Is Jealousy Taking Some of the Fun Out of Living?

Most of us have had our bouts with jealousy. Perhaps it started way back when we were just little children. Did your mother ever tell you how jealous you were when she brought home your baby brother or sister from the hospital? Many mothers have a story to tell how they had to fight jealousy right away.

Dr. Charles Swindall, in his book, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, tells a very interesting incident in his own life. He writes, “I remember an occasion when I was dating my wife. She had promised a fellow she would go with him to the Texas A & M football game. It was a common practice after each Aggie touchdown for the fellow to kiss his date. I listened to the radio fervently praying they wouldn’t score. I recall the first touchdown that took place. Then they made another one a little later on. I don’t think A & M ever made as many touchdowns in any game as they did in that one. The score was 48 to 0, and I just seethed on the inside. Little did I realize how destructive that jealousy could be to our relationship if it had continued. With the patience of my wife for one given to jealousy, that behavior has been overcome.” This is an example of jealousy that can follow us throughout all of life.

Jealousy is a destructive emotion that is displeasing to God and takes the fun out of living. The last part of the parable of the Prodigal Son deals with the older son. I haven’t preached on him nearly as much as I have on the younger son, who went away and wasted all of his money. This parable is one of the best parables that Jesus ever told, and it is known to a lot of people.

You may recall the younger son demanded his share of the inheritance from his father. He went out and spent it on unrighteous living. Finally, when he had no money left, he decided to come back to his father, confess his wrong, and ask for a place in his employ. When the father saw the child coming, he was so elated he decided to throw a great big party for the prodigal. When the older brother heard this, he was very angry.

The elder brother provides us with a good example of jealousy, for now the father’s mind was focused on the younger son, who had only destroyed what his father wanted him to be and do. So the older son decided to stay outside and not go into the party. The father said to him, “You know, son, I am disappointed. Haven’t we had the good life together? Didn’t we enjoy sharing those great meals everyday and revealing our love? During those years, you might have thought your brother was having a great time living the fast life, as you say, with prostitutes, and indulging in a lot of alcohol and the rest. But he wasn’t happy. When he finally came to the end of his ropes, he had to come home and admit he had sinned. Everything I have is yours, and I am so grateful for everything you have done. But just remember this: your brother who I thought was dead, is alive, who I thought was lost, has come home. And for that we return our thanks and we cry out, ÔWelcome home!’ Now come in and join the party.”

Jealousy has been defined by the dictionary as becoming apprehensive at the loss of another’s exclusive devotion. I think that would fit in pretty well with the story of the older son. He had become apprehensive at the loss of his father’s love, because at that particular time his father’s devotion seemed to be exclusively with the younger son.

Jealousy reveals something wrong in our relationship with the Lord. It is spiritual immaturity. That does not mean that we are not Christian; we are never perfect simply because we bear the name of Jesus Christ. It means we have a long way to go in our maturing in order to live as Jesus wants us to live. And that is the purpose of this sermon Ð to point out how serious and destructive jealousy can be. When we are jealous, we are doing something to ourselves that is not good. We are not satisfied with our own talents and what the Lord has given to us. Now let’s apply this to our everyday lives.

Work

You compare yourself with somebody who is in the same work that you are in. “Look at all the publicity he gets,” you say. “See how he is so talented! I could not begin to do some of these things.” You are not thankful for all that God has given you, because there is something more that you want.

Family Relationships

One daughter is a little better looking than her sister, while the other daughter is gifted musically. “Oh, if I could only be like her. If I could only dress up so everybody would take a second look at me.” Or, “If I could only have the talents of my sister. How beautifully she plays that piano! The teachers often wonder why she got so much and I got so little.”

Two brothers want to be athletes, but only one is a natural athlete. The game comes, and the stands are filled with people cheering for all of the good things that are happening because of this boy’s athletic ability, while his brother sits on the bench. There is bound to be some jealousy.

Popularity

One person has a winsome personality, and another is kind of withdrawn. He sits back, looks on and wonders why he can’t have that popularity.

Financial Success

One person has financial success; he makes all kinds of money, lives in a lavish home, and take fabulous trips. You find it is necessary for your spouse to work so that you can make both ends meet. How did that happen? Where does God fit into this picture?

