Essayist Joseph Epstein writes, “Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.” He goes on to say that envy makes us look “ungenerous, mean, and small-hearted.” There’s plenty of research to back up Epstein’s statement. In fact, psychologists have found that envy decreases life satisfaction and diminishes well-being. It’s correlated with depression and neuroticism, and the hostility envy breeds may actually make us physically sick.
One Saturday afternoon, a group of teenagers gathered in a cafeteria to ask one another some hard questions based on Philippians 2:3-4. Some of the difficult queries included: On a scale of 1 to 10, how selfish are you? How often do you take an interest in others too? Would someone describe you as humble or proud? Why?
Even as a child, I can remember coveting things that other people possessed. One day I was playing at my cousin’s house when one of his toys caught my eye. I begged to take it home, and when my parents refused me the pleasure, I cried and created quite a scene.
When my twin sister and I were 5 years old, we began counting the money we had in our piggybanks. It turned out that one of us had more than the other. To our young minds, this just wasn’t right. So, we decided to balance our accounts by helping ourselves to our mother’s money!
This is the last snack I’m going to eat today, you tell yourself. Then 5 minutes later you’re looking for another one! Michael Moss, in his book Salt Sugar Fat, reveals how food companies study ways to “help” people crave junk food. Some of the food industry’s biggest names hire “crave consultants” to determine people’s “bliss points”—the conditions when food companies can optimize consumers’ cravings. One popular company spends $30 million a year to determine the bliss points of consumers.
While I was helping to organize donations of clothing for a church event, I paused to touch a cashmere sweater’s soft grey cloth. When I realized it would fit me, I considered the possibility of owning it—for free! Volunteers were allowed first dibs on the donations. Cashmere is an expensive fabric, and although I have enough sweaters, this one was calling my name. After some inner turmoil, I finally offered the item to a fellow worker, who joyfully accepted it.
I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the cello. But I haven’t found the time to take lessons. Since time is short, I would rather spend my time doing the things that I won’t get to do in heaven—stuff like helping a believer to mature in his or her faith or reaching out to someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus. I say to myself, In heaven, I’ll have the whole of eternity to master that instrument!
Grandpa was a gentle but firm primary school principal in Pretoria, South Africa. In my final year as a student teacher, he shared a few trade secrets with me. His advice on how to get a disruptive pupil out of the classroom and into isolation was most helpful: “Look the child in the eye and say with authority, ‘Follow me,’ then turn and walk confidently out of the classroom while not looking back.” I tested his advice when dealing with an unruly adolescent and, though I doubted it would work, I soon heard him reluctantly following me.
Pastor Kofi has helped to plant 25 churches in Ghana and Burkina Faso, as well as a home for orphans and a school with 1,000 students. But he doesn’t have much money to manage all this.
In the movie Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye talked very honestly with God about His economics: “You made many, many poor people. I realize, of course, that it’s no shame to be poor. But it’s no great honor either! So what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune? . . . Lord, who made the lion and the lamb, you decreed I should be what I am. Would it spoil some vast, eternal plan if I were a wealthy man?”
The stuff of life has a way of turning our hearts away from God. False gods include money, success, school, careers, romantic relationships, children, and more. Tim Keller, in Counterfeit Gods, defines a false god this way: “Anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”
Some days I find only one. Other times they fill my mailbox. Not to mention the phone calls. Help the children, feed the homeless, care for the wounded. Worthwhile requests, yet it’s impossible to meet them all. Even with the contributions we make, I feel strangely guilty whenever I throw away a letter requesting donations or when I tell a contribution-seeking caller: “No, thank you.” The tension I experience is another reminder of the calling I must live out in a less-than-perfect world. Give selflessly, just like Jesus.
If you were granted three wishes, for what would you wish? Would you wish for the eradication of global poverty? Would you wish for financial security? Would you wish for good looks, good health, and long life? The question itself isn’t as important as how we answer the question; for our answers reveal our character and what’s important to us.