare.

I will often either despair that God is good, or I will judge the person who has what I want, and I’ll pretend that I don’t want it.

Erin: I think women might have some truth, but they might recognize it in their life and be trying to fight the anger or be trying to fight the apathy—whatever the response is—and you trace it to this root of coveting and comparison and entitlement. And while that’s painful, when you yank something out by the root, or when Jesus yanks something out by the root in our hearts, then we can have some victory. It’s helpful, though painful.

Melissa: Yes, and healing.

Erin: Sure.

Melissa: It’s so healing to realize what I am fighting. So rather than just thinking, Oh, everything hard keeps happening to me. Now I can say, “Oh, I can have joy today even though it’s hard. I can turn to Christ in such a way that His life is lived in me, and I really can rejoice in all circumstances, like Paul, and be content in every circumstance.”

And he said, specifically, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That’s what that passage is linked with—contentment—that maybe is more important than storming the castle. We kind of picture that verse, “I can do all things,” as though we’re going to take on the world. But he’s talking about taking on contentment.

It’s hard to storm the castle of contentment, and he’s saying, “I can do it because Christ is in me.”

Erin: I think it’s easy to read that passage and think Paul had some sort of spiritual super vitamin, but what he had was Jesus. We have access to the same grace, the same Christ who’s sitting on the same throne. So we can be content in all circumstances. I think it feels unattainable at times.

Melissa: Yes. And what Paul really had access to was a lot of suffering.

Erin: Yes.

Melissa: When you really look at his life, the reason he can say he’s content in every circumstance is because he’d been beaten, whipped, and shipwrecked, and all these things. I’m looking at the world sometimes so fearfully because I really haven’t had to face some of those things.

So he knew Christ was enough because he had walked through the fire.

Erin: The one that slays me is when he was shipwrecked and then the snake came out of the fire and bit his hand. And yet—contentment—because he had faced a lot of worse case scenarios, and Jesus was in every single one.

Melissa: That’s right.

Erin: I met this woman recently. I was traveling, and we got to talking. Her husband was a pastor, and he was murdered. It was a horrible circumstance. So she’s describing that he had been missing for several days, and they found him, and he’d been murdered. It was about a year after that event, and I didn’t know what to say.

I looked her in the eyes, and I said, “Are God’s promises true?”

And she said, “Absolutely! They’re all true.”

I think she could probably speak like Paul about being content in all circumstances because she had faced some horrific circumstances, and Jesus was there.

Hopefully I don’t have to learn these lessons that way, but one of my favorite questions to ask people who are older than me and have lived longer than me is, “Tell me about that time God let you down.” And He never did. He never has.

So, contentment, I hope, can maybe be sometimes picked up from other people.

Melissa: Yes, and just the wisdom older people have, bcause they have lived through a lot more than what we think we’re suffering through.

Erin: Right. Absolutely. So, the third characteristic of coveting is: Coveting is a besetting sin.

Melissa: Yes.

Erin: Way to go for the jugular there!

Melissa: Yes, I know.

Erin: So what’s the difference between sin and besetting sin, and have you seen this in your own life?

Melissa: Well, I think the thing about coveting is that it gives birth to all the others. You’re never going to steal if you haven’t first coveted an item. So these desires that are working in our heart, they don’t stay there. They come out and break the other ones.

You’re not going to commit adultery if you haven’t first been lusting, which is part of coveting, after someone.

You’re not going to commit false testimony if you’re not wanting some other desire in your heart.

If I was to wrap up the Ten Commandments and say, “Just in case you thought you were safe, I want you to know it’s not just the outer.” It shows you He was always going for the heart. He says, “I want to peel back the layers and say, ‘No. Even your desires are wrong.’ So just in case you thought your actions were okay, let Me make sure, we’re going to clear this up, you need Me way more than you ever thought you did.”

So it really does—coveting just gives birth to all these other sins. And so we can fight just the outward sins, or we can really fight in the place of the heart. I think Christ is constantly calling us to go to the heart.

For me, it’s been such an exercise of grace because I continue to fail in this area. What God continually shows me is He is big enough, His redemption is enough for my sin, and I’m a lot more gracious toward other people who are fighting with sins because I’ve realized how hard it is to fight any sin.

So we’re all fighting at some level, and this one really gets to the heart of things in my opinion.

Nancy: You’re listening to Revive Our Hearts, and we’re hearing a convicting conversation on envy between Erin Davis and Melissa Kruger. Melissa’s the author of The Envy of Eve. Now, let’s get back to the conversation.

Erin: I think the purpose of the Ten Commandments is not to squash us. It’s to point us to Jesus and our need for the gospel.

Melissa: Yes, so He gets bigger.