Health

As you enter middle age, the body begins to show some wear and tear. One of your siblings is in very poor health, while another one is very healthy. You wonder why there are these discrepancies.

That is the way it goes in the family. There is something that is never quite right, because there is always a jealous streak that hurts the whole situation. We have all gone through it. We all have had our bouts with jealousy in one way or another.

A few weeks ago, when I was in North Carolina at the Billy Graham retreat center, I saw pictures of some great preachers. Suddenly I thought, “Wow! Wouldn’t it have been great if I could have reached the peak like they did? Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to be known as a great expositor of the Scriptures?” That jealousy caused me to not rejoice as much as I should because of these spiritual giants who had really reached out with the Gospel and won many people to the Lord Jesus by the grace of God. That is jealousy.

When I had that terrible, jealous thought, I had to think about all the opportunities that God has given me. Although I do not have talents that lie with some of these other people, there is a job to be done. And God can take this poor, sinful, limited flesh and use it.

The only medicine for jealousy is to have a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. We have to let Him teach us in his Word how precious and important we are to him. We need to hear Him say to us on the basis of his Word that he has chosen us to be his ambassadors. Although it may not be to thousands and ten thousands, perhaps it is simply to a child in my home, a brother or sister who does not know the Lord, or a neighbor who has turned his back on God. That’s the work He has given me to do. Maybe I do not have the ability that some others have, but I have enough ability to communicate that same saving message of Jesus Christ to those around me.

If we are going to get over this destructive emotion, we need to pray, “God have mercy on me, use me, and give me a thankful heart, not only on Thanksgiving Day weekend, but every day of the year. You have been so good to me, God.”

The sad thing about the older brother in this text is that by sitting outside pouting, he missed the party. What a picture!

Our jealousy can take the joy out of living. We can be so greedy that we are not able to rejoice over what we really have. Grant that we will not miss the party, but instead will know the party is living day by day with Jesus Christ and hearing him tell us our sins are forgiven, if we will but trust Him. He has suffered and died for our sins, and we are his. That’s the party.

If jealousy is one of the emotions you wrestle with, along with anger, fear, and others, there is one solution for it all. That is a living, personal relationship with Jesus, as we live with him in His Word, and bring our cares, our concerns, and our thanksgivings to Him.

How Do You Handle Your Anger?

How big is your God?

It did not take long after the creation of human beings for anger to make its ugly appearance, and it has been tormenting us ever since. Do you remember the story of Cain and Abel? They were the children of Adam and Eve. The Bible tells us that Abel kept the flocks and Cain worked the soil. In time, Cain brought some fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. Abel, however, brought fat portions from the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but He did not look with favor on Cain’s offering, which made him very angry.

When God talked to Cain about his anger, he did not understand how dangerous anger could be. One day Cain suggested to Abel that they go out to the field. While they were there, Cain killed his brother Abel. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother, Abel?”

Cain replied, “How would I know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Then God chastised Cain and said, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground. When you work the ground, it will not yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

From this story we see what anger can do to people. Stories as bad as this biblical account appear in our newspapers on a daily basis. This brutality has caught the attention of our culture, and psychologists and others in their attempt have done much work to teach us how to control our tempers.

Dr. Jerry Deffenbacher, a psychologist specializing in the field of emotions, defines anger in this way: “It is an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage. It expresses itself in different ways, and is seen most often in people who have a low toleration to frustration.”

Anger causes parents to kill their children and children their parents. At 3:00 a.m. the infant is still crying. The parents have had little sleep. In anger the parent jumps out of bed, pulls the child out of his bassinet, shouts at the child, and shakes the little body until he is dead. That is anger out of control. How sad.

However, anger can also do harm in other ways. A secretary falls in love with her boss, but he has no romantic interest in her. This causes a slow burn in the secretary’s mind. She arranges to have coffee with her boss’ wife where she tells her that he is having an affair with a woman in the office. Nothing could be further from the truth, but it nearly breaks up two families. This is what anger is capable of doing.

However, the type of anger that is most common among us is seen in what we call an angry spirit. The person is angry with the world. He or she is impossible to please.

