Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? Proverbs 27:4
Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend’s success.
By this measure, Oscar Wilde’s measure, my nature is not very fine. I get jealous. Sometimes—when a friend shares a joy I wish was mine— I fake a smile. Mine is still a sin-twinged nature.
My daily reading today were 1 Samuel 18 and Acts 13. They got me thinking on jealousy. When David returned from striking down Goliath and the women came out singing, “Saul has slain his thousands; David has slain his ten thousands” Saul was very angry and greatly displeased (1 Samuel 18:7-8).
The word jealousy isn’t there but it’s there. So much, in fact, that King Saul repeatedly, ruthlessly sought to kill David. He nearly speared him to the wall in his jealous rage.
But in Acts 13:45 the word JEALOUSY is used: “The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him.”
Jealousy messes with our minds. It makes us assume the worst of others and to doubt God. And maybe it’s equally a sign of a messed-up mind. A mind that thinks it deserves what God has not given so much that it would hurt the one who has what it desperately wants.
Not A Jealous Bone
But, the good news is that if we are in Christ we are not slaves to sin, but to righteousness. Jealousy knocks at our door but we must master it. More good news, with the Spirit’s power, we can.
The Bible has some great examples of meek, contented souls. Like Jonathan, Saul’s son, the would-be-heir of the Israel’s throne who loved David as his own soul and helped to save his life (1 Samuel 18:3-4).
And in Acts 13:43, we read that there were “many Jews and devout converts to Judaism who followed Paul and Barnabas,” urged “to continue in the grace of God.”
Not a jealous bone in Jonathan and those many Jews. Theirs was such grace, such faith that God is good. Counting His blessings crushes my jealous bones.
So dear God, increase my faith. Help me put on the Lord Jesus Christ so jealousy won’t have me.
Let us behave properly as in the day […] not in strife and jealousy.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Afterward: Yes, you are absolutely right. Our God, our righteous, holy God is a jealous God. Our jealousy reveals two things-two hopeful things:
Through jealousy, God shows us two things. First, he shows us himself. He is a jealous God (he even says “my name is Jealous” Exodus 34:14). It is part of his character as the covenanting God to take on the pain and hurt of experiencing his bride’s unfaithfulness (Hosea 4:13–14). Through our jealousy, we experience a communicable divine emotion (Deuteronomy 32:21).
Second, he shows us ourselves. Through jealousy, the deepest desires of our hearts are elicited and amplified (Genesis 22:12; Psalm 66:18–20). The fire burns away the distractions of life’s details to show us the things we treasure. This process of internal emotional suffering — of jealousy most pointedly — can help clarify and bring to the surface all that we would otherwise have kept hidden from God and even from ourselves.
Cut comma, delete clause, better word. First impression! No typos on this one, Abigail. Big breath. Triple check.
Read it out loud. Read it again.
Is it wrong to want more influence? Is it bad to try to build your tribe? And is it sinful to want more opportunity to make a bigger mark for God?
It all depends.
It depends first of all if you’re being, what Paul David Tripp calls, a glory thief. If you’re craving the credit for what only God could create, or wanting your tribe to dote on you and hang on your words rather than worship God, you are a glory thief.
But there’s this other piece I’m learning. S L O W L Y learning. I am learning that while it isn’t wrong to approach Mom’s apple from a position of scarcity—because there are a limited number of pieces— it is both irrational and wrong to approach ministry and writing this way.
Because there is plenty of ground to go around.
On Friday, I wrote the big **Intro Post** to the Hope*Writers group I joined four months ago. Four months of build up to make the perfect first impression that could connect me to the “right people” and help launch the MORE MEEK book before long. That’s what the deleting and cutting and breathing and re-reading were all about before I hit post.
Saturday evening I looked back at the post, back at the group. I looked back like Lot’s wife and I started comparing. Not only the meager likes and tepid welcomes on my intro post with the massive likes and red hot welcomes on Amy’s intro post, but my life with her life.
