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Do you? Rejoice with Those who Rejoice?

Woman skeptical of friend's new dress

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Romans 12:15

In the span of two hours, they came. Bing-bing, bing-bing.

First, the text: Please pray- my brother was just in a hit and run. Taken by Flight for Life. Might be head injuries and for sure broken bones. Please, just pray. I moan- I can’t help but moan and wince in pain- and pray.

Next, the post: One more pumpkin in the pumpkin patch, was how a cousin’s pregnancy announcement came.  No, even at 43, the empty womb hasn’t said, “enough.” Still, I push, Congrats on such a precious gift! 

Then: It was one year ago this weekend that we lost our baby. I was only 12 weeks along, but I can’t stop thinking about her. The tears just stream. Instantly, my own eyes water. I can’t help but hug this friend.

Last: I just started at my dream job this week, she said with glee. In fact, the board actually created the position for me. It’s a perfect fit. I swallow hard, My job is not a perfect fit. Especially not this weekStill.

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

Natural or Supernatural?

Is it easy for you? I mean, rejoicing with those who rejoice? Does that empathy come naturally?

For many of us, it’s the weeping part that’s easy.  After all, it’s a rare person who is not touched by the sight of someone in distress.

But sharing others’ joy can be hard, especially if their success is right near our wheelhouse- or would-be wheelhouse. I admit: when ugly envy besets me, it suffocates my joy-sharing empathy.

John Piper details several reasons we might not rejoice with those who rejoice. And rock bottom for most of us with this problem is the life-choking weed of pride. Because the self-preoccupied- whether with disappointment and hurt or with a sense of superiority- find it hard to rejoice in another’s success.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains why so many of us find it harder to rejoice with those who rejoice than to weep with those who weep.

Because the one rejoicing has probably had a great success or bit of good fortune. Then this element of competition comes in…. It’s innate within human nature. We want to become high and great and important. It is one of the main things that happened to man after the Fall: he became proud and self-centered…

And so we find it easy to sympathize with people who are not successful. They are not in competition with us. We feel we are in a better position. We’re up and they’re down, so we can afford to weep with them. It’s more or less natural.

Yes, for me the weeping part is natural. It’s the other that’s supernatural.

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

If you can’t feel the joy?

Fake it till you make it might not sound like sage spiritual advice. But I think it might be.

For so much of my own spiritual stretching has been related to those times I’m called not only to do, but to feel a certain way and I can’t seem to feel it- like joy.

At those times, I return to this practical advice from C.S. LewisWhat are [you] to do? The answer is the same as before. Act as if you did. Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, ‘If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?’ When you have found the answer, go and do it. The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did.  

Rejoicing doesn’t always feel like 100% authentic Abigail. Rejoicing with those who rejoice can feel like pretending. The joyful kind of empathic love doesn’t always come naturally. We know that the natural is opposed to the spiritual, that the flesh and the spirit conflict.

So no matter if sharing the joy doesn’t feel natural. God’s rule is simple: Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. Don’t waste time worrying if you feel the joy. Do not worry if it feels artificial to smile and say abouthis huge new house, or her wedding gown or his all-star son- That’s great!

Saying it might feel fake. But that’s okay. 

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

A Very Fine Nature

Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend’s success. What Oscar Wilde- a paragon, by the way, of a natural, self-preoccupied life- called a “very fine nature,” I call a  “new creation.”

You’re absolutely right: No one can ever do this for himself. No natural man cannot do this. Only the new creation can. It’s only as we work out while the Spirit works in that we can genuinely share the joy.

It’s only by grace through faith in Christ that I’m able to set aside my hurt and disappointment and pride so I can rejoice with those who are rejoice in things that aren’t mine.

Or are they? Can others’ joys be mine?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones again,

One trademark of our faith is that we are members of the same family and the same body. Nothing can happen to them unless it happens to you. When one member suffers, all the other members suffer with it [1 Cor. 12:26]. Whatever happens to the other  is really happening to you. The body cannot be divided into segments that are not connected. No, no- the body is one and organic and whole. An infection in the little toe can soon cause a headache.

When we show the joy, we might be surprised to find our friends’ joy really does become ours.

But who ever said anything about the Christian life being easy? Who ever guaranteed no growing pains? 

Not the Apostle Paul. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me (1 Cor. 15:10). In fact, I’ve heard it said, that there is not more thorough test of our profession of the Christian faith than just this, that we:

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

Joy Comes

Back to bing-bing #4. Remember that conversation with the friend who just landed that highly-satisfying, custom-fit job? I smiled, leaned in and asked,

So can you show me some of your work?