Dr. Deffenbacher says, “Anger is completely normal, but when it gets out of control, it is destructive.” Anger can be a fruit of a sinful nature. It can lead to real problems at work, at home, in the church, or wherever the angry person goes.

In anger management seminars, some simple suggestions are given that can be helpful. For example, they suggest that when we sense anger coming on, we begin deep breathing exercises and repeat words like relax. This can help us to calm down. One suggestion given to a mother who suffered from temper tantrums was to have a rule that no one talks to her for fifteen minutes after coming home from work. Obviously these temper management seminars treat anger, and people are helped.

What is lacking in these treatments is help for the person fighting the anger. The Bible tells us that we are helpless in conquering our sins, and we need God’s help. Yes, you heard correctly. The Bible calls certain types of anger sin. Look at the Scriptures.

First, some anger is justifiable. Jesus showed anger from time to time. Remember the day Jesus cleansed the temple? Matthew tells us that he entered the temple and drove out all who were buying and selling. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. He said, “It is written, ÔMy house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a den of robbers.” When something is wrong, sometimes it deserves our anger.

St. Paul writes, “Let not the sun go down upon your anger.” He tells us not to let anger take up permanent residence in our souls and minds or we can become that angry spirit.

St. James tells us to be, “slow to anger” (James 1:19). Avoid those confrontations that upset you. Think the problem through before you burst into anger.

Above all, we need to talk to Jesus about our anger. How about a prayer like this: “Lord Jesus, I am yours. You have redeemed me. You have promised to make me a new person. Take away this anger. Help me to love that person where there is anger.” He has promised to help us.

We need to live in His Word so that the Holy Spirit might build that personal relationship between Him and us. Then he will give us the help needed as God helps us to sort out the causes for our anger and see which ones are justified. He will empower us to love those who have often made us very angry. He will help us to be angry at what a person or group might have been doing, but still love the people involved. For example, I am often angry, really angry, at the literal interpretations of the Bible, which affects its message. However, I dare not be angry at the theologians whom I believe misuse the Scriptures. How is this possible, you ask? Only the Holy Spirit can make it possible to love this brother in Christ, but really be angry at his work.

William Barclay, the great biblical theologian, has put it well when he writes, “God gives us a meekness that is not weakness, one that can get angry when it is necessary. This person has his or her anger on a leash only to release it when it is necessary.”

Isn’t it necessary as we think about these emotions that can be destructive that a close relationship with Christ gives us answers to our problems and power to control them? It is true of boredom, fear, anger, and many others. What a Savior!

How Big Is Your God?

How big is your God?

A common answer is, “God is the Almighty, the Creator of everything.” We give expression to God’s greatness in some of our hymns:

“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation.”

“He’s got the whole world in His hands, he’s got the whole world in His hands.”

“Immortal, invisible, God only wise,

In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,

Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,

Almighty, victorious Ð Thy great name we praise.”

If this is truly our belief, how can He be pushed I the corner of our lives and play the role of spectator while we humans have the final voice? Let’s get personal. How big is our God? Is he big enough to handle our cares and worries? If the answer is yes, why don’t we let him do what he has promised to do for us? Why destroy life with our worries?

We rationalize our worries by saying that it is natural for humans to fret and fume, but then what do we do with these words of Jesus, “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Let’s take a look at this crushing feeling called worry.

St. Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but by prayer and thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Philippians 4:6). Peter says, “Cast all of your anxiety on him because he cares for you (I Peter 5:6).

The writer of the book of Hebrews says, “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, because God has said, ÔI will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ÔThe Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'”

Jesus said, “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Your father knows you need these things. But seek first His kingdom and these things will be given to you (Matthew 6:34).

Our Lord counsels us not to worry about material possessions. The pagans run after these things. Jesus is talking to Christians who have a personal relationship with Him. Otherwise, these words Ð Don’t worry Ð don’t make much sense.

He pleads with us to turn our cares over to him. We have a very wealthy Father who will provide for our needs. Then Jesus uses the word seek first His Kingdom. The Christian’s first priority is to be used by God to build the Kingdom of God. Our time and strength are not to be wasted with worries. God can make better use of them in touching the spiritual and physical needs of others.