You see, Amy was working for the campus organization that I almost joined 20 years ago. She is doing what I love do as her job. Plus Amy has a real book published by a real publishing house.
Silent tears kicked off a short-lived, impromptu pity party on Saturday night.
Yes, I know. Ug-ly.
Tend Your Territory
Enter Jonathan Rogers into my ugliness. The words of his post were God sent for me that Saturday night, when I started comparing my writing with hers.
Rogers describes urges his writing readers to switch from a hierarchical orientation to a territorial orientation. A hierarchical orientation is fueled by comparison. Instead of comparing and thinking better than, more than, think of faithfulness tending your land. Because comparison, we know, is the thief of joy.
Writing, like running (and, for that matter, like football) requires discipline and work and a willingness to do hard things when a thousand easier things present themselves. But the goal of all of that work and discipline is to get better, not to get better THAN. Other writers are your allies, not your adversaries…
If you’re a writer, forget about your place in the hierarchy. You don’t have a place in the hierarchy because there is no hierarchy in any meaningful sense. What you have is a territory—a little patch of ground that is yours to cultivate. Your patch of ground is your unique combination of experiences and perspective and voice and loves and longings and community. Tend that patch of ground.
Please be encouraged. Because we all have a patch of God-given territory. It’s ours to tend. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.
So tend your little patch of ground that is uniquely yours. Tend the girlfriends who want to spend time with you. And tend the growing sons who need you even if they don’t want you. Tend the home that needs your gentle stability. Attend to the readers and listeners God sends you.
Tend, tend, tend. Tend them.
Two Prayers: Both/And
Remember the prayer of Jabez? It’s buried in an obscure passage in a rather obscure Old Testament book. The genealogy is humming along, when after forty-four names, the name Jabez breaks in. And in 1 Chronicles 4:10 we read,
Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.
Jabez prayed for more territory—for me that might look like more people to encourage with God’s Word, more Bible studies, more readers, and maybe, getting that MORE MEEK book in print. What would enlarged territory look like for you?
Pray for it. But remember, too, the words of Psalm 131—that little prayer that King David prayed,
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Both. Pray for an enlarged territory. Pray that your little patch of influence for Christ, please God, would increase.
After a three month build up to that big first impression intro*post, which 5-6 hours of deliberation, I did the deed on Friday. Then came the sore dejection and deflation on Saturday when I compared my post, and my life, with Amy’s.
Then I got to tending. I started the Bible study prep in the Gospel of Matthew for my little Sunday afternoon territory. And as I prepared this little patch of ground that God has entrusted to me, I started to see that even though my envy is ugly, God isn’t afraid of ugly. So neither should we be. Jesus touched the unclean and made them clean. He deals in beauty made from ashes.
It was getting late and I was still straddling the fence. But my choice distilled to this: Do I stay at the party or blow the joint with the meek and humble Jesus?Do I compare or choose fellowship with the man of no reputation? I can’t do both.
He knows. Which means he can sympathize with the likes of you and me.
All Glory Be To Christ
That was Saturday night. Then came Sunday morn.
God wasn’t done speaking to me about envy and legacy. He speaks through his Word. Sometimes his Word is expressed through man’s lips or song lyrics that remind us of God’s truth.
And it just so happened that on the first Sunday of the new year we sang a song that starts like this, and this pity-party throwing, would-be glory thief was all undone.
In the best of ways.
Should nothing of our efforts stand No legacy survive Unless the Lord does raise the house In vain its builders strive To you who boast tomorrow’s gain Tell me what is your life A mist that vanishes at dawn All glory be to Christ
Fraught is the word of the week. As in headlines like, “How is TV news going to cover the weirdest, most fraught election in US history?” Or, “How to talk to kids about the election and fraught politics.” Fraught, fraught, fraught. Fraught.
Election or not, our lives are fraught.
So just what is “fraught”? It’s an adjective and its strong synonym is UNEASY. The word worked its way to us from the Middle Dutch noun vracht, which meant “load” and which is also the source of the word freight. As in baggage, burden and load.
