Envy and Dreams
Envy: a confused, tangled guide to one’s own ambitions.
- Alain de Botton
This past Sunday I heard a great message on jealousy from 1 Samuel 18 and 19. Saul is king of Israel but David just defeated Goliath and is now the up and coming leader of Saul's army. David wins every battle against the Philistines. Saul gets jealous and tries to kill David. It's an age-old, tried and true formula.
Envy and jealousy are synonyms. Being jealous of someone's else accomplishments is envy. To envy means to covet another person's possessions and as a result, resent the fact that you don't have what they have while hating the other person in the process.
We are susceptible to envy in the areas we find value. For men, it's work. And for pastors, there is really only one measurement of success: the number of people in your church. Numbers are tangible evidence. You can touch them. You take in the fragrance of success when you enter a crowded Sunday service.
So when I see or hear about pastors more successful than I am, I am envious. I feel a writhing in the pit of my stomach and life drains from my soul. In its place is a hardened resentment towards myself. I wonder what's wrong with me. I obsess about my flaws and weaknesses. I feel like I'll never amount to anything. The hatred I feel towards those more successful than me reflects a profound dissatisfaction with who I am.
Envy is a form of self-hatred.
I don't really care about having a big church. I don't care that much about money. And I don't care about fame in the conventional way. But I do dream about having a positive impact on a large group of people and to be viewed as competent in what I do. Envying celebrity pastors doesn't show me exactly what my dreams are but it gets me in the area. I see pastors of large churches as competent and having a significant impact - and that's my dream. Envy refracts my dreams for God through the cracked lens of my ego.
Saul was anointed by Samuel as king over Israel. He dreams about being the type of king that David is becoming. And David is a constant reminder that Saul is not that guy. That's what covetousness is. The object of our jealousy is an ever-constant reminder that we are not the person we're hoping to become. Saul's dreams of the kingship were shattered and yet he was holding on, no matter what.
Envy also indicates in whom we are trusting to fulfill our dreams. Saul's jealousy of David tells us that he no longer trusted God to fulfill his dream of retaining the kingdom. He resorted to his own devices. When I envy, I am telling God that I do not trust him to fulfill my dreams. I do not trust his timing, I don't trust his plan, and I don't trust his provision.
Envy is the dark side of one's dreams.