What are some of our worries?

Finances have a high priority in the list of our cares. The wealthy have the burden of an unstable stock market. One of my friends told me recently, “I lost $10,000 yesterday.” This caused him great concern. But those of us who are on a fixed income wonder about pensions and social security. Will we have enough to pay our bills until we die?

Jesus says that we are to be responsible stewards of our resources, and then leave the rest in His hands.

Family gives some of us a great deal of concern. What would I do with three small children if something happened to my wife? This was one of my worries. And my wife had an emergency operation one evening for th removal of a tumor. One of her closest friends had died from a cancer only a few months earlier. How thankful I was when the surgeon came out of the operating room and delivered the good news that everything was fine. Her tumor was benign. My mind had gone wild.

As the children grew older and left for college, I was concerned that they would walk away from Christ. There were so many temptations, and they did not have the protection of their family. Yet our Lord had promised that, if they were raised in His Word, its teachings would not return void. If we had been more concerned about building a home where Christ was at the center and people were loved mor than building a new house with all of its gadgets and a three-car garage, we had done what the Lord had instructed us to do. Now we could leave the rest in His hands. Why all the worries?

Health As we reach the “golden years” and the body wears out, we wonder how long we will be citizens of this planet. We live I the day where medical science can do so much to lengthen our lives, but there comes that day when the earthly tent is destroyed. But God has promised “a building from God, an eternal house in the heavens not built with hands” (II Corinthians 5:1). Our Heavenly Father has said, “Cast all of your cares on me. I care for you” (I Peter 5:7).

It reminds me of an experience I shall never forget. We had enjoyed a great day at Disney World with our grandchildren and some beautiful fireworks. As the people headed for the exits, our son and his wife asked me if we would keep an eye on one of the children so that he didn’t get lost in the crowd. Soon I had his little hand in mine, and we made our way to the train that took us to our hotel. He was safe, and I felt best knowing I had him by the hand. A few weeks later I used this incident to illustrate a point in my sermon. I mentioned that when the people rushed by us, the little guy put his hand in mine to be secure. Following the service, my grandson came and corrected the way I had told the story.

“Grandpa,” he said, “I didn’t put my hand in yours. You reached out and took my hand.” How right he was. Apply this to our worries. God is the One who initiates the action. He reaches out to us long before we come seeking Him.

You might react and say, “It’s too simplistic an answer. I must have something tangible like money or someone like a person to be secure and help me with my worries.” We thank God for the things or people he has given to us that are a great security blanket. But realize that, in the end, the storms of life will be too much for any thing or any person to give us a peace that passes all understanding. Only Jesus Christ can do that. Pray that He will give us this peace.

The Lonely Heart

Ann was blessed with a nice personality, a better-than-average intelligence, and was very attractive. She had many friends and was an active member of her church. One evening after dinner, her husband sat down in his chair and breathed his last. Fifteen years earlier a son had been killed in an accident. Another son lived two thousand miles away, and Ann saw him only once or twice a year.

When I asked how things were going, she generally was very polite. “I keep busy, and my friends are of great comfort,” she would say. But one day she responded to my question Ð How are you? Ð with an answer that surprised me. “I’m lonesome,” she said. “People are wonderful to me. But I miss those evenings when Pete and I would discuss the day, those days when we enjoyed raising our children, who could be a challenge, but were pretty good kids in our eyes.”

Then she continued, “A lonely heart can make you a different person. How long will it take me to stop living in the past and get on with life? I don’t like what I see going on in my life.”

I’ll never forget those words, because a few days later Ann took her life. Why wasn’t I more sensitive to what she was saying? I wonder what must have gone through her mind when I placed my hand on her shoulder that day and said, “Life can be difficult, but God gives us strength to endure all that comes our way.” I’ll never know the answer to that question, but one thing I do know is that there are many lonely people in our society, and loneliness can be a crushing experience.

Do you remember these words that came from the lips of King David?

“O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom!

If only I had died instead of you Ð O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Absalom was David’s favorite son. This is difficult to believe, because Absalom was a rebellious person. He killed a brother and then was killed in battle while leading a group of soldiers seeking to assassinate King David in an effort to take over the throne. Why would anyone miss a son like that? Yet, David did.