Merriam-Webster defines fraught as,
1: full of or accompanied by something specified —used with with a situation fraught with danger; The paper was poorly researched and is fraught with errors.
2: causing or characterized by emotional distress or tension : a fraught relationship
I’m writing this post to reassure my fraught self and your fraught self that God strikes with severe mercy—he shakes our sense of security and sends moths to devour our treasures—because our Lord God will not share his glory with another or his praise with idols (Isaiah 42:8). In his grace, our Lord will not permit us to have stability apart from Himself.
In other words, I’m here to say that God sends these fraught days.
God Sends Fraught Days
Why? James answered well: “that you may be perfect [mature] and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1.4).
That’s good, right? Who wouldn’t want to be mature and complete lacking nothing?
But what if those only come at the cost of days fraught?
Our current trials may be discipline. Covid-19, the political scene, and our increasingly tense relationships could be God’s moths. He might bring these circumstances so that we tighten our grip on him or he could be bringing it to loosen our grip on our treasures. But in both cases God is working in and through these fraught days to make himself our chief treasure.
Consider the Psalmist in Psalm 39. He believed that what he was enduring was a result of divine discipline for sin.
Erik Raymond explains,
In other words, God sends the discipline and the circumstances act as a divinely dispatch moth to consume his treasure! This is good because in sin we are, like Achan, hiding treasures in our tent (Josh. 7.22). God intends to unfasten us from these fleeting treasures and to refasten us, wholly and completely upon himself.
Regardless of whether our specific sin prompted these fraught Trump v. Biden post-election days or if God’s more general goal that his children grow in holiness was the cause (Hebrews 12:10), we can rest assured. For we know that if we are patient and trained by our trials, these fraught days will yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11).
Therefore, we should not be too taken aback.
We Should Not Be Too Taken Aback…
I, for one, do not want to miss the forest for the trees in these fraught days. God’s ultimate purpose is that we trust in Him (Psalm 37:4-7, Isaiah 26:3-4, Proverbs 3:5-6). Our work, Jesus said, to believe in the One He has sent (John 6:29). To trust him.
We tend to feel like our times are more fraught than times past; as if Noah and Job, Joseph and Moses had fewer reasons for discouragement and unease. So I’ve come back to this bit by J.I. Packer a few times in the past couple fraught days.
The same wisdom which ordered the paths which God’s saints trod in Bible times orders the Christian’s life today. We should not, therefore, be too taken aback when unexpected and upsetting and discouraging things happen to us now. What do they mean? Why simply that God in His wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained yet, and is dealing with us accordingly.
Perhaps he means to strengthen us in patience, good humour, compassion, humility, or meekness, by giving us some extra practice in exercising these graces under specially difficult conditions. Perhaps He has new lessons in self-denial and self-distrust to teach us. Or perhaps He wishes to break us of complacency, or unreality, or undetected forms of pride and conceit. Perhaps His purpose is simply to draw us closer to Himself in conscious communion with Him…
J.I. Packer, Knowing God, InterVarsity Press, 1973, p. 86
Free From Fraught
As I write this votes are being recounted in my hyper-divided swing state of Wisconsin. Our nation is on a razor edge. The tension is tangible, this fraught-ness that is new. Oh sure, I’ve been disappointed before.
But this is gloom goes far beyond the two men atop hundreds of thousands of contested ballots in light blue and pink states. As much as I spout hoping in God, I’ve been more skim milk than real cream since election night. Kind of weak. Rather fraught.
But I know there is a good design in it all of this. To quote from a Puritan named Thomas Boston,
It speaks comfort to the afflicted children of God to consider that whatever the crook in your lot is, it is of God’s making and therefore you may look upon it kindly since it is your Father who made it for you. Question not but that there is a favorable design in it toward you.
By some miracle of grace, that is what saints do. We trust that there is a favorable design in our fraught days. I am drawing near. He is drawing me near. And I’m more aware of the treasure it is to commune with Him.