Erin: Sure. Envy is one of those things that we can either have this conversation and realize that it’s deeply rooted in us, and it’s a besetting sin, and we can gravitate toward despair or defeat. That’s not what the Lord wants us to do. Or we can look to the cross and ask for His help.

Melissa: That’s right. And the hope of all of this is that we expose it so that we expose grace, so that it gets bigger. Then we realize, Oh, You’ve done so much more for me than I even understood. And it’s not until you’re really fighting sin that you realize how hard it is to conquer. And, “So that’s what my Savior did for me!” And so we rejoice all the more.

That’s the goal. It’s actually joy and contentment in the Lord. That’s what we’re hoping to get by being in battle with the sin.

Erin: So you trace coveting back to an unlikely root, which is unbelief, and then you kind of explore three areas of unbelief. I think the specifics of that are really helpful. So, the first you say is when we’re wrestling with coveting and envy that that’s rooted in an unbelief in the character of God. Can you explore that with me?

Melissa: Yes. I think we often think that we know everything about God, which, clearly, He’s an eternal being, so that’s a pretty high to set ourselves on knowing. I think the reality is that our unbelief is we want it to be just about our circumstance or something a little more neutral, but it’s really about God and what He’s doing.

“Are His promises true?” That really is the question that we’re asking. That has something to do with who God is. “Are God’s promises true?” is a real question of belief.

Erin: “Can He be trusted?”

Melissa: Yes. I think that’s a big question for us to be asking, but He clearly says in the Scriptures that He’s good, and that He’s reigning, and everything’s well, and He’s actually working everything for our good.

So it really is this unbelief about who that God is that Scriptures say He is. If we really believe in who He said He was, we would trust Him. We would say, “Oh, I can trust that no matter what happens, it has to be for my good.”

So often there are situations in my own life that I see myself saying, “How could this ever be for good?”

Erin: Yes.

Melissa: I think those are places where we wrestle. I don’t think that’s easy because we’ve all suffered very difficult things in our lives that we do have to wrestle with, but, when it really comes down to it, we have to realize our biggest question is: “Is God true? And is what He said true?”

And that’s really a wrestling. It helps us go back to that position rather than just, “What do I do with these circumstances I’m facing?”

Erin: I love the descriptions C.S. Lewis gives us of this idea in the Chronicles of Narnia, in that He is not a tame lion, but He is good.

Melissa: Yes. That’s what I was thinking.

Erin: There’s this sense that He’s wild, and He’s cosmic, and He’s big. And, certainly, I can’t understand a lot of how He orders my life and the world around me and other people’s lives, but don’t you think it’s so freeing and a huge step toward contentment to say, “But He is good”?

Melissa: Yes. Can’t we all look back at parts of our lives and say, “Oh, I would have chosen for my life so poorly if I was really king over my life”?

I realize I don’t know the beginning from the end. I know such a mere sliver of history. I would have picked all the wrong people to marry. I would have wanted all these wrong things.h e older I get, I think it's almost easier to trust that His ways are good and that He’s been leading well all along. But especially in our twenties, I really think that’s when, for a lot of us, the wrestling with these issues is full force.

Erin: If only we were as smart as we thought we were when we were in our twenties. Right.

Melissa: It would be so easy!

Erin: Everything would be great! But I think at every age we can cling to that. I don’t understand this, but He’s not a tame lion, but He is good.

And the truth is you need to recalibrate the unbelief in the character of God to understanding the sovereignty and the goodness of God, that He’s Lord over all our days, that He’s Lord over our salvation, that He’s Lord over our suffering and our sin.

I’m wondering, practically, how do you counsel yourself with those truths that can be kind of lofty?

Melissa: The easiest image for me always to go back to is the cross of Christ. That one’s very tangible for me because I’m thinking, If He ordained this most evil act of all of history, and somehow God has used it for the good of redeeming me and you and everyone who is in the world, if He can take the most horrific event that ever happened and use it for good, can’t I trust Him with the rest, even when I don’t understand it?

I preach the gospel in some sense to myself, and it always comes back to the cross. This is His love for me, and if He did this for me, can’t I trust what He withholds for me, because there must be a good reason. He’s given the most precious thing He had to give. So anything else that He withholds, it must not be good for me.

Erin: Yes. We get into trouble any time we get very many steps away from the cross. Don’t you think?

Melissa: That’s right. It needs to continually be bigger and bigger in our lives. Sometimes it just sits in a corner, and we don’t really think about what happened. Easter is not just a day. It’s a way of living. We want that resurrection hope to really guide our lives.

Erin: Yes. You talk about another root of unbelief which is unbelief in our purpose. What is our purpose? What is our God-given purpose?

Melissa: Well, I think how the Westminster confession actually sums it up because it’s nice and neat and easy to remember. It says “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” I like that because it’s an affectionate, warm relationship with God.