Did he ever get over the loneliness? Probably not. Life had to go on, but you can be sure the king often wondered what life would have been like had Absalom lived as a loving son.

Loneliness is no respecter of people or time. Our world is full of loneliness. All of us, to a greater or lesser degree, know what loneliness is.

There is a temporary loneliness. While there is light at the end of the tunnel, separation from a loved one can mean long nights. We think of military people who are away from their families. When the children ask when daddy or mommy will be home, the remaining parent thinks, “Thank God next year will be better when we are all together again.”

Then, there are permanent separations. Death is a great divider of loved ones, but there are also others. I think of people who have a loved one suffering from a dementia. No longer can there be a meaningful conversation. All the family decisions are made by the healthy spouse. The day comes when the Alzheimer’s patient looks you right in the face and asks, “Who are you?”

That’s tough to take when you have celebrated a golden wedding anniversary, and now it is all forgotten by that bride whom you love so much. She still lives Ð her heart still beats Ð but for all practical purposes she is dead. You go to visit her, but on the way home you wonder why you went, because you come home feeling worse than before you went.

There are also separations like divorce, which causes permanent loneliness. Yet, death is the great divider. Those are the hours when you lose it and shout, “O Bob, if you were only here to help me raise these children! They need you, and I need you.” Or the retiree who says, “How I wish you had lived, Betty! We were going to have had such a good time. What fun it would have been to travel. I’m lonesome for you.”

There is a lot of help to recover from a heart attack, but what about a lonely heart? I don’t want to give some easy answers, or appear overly pious, but there are wonderful aids that, while they have not stopped people from having their lonely times, have helped them to return to normal living.

The promises in God’s Word have brought comfort and strength to millions of people.

When King David was mourning the loss of Absalom, he wrote the third Psalm. Listen to some of his words:

“You are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory upon me and lift up my head. To the Lord I cry aloud and he answers me from his holy hill. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.”

David had a heavenly Father to whom he could pour out his heart, and with whom he found an understanding ear. In those quiet times when you are alone with God who understands, is where the people of God have received their strength. We cannot get along without Him.

Do you remember the story of Jesus talking to Martha after her brother Lazarus had died? She meets Jesus outside of Bethany and greets Him with the words, “Lazarus is dead!” He had only been dead four days, but she was lonesome and emotional. She continued her conversation with Jesus by saying, “If you had been here, he wouldn’t have died.” This is as much as to say, It’s your fault, Jesus! When Jesus replied, “Your brother shall rise again,” He confronted her with the thought that this life is short, but there is another life that is eternal.

From your own experience, do you think that was what Martha wanted to hear? I don’t. She knew there was a heavenly home awaiting Lazarus, but she wanted to have him here right now. Well, we know that in Martha’s case, Jesus did raise Lazarus, and her request was granted.

Not so when our loved ones died and these same words are used to comfort us. At the time of the funeral, they might bring comfort, but in the weeks ahead, like Martha, your lonely heart wants the loved one back, and that is not going to be. However, time marches on, and you have plenty of time to think about the words, “Your brother will rise again.” Doesn’t that Word from God bring comfort and ease the pain of lonesomeness when you realize that with the Lord speaking to you from His Word you are not alone?

Another great help for lonesomeness is to be with Christian friends. This does not mean that our friendships should be limited to Christians. Many well-meaning people bring comfort. In fact, we might hear someone say they received more kind assistance in those terrible hours from their non-Christian friends than from those who talk freely about their relationship with God.

If that be the case, I urge you to become part of a small group of Christian people Ð Christian people who know the Lord and walk with Him in a personal relationship. These are the people with whom you meet regularly to pray and study the Bible. As you meet with these people over a period of time, you share feelings. Without a doubt one of these feelings is loneliness. You can tell them what you are going through in the lonesome hours. Those hours will still be there, but it helps to share these times with a Heavenly Father who cares and with brothers and sisters in Christ who stand ready to help you.

Your Bible has powerful answers to difficult times. Open it daily and let God help you.