We trust, and we watch for the divinely dispatched moths. They might fly in with coronavirus closures and kids stuck at home. Or they might appear in the mail with late arriving ballots or on the wings of a Twitter bird that does not tweet away.
We trust that God in His wisdom sends moths to eat away our idol hopes and make something of us which we have not attained yet. Yes, we trust that God is at work. Perhaps simply to draw us closer to Himself.
My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.
I’ll just come right out and say it: I have notlearned the secret to being content. My 44 year-old soul still gets restless and worked up and sometimes I fret. Paul learned to be content (Philippians 4:11-13). I am learning.
But I had no plan to write about contentment. Until God about knocked me out with his word on a sunset walk.
So here goes.
My Restless Soul
It is one of the shortest Psalms to read, but one of the longest to learn. C.H. Spurgeon said that about Psalm 131. He’s right.
I spent a lot of time focused on the three verses of Psalm 131 last week, the first of which is:
My heart is not proud, LORD, my eyes are not haughty. I do not concern myself with things too great or too wonderful for me.
It’s the second half that grabbed me- not that I’ve got the pride thing all under control- only that I struggled with the meaning of too wonderful. Other versions use the phrase, too profound, or too high. It means “things that are extraordinary; things that are miraculous or astonishing; things that are beyond the bounds of human powers or understanding; inaccessible wonders; things we can’t possibly figure out.”
Reasons my reason can’t grasp.
Old-time Bible commentator Matthew Henry helped me here. He wrote,
It is our wisdom, and will be our praise, to keep within our sphere, and not to intrude into things which we have not seen, or meddle with that which does not belong to us.
I’ll admit, my soul has been a bit vexed and stirred up this week because of a decision made that does concern me but that I was uninvolved in making. I was not content. The reasons for the choice did not sit well with me.
But to decide was not “within my sphere.” I was not on that team.
Not Consulted and Not Content
Can you relate? Can you think of a time when you were not consulted and you certainly would have consulted you? A time when you felt put out that your sage insight was not sought out?
You have? You’re in good company, because I think this trigger to discontent is universal. It goes back at least as far as Job, who experts say may have lived around 2000 BC. So we’re talking 6,000 years of ruffled, restless spirits wanting to meddle outside their spheres.
Granted, Job had a lion’s share of loss. I won’t rehash that, only to say that even patient Job wasn’t perfect. His soul got stirred up.
Job started with a calm heart, but then he began to ask God and his friends the questions that come flooding in. Why questions like:
Why me, why this, why now, why?
Things Too Wonderful
But, to the point of this post, after God challenged Job with no less than 55 rapid-fire, questions to put Job back in his “sphere,” he uses the same word- wonderful– to confess and repent of his restless discontent.
It’s in the final chapter of Job, chapter 42, verse 3:
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
If Job could say this after his children and wealth and health were taken from him, surely I can say it in lesser things. Surely after I’ve thought and prayed and researched and called the proper authority- who graciously heard me out and explained why “we’re moving in a different direction” -surely, I can rest, right?
Squawking Like A Fussy Child
Wrong. My soul was not at rest. It was not, to quote verse 2, “like a weaned child with its mother.” It was more like a squawky, squirmy 10 month-old year old, rooting and restless in his mother’s lap. I was not free from what “nagging self-seeking.”
Because our minds- or at least my mind- dials back. I wondered why my opinion wasn’t sought? Because I wasn’t on the team. But then I wondered why I wasn’t on the team that decided? Why, why, why?
I won’t tell you how far I dialed back, but it was more than five cause-effect loops deep.
Then, as is my custom, I went for a walk. It wasn’t till the home stretch they I stowed my phone and recited Psalm 131. And listened. At the last line of that first verse, the Good Lord stopped me cold.
Hold up, Abigail. Listen to my word you quote. Listen. Stop squirming. You’ve made your case. It’s not your concern. This issue is too wonderful for you. I have my reasons. Let it be.
God has his reasons. Be meek. Look past the “second causes,” the human decision makers- I told myself– and let it be.