She did. She took me to an amazing website she’d built. And it was. It was a perfect fit for her passion and skill.

Then by some miracle of grace, it came. Genuine joy- the feeling not just the showing- welled up in me and I really did,

Rejoice with those who rejoice. 

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Do You DIGLI?

“God loves inequality…

In terms of gifts, talents, abilities, opportunities, blessings, God is unequally lavishat least according to our standards, and that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.” 

Joe Rigney, Desiring God Theology Refresh Podcast, 10/4/13

Why Differences Are Good

Differences mean inequality. And while some would have you think otherwise, the inequality inherent in our differences is actually a good thing.

In stature and smarts, in wealth and where we’re born, we’re all different. But that’s okay. It’s not a design flaw. God made us and his wide world to work this way and since He doeth all things well. Including the scattered way he hands out gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.

The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made (Psalm 145:17). Since God gave his gifts this unequal way, and He’s always loving and righteous, unequal must not be bad. The opposite must be true. In God’s economy unequal equals good.

Sure, we’re equal in the sense of being God’s image bearers, fearfully and wonderfully made. But since differences were arranged by Creator-He clearly dispenses his gifts in diverse and disproportionate ways, He must love inequality.

The body analogy helps us if we stall out here. The body shows us unequal does not mean unimportant.

And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. (1 Corinthians 12:16-18). 

God scatters grace and mercy as he wishes on whom he wills. He is lavishly, unequally loving toward all he has made.What do you with this truth?

What do you do when you brush right up against God’s gifts and blessings to others?

Do you say, It’s so unfair and envy? Or, As you wish, Lord, and DIGLI?

The Great Leveler

Inequality doesn’t need a fix. We don’t need to level the playing field. Five is not equal to three and that doesn’t make either digit a more necessary number. The world would not be better off with just fours.

Dorothy Sayers said, Envy is the great leveler. And that it always levels down. Envy and the resentment would have us lower the blessing bar to the lowest common denominator. If I can’t make a six-figure income, you can’t either. If my kid can’t be a champ, yours can’t be either.

The world does not dig our DIGLI. They don’t get our happy dance and would ban the chance to dance it if they could. Wealth we redistribute to make it more even and our fair women push to be combat-ready rangers. We used to have a valedictorian. Then came two and a few, and a dozen. Now we scrap the whole thing. And forget the solitary youth league MVP. Let’s give all the kids a trophy.

Whatever happened to the love of the game and enjoyment of excellence and savor the beauty? What when he got game, and it’s others’ excellence, and her beauty. Can we love inequality then?

If we believe the world’s lie, that unequal needs a fix, we can’t. But if we have eyes to see unequal as God’s gift, we can and will DIGLI.

When I DIGLI 

I love to get secondhand gifts. When God’s grace to others overflows to me, I’m not too proud to DIGLI.  

I DIGLI when Stephanie’s piano and song sing me up like a saint and when gaze at how another friend Shari can paint.

Shari’s Sheep

I DIGLI when a service tech looks under the hood and can fix the clunk while I wait and when from Jen’s backyard pool I pause and look out on her Edenic estate.

I DIGLI when one son soaks up a poem and recites it so easily and when the other knows just who needs a hug and exactly how firm it should be.

I DIGLI when kneel berry picking in my parents’ lush garden or lay lost in Middle-earth or Narnia, in Dumas or in Dickens.

I DIGLI when I belly laugh at Hawkins’ yoga pants and how to raise my hands and serious, too, when Platt and Piper preach powerful and true.

So DIGLI a lot, I do. And you? Do you Delight In God’s Lavish Inequality? You’ve got to have faith to love God’s scattered grace, to believe that the Word is true. Eyes of faith see his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he

When I Don’t DIGLI 

Sometimes I don’t DIGLI. I don’t dance that happy dance when with view askew I compare God’s mercy to others with God’s (perceived) mercy to me. Sin is crouching at my door, and when I start playing judge and jury, resentment and envy will have me.

God’s lavish inequality is revealed not just in scattered gifts, but in how he administers mercy, too. The way God relents and forgives, how he just swoosh erases others’ duly deserved punishment, that inequality, is harder for the Pharisee me to DIGLI. Like these three:

  • No fair, Mom! Gabe bellowed. Why does Sam get dessert? You said if he didn’t finish his broccoli he wouldn’t get dessert and now you’re letting him have ice cream. That is not right!
  • I’m not so sure that’s how it should be, I reasoned. Why did the boss give her that promotion, when she was the one who lost that big account last year? That is so unfair.
  • Isn’t this what I said? That’s why I made haste to flee; I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful… relenting from disaster…Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.

