“Instead of joy and thanksgiving, envy brings distress over someone else’s blessings in life…. When we want for ourselves what the Lord has chosen to give to someone else, our agitation declares, ‘God, You messed up.’” So writes Mark Jones in his book, Knowing Sin. Envy kills gratitude and contentment because it shifts the focus of our hearts away from the many ways God has shown kindness to us. Envy comes when we compare ourselves to others who appear better off.
Social media adds to our common struggle. “It creates an imbalanced perspective of the world,” Jones writes, “and of others’ lives. We typically see people at their best and happiest, portrayed on a screen that often posts the best picture (possibly even Photoshopped) out of one hundred.”
Though he didn’t have social media temptations, Asaph, the author of Psalm 73, wrestled with envy, too. Envy led him to doubt God’s goodness and to become fearful. The skilled musician and worship leader knew that “God is good” (Ps. 73:1), but he allowed his heart to doubt this truth because he became “envious” when he “saw the prosperity of the wicked” (v. 3). The rest of this psalm describes his internal fight and illustrates the stark contrast between envy and contentment.
Envy looks around (vv. 3–15). Asaph’s gaze had zoomed in on the smooth sailing of the wicked, who were getting richer by the day (see v. 12). As a result, he questioned the value of his own godliness: “All in vain have I kept my heart clean” (v. 13). Nothing seemed to go wrong for the wicked. They had “no pangs until death” (v. 4). They were “not in trouble as others are . . . like the rest of mankind” (v. 5). The more he compared his difficult situation to the trouble-free existence of the proud who mocked God (see vv. 6, 11), the more his perspective became distorted and his heart disillusioned.
Faith looks upward and forward (vv. 16–28). The turning point came when Asaph looked to the Lord and to the guarantee of his promises. Previously, when he had tried to make sense of the unfairness, it seemed “a wearisome task” (v. 16). But then something changed. He “went into the sanctuary of God” and “discerned their end” (v. 17). He confessed that his “soul was embittered” (v. 21) and that he was angry at God (see v. 22). When he humbly entered the Lord’s presence, Asaph’s interpretation of life became clear. He began to understand that God will judge the wicked in his own time and manner. The reward for those who love God is also sure—it just won’t be fully realized until eternity. To this day, Asaph’s testimony endures: “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory” (v. 24).
When we are tempted toward envy, we must turn our eyes to the Lord and reflect on the abundant ways we see his goodness and kindness toward us. This habit will produce a thankful spirit within us. Take time to count your blessings.