Erin: Sure. That’s true.

Melissa: I think that I am often trying to make my purpose to be happy.

I just want my purpose to be gather all the toys and make my life look like the American dream. God is dreaming much bigger dreams and better dreams for me, but I’m wanting these lesser things.

He wants to make me look like Christ, and I just want to be made to look like everybody else. I’m asking for a lesser thing. He wants me to look like His Son, and some days that’s going to take painful trials to get off all the dross in my life. But He cares much more that I look like Christ than I just look like my neighbor.

Erin: Then, another root is unbelief in our relationships. What do you mean—that they won’t come true or they’ll fall apart? What does that look like, unbelief in our relationships?

Melissa: I think we think that we can get out of relationships what only Christ is really able to provide. We put the weight of hope in a relationship or person, and they can’t bear the weight of that hope.

Even my husband, who has promised to spend all of his life with me until he or I die—that’s all he can promise me. He can’t promise me what Christ can promise. Christ can say, “I will be with you no matter what happens.” My husband can’t promise even tomorrow because he doesn’t know how long he’s been given.

So Christ alone can fill our relationships and fill the other things in our lives. When we start hoping in those items to be our savior, they’re always going to fail and disappoint us.

Erin: You tell us that when we see coveting in our own lives, we’ve gotten real about the fact that it’s much deeper than we might originally think. You invite us to confess freely instead of hiding. You explore that pattern where hiding is almost always part of the deal when it comes to envy.

I’m interested in what that looks like practically. The woman who’s struggling with envy, can she just confess it to the Lord in prayer? Is there somebody else that she needs to confess that to? Does she need to continue to confess it?

A woman who recognizes this besetting sin of envy, she sees the pattern in her life, how would you advise her to confess?

Melissa: I think that some of the difference would come when we come to prayer time with our friends. Let’s say we’re going around in a small group, and often, what we do when we share what’s hard in our life, is we pour out our complaint before our small group. We just talk about our circumstances and all these things are going on, and it’s so terrible, and feel sympathy for me, and listen to me.

And there’s a right place for that, but I think, at that moment, you can quietly confess, but my real problem is how my heart is dealing with these circumstances and each time it might be different.

One time it might be something’s going on with my kids, and another time something’s going on with my job. These can take a variety of holds. It doesn’t even always have to be I’m an envious person, and I confess it. But it could be: “In this situation at work, I realize I’m really jealous of my friend and what she’s doing,” or “I don’t want this job, and I’m jealous of my other friend’s job. Would you pray for my heart in this?” Versus: I think we often just pray for our circumstances to change.

Erin: Yes.

Melissa: It changes a little bit of the conversation that we’re even having with our friends when we recognize that the biggest issue in all of these things in my heart, not just my circumstances.

Erin: I think that’s a simple pivot. Simple, but not easy to do. I think about how we end our small group: We write our prayer needs on index cards and kind of shuffle those around. It would be an easy pivot to say: “How could we pray for your heart?” Versus: “How could we pray for your circumstances?”

I think circumstances might be a part of that, but that helps dig down a little deeper. So I appreciate that practical advice

Melissa: Think how Paul rarely prayed about anybody’s circumstances. Yet, he prayed that their love might abound more and more in depth and knowledge and insight. He prayed these bigger prayers, and I think it teaches us that sometimes—it’s not that we can’t pray for healing. We should pray for all things at all times. But we shouldn’t just pray for those.

We can pray bolder, bigger prayers that. . .yes, we can pray for the healing of someone’s cancer, but we can also pray that that person is a light when she walks into the cancer treatment center, and that she spreads the gospel while she’s there, and that her heart does it joyfully. We can pray those prayers.

Wouldn’t that be even just as big of a miracle?

Erin: Sure.

Melissa: Sometimes we just get caught up in the circumstances.

Nancy: Melissa Kruger and Erin Davis have been talking about the danger of comparing ourselves with other people. They’ve reminded us that there’s a far greater treasure available than keeping up with everyone else, and that treasure is God Himself.

Melissa writes about this in her book called, The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World.

If you’ve been intrigued or convicted by today’s conversation, I want to encourage you to go further into this topic by getting a copy of Melissa’s book. Melissa will show you how to fight against covetousness and discontentment, and she’ll take you to the root of this issue, which is unbelief, and point you to the joys and freedom that are found through trust in God.

When you support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount, we’ll send you a copy of Melissa’s book. Just ask for the book, The Envy of Eve, when you call with your donation. The number is 1–800–569–5959, or visit us at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Leslie: Thanks, Nancy.

Melissa Kruger and Erin Davis will be back tomorrow to show you ways to escape from envy. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants you to be content with what God’s given. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.