It’s harder for me when God’s lavish inequality comes in the form of lavish and unequal mercy. Then in a hard-nosed, self-righteous huff, I sometimes choke on the inequality.

Gabe couldn’t lick his ice cream because Mom let Sam have his. I couldn’t see them giving her the job when I had served my time. Jonah couldn’t abide God’s mercy to Nineveh when he knew how wicked they’d been.

Yes, God, we do do well to be angry. This is not as we wish. We will not DIGLI. 

How to Dance the DIGLI 

Then again we’re pricked, the brute beast in us knows: we’d be so much better off back on our happy feet. These three have helped me to delight in God’s lavish inequality.

1. Own the body analogy. When I see someone with gifts and abilities and blessings, which might be God’s gracious pardon, do I see God’s hand in it? Do I give thanks to the Giver of all gifts, who arranges all the parts of the body as he sees fit? Do I delight in secondhand gifts?

2. See yourself in the Bible stories. Are you Cain or Abel? Saul or Jonathan? Are you Jonah fuming under the shriveled vine. Do you cry, “Your mercy is too great. No fair. Why?” If you do, and I have, repent. Ask God to help you say with John, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

3. Give thanks. Anger and envy can’t dwell in grateful hearts. So anchor yourself in God’s grace with gratitude, says Rigney. Be grateful for gifts God gave them, including his mercy. No wrong has been done because God blessed them. There’s plenty of grace to go around. God won’t run out.

As You Wish

You all remember the beginning of Princess Bride, right?  

Nothing gave Buttercup as much pleasure as ordering Wesley around, Grandpa read.

Farm Boy, polish my horses’ saddle. Farm Boy, fill these with water. Please fetch that jar.

“As you wish,” was all Wesley ever said.  

Then one day Buttercup was amazed to discover that when he was saying,

 “As you wish,” he was really saying, “I love you.” 

It is that simple. Wesley’s words of true love and devotion should be ours, too. When we trust God, we DIGLI and say, As you wish, Lord. And then, we’re really saying, I love you.

So Lord, please help us to love how you allot your grace and your mercy. Help us love secondhand gifts and say, As you wish, Lord. Help us delight in your lavish inequality. 

Send out your light and your truth, let them lead me;
Let them bring me to your holy hill, to your dwelling place.
Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my joy and delight.
Psalm 43:3-4a

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Bid Envy Cease

Friend, I am doing you no wrong…Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? 
Or do you begrudge my generosity?
Matthew 20:13, 15

“Envy” panel, from Hieronymus Bosch’s,
 The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things, c. 1500 


Both the service and the reward are all of grace. The service itself is given us of God, and God rewards the service which he himself has given. We might almost speak of this an an eccentricity of grace. So it’s all of grace from first to last, and must never be viewed with a legal eye. 
-C. H. Spurgeon, from The First Last, and the Last First


Do you delight in God’s lavish inequality?


The music on the first Sunday of Advent was rapturous. 

Simply soulful. O Come, O Come Immanuel sung to four part harmony. That’s not all. Now Thank We All Our God, sung with parts from a hymnal! Beyond bliss.

Your voices blended so beautifully. It sounded just wonderful, I gushed as I ran into the soprano and bass parts after service.

Praise God, both humbly replied. 

Which is, I suppose, as it should be. To the praise of his glorious grace He arranges the parts. Perfect this morning were the voices leading us to worship the King. Helping us savor this wondrous gift, this Incarnate Son, Immanuel.
I can’t sing harmony to save my soul. My vocal genes: Irish tenor mixed with tone-deaf (or blissfully unaware) hippopotamus. Truly-my mom’s second grade music teacher said she sang like a hippo. So the legend goes.

Deadly, Green-eyed Envy

Envy is a feeling of unhappiness at the blessing of others. Aristotle (350 BC) said it was the pain that comes with others’ good fortune. It’s strong and powerful: Wrath is cruel, anger overwhelming, but who can stand before envy?  And we know it rots the bones. 

The vineyard owner’s words, Do you begrudge my generosity (Matthew 20:15) are literally, Is your eye bad because I am good? To envy is to resent God’s goodness; to have an evil eye. An evil green eye.

The eyes surely have it. Matthew Henry describes envy’s deep roots:

The eye is both the inlet and the outlet of this sin. Saul saw that David prospered, and he eyed him (1 Samuel 18:9). It is an evil eye, which is displeased at the good of others…Envy is unlikeness to God, who is good, and does good, and delights in doing good; no, it is an opposition and contradiction to God; it is a dislike of his proceedings, and a displeasure at what he does, and is pleased with. 