Hoping When You Don’t Know Why
Ten years ago next month my niece Hope was born. By the time my sister began to labor, Hope was already with Jesus. Grief comes in waves and life is never the same. My nieces and nephew talk about their sister Hope who’s in heaven. It still hurts.
But Danielle and Andy know. They know that the LORD will swallow up death forever and wipe away tears from all faces (Isaiah 25:8). They know that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life (2 Cor. 5:4). And they know– intimately and in real life and real time know- the God of hope (Romans 15:13).
But there’s one big thing they don’t know.
Contentment: When You Don’t Know Why
They don’t know why. God didn’t consult them 10 years ago, and I don’t believe he’s told them since. But they rest content.
Vaneetha Risner isn’t a personal friend, but she’s endured “unspeakable, unexpected, and preventable,” loss. And she has learned contentment.
While I thought that freedom would be found in answers, true freedom was actually found in surrender. I didn’t need to figure it out. It didn’t need to make sense to me. I didn’t need to understand the details. I just needed to trust God. Trust him because he is infinitely wiser, more loving, and more purposeful than I am.
God is infinitely more purposeful than any of us. And he always has a reason. He’s probably got many, because, He alone knows all the facts.
John Piper says, God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.
By faith, we believe there are reasons. Good reasons. Believing there are good reasons for thwarted plans and for huge, unspeakable losses tends toward contentment.
We must trust that they are simply too wonderful for us. Even if we can’t name a single one.
Thy Will Be Done
Someone once said, God’s will is what you’d want if you knew all the facts. I like that. In the months and years since Hope’s birth, my sister and her husband did wonder why. We all wondered why. No test or doctor could explain why they couldn’t know Hope this side of heaven. Too wonderful, I guess.
Andy and Danielle learned contentment. They stilled and quieted their souls. They’re are not “concerned” with things too high, or wonderful for them. They released the need to know why baby Hope died, the “nagging self-seeking, and said “Thy will be done.”
For instance, when you wish, and by every means endeavor, to be well, and yet remain ill, – then say, “Thy will be done.” When you undertake something and your undertaking does not succeed, say, “Thy will be done.” When you do good to others, and they repay you with evil, say, “Thy will be done.” Or when you would like to sleep and are overtaken by sleeplessness, say, “Thy will be done.” In general, do not become irritated when anything is not done in accordance with your will, but learn to submit in everything to the Will of the Heavenly Father.” (Father John, JOY AND STRENGTH, 7/21)
Thy will be done. In great trials, and with my “small potatoes.”
I’ve had my say and, unless I’m asked to explain, I will rest my case. Rest content and hope in the LORD.
Contentment Means Hope in the Lord
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever. That’s how Psalm 131 ends. And this side of heaven I think that’s how most of our restless stories end and how contentment is restored: Hope in the Lord.
Scripture is clear on this: Those who hope in the Lord will not be disappointed(Rom. 52-5: Is. 49:23, Ps. 25:3). In the meantime, we train ourselves to stay in our lanes and our spheres, and not to concern ourselves with things too great or wonderful.
God told Job, and God told me as I recited Psalm 131, quit trying to understand. Learn contentment instead.
[It’s] foolish to try to know all the reasons of Divine Providence—why this affliction was sent and why that, Spurgeon wrote.
When we begin asking, “Why? Oh why? Why?” what an endless task we have before us! If we become like a weaned child we shall not ask “why?” but just believe that in our heavenly Father’s dispensations there is a wisdom too deep for us to fathom.
A wisdom too deep to fathom. Too wonderful for me.
Weaned Children Stop Asking “Why?”
I picked the picture at the top because it’s the best one I could find of me holding a freshly weaned son. Gabe was 14-months old. He was weaned when I was on jury duty, two weeks before.
Psalm 131:2 says, I have stilled and quieted my soul like a weaned child with his mother. Weaned means being calm in God’s presence, trusting His wisdom and power and love. Weaned child = contentment.