Envy tempts me to compare with others. Worse, envy tempts me to doubt God; to think his grace will run out. Or that God is all wrong in his allocation of gifts. Envy is a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:19). We’re told to put it away (1 Peter 2:1). It violates the two great commands at once. Love for God and our neighbor are both lacking when we begrudge God’s generosity to him.

Envy’s grip is strongest close to home. 

Which explains why my envy isn’t aroused so much by hearing angel voices-my half-hippo heritage never aspired vocally-as by reading brilliant blogs. The more focused we are on a hope or goal, the more intense the green-eyed gaze when the someone else reaches it. So it’s not all bloggers that tempt me to envy. Not Kevin DeYoung or Jon Bloom. Gifted as they are, they’re outside my circle.

It’s the blogs written by wise, youngish, Christian women bloggers. Jen Wilkin and Jean Williams are two such; grounded deep in the Word. I bid envy cease, and thank God for the spurring, gracious words he’s gifted them to write. Find Jen and Jean at http://jenwilkin.blogspot.com/  & http://jeaninallhonesty.blogspot.com/.

How do you bid envy cease? How do you kill this Deadly?  

Hint: The same way you fight against anger, pride, lust or greed. Kill it with the sword. Wield the sword of the spirit, the Word of God

Joe Rigney suggests we try to see ourselves in the biblical narratives. Envy is certainly no stranger to Scripture’s pages.  

As you read, ask yourself, am I more like:
  • Abel or Cain, whose face grew downcast when God favored his brother?
  • Joseph or his brothers, who hated him because Jacob loved him most?
  • Jonathan or Saul, who grew angry and displeased hearing how David killed his tens of thousands? 
  • Nicodemus or the chief priests, who out of envy delivered Jesus to be killed?

If you see yourself in Saul, own these 3 envy-slaying truths:

1. Give thanks to God for his gifts to you.  
In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. God’s will, His highly sought, prayed for will is this: give thanks. For life and love, for food and friends; For everything thy goodness sends, Almighty God we thank thee. Ministry, work, health, family, forgiveness…keep on thanking.

In this short podcast, author Joe Rigney explains why it’s “Hard for envy to hide in a grateful heart.” I know it’s true. Many a envious grudge have been driven out of this sinful heart as jog along, or sit and jot, my thanks to God.

2. Quit Comparing: Follow Jesus.
He’d just assured Jesus of his love and been given a sacred task, and his martyr death foretold. Then, Peter turned and saw the disciple Jesus loved following them. Was it just curiosity or envy creeping up? Maybe it sounded like, But Lord, that’s not fair if John isn’t killed the same way I’ll be.

So Peter asks, Lord, what about this man? Then, the One-perfect in all his ways and loving in all he does-answers,  If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you. You follow me! That’s the way to kill the green-eyed monster. Follow Jesus. Press on to know Him. 

In our house, we have a saying. It’s mostly heard when one piece of pizza has more pepperonis, or one cookie has more chips. You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. Baby steps.

3. Give thanks to God for his gifts to others. 
This is the clincher. Love inequality. It is counter-cultural in our egalitarian age. But, as Joe Rigney observes, God is unequally lavish. It’s not a bug. It’s a feature. Paul opens his first letter to the Corinthians thanking God for them, because of the grace of God that was given to them, in every way [they] were enriched in him in all speech and knowledge.
I want to own this truth. It was easy on Sunday. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. And give thanks that they’re used.

Killing envy means embracing God’s sovereignty. 

Can we affirm with Abraham, against the green eyes of envy, that surely the Judge of all the earth will do what is just? And say with Job, in the midst of great loss, though he slay me, yet will I trust in him? So help us, God.

The owner of the vineyard gave the same payment for an hour’s work as for a full day’s work. It hardly seems fair. But he hadn’t promised fair-equal pay for equal work, when he hired. Only, whatever is right I’ll pay you. A denarius sounded good when the laborers hired on, whether at 7 am or 9 am, 12 noon or 3 pm, or, even at the 11th hour.

Can you allow God, even thank God, for being on the throne? We allow God to be in his workshop fashioning worlds and stars; preached C.H. Spurgeon, and in his storehouses bestowing bounty. 

But to give thanks to him as Sovereign, giver of all good gifts-and unequally has he scattered his gifts- now, that’s a supernatural work.

A work that bids strife, quarrels and envy cease.

Even so does the God of heaven and earth ask this question of you this morning. “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?”  Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe troubles, they believe that Sovereignty hath ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children of God ought more earnestly to contend than the dominion of their Master over all creation—the kingship of God over all the works of his own hands—the throne of God, and his right to sit upon that throne. 

C. H. Spurgeon, Divine Sovereignty