Jealousy is one of the hardest emotions to control in our everyday lives. How do we put an end to envy? Part 5 of the “Overcoming Dangerous Emotions” series.
When people think of jealousy, they sometimes get the proverbial “neighbor’s new car” picture in their minds. Yet jealousy can be much more complicated than that.
Jealousy can involve any combination of things. We may be jealous of someone’s social/economic status; another country’s prosperity; someone’s abilities, family or loved ones, possessions, expensive new gadget, fame, money, cars, ideas, girlfriend/boyfriend, wife/husband, anatomic features, intelligence, recognition, entire life—anything!
With so many possible ways to become jealous, how can we overcome this? The truth is: It’s not easy.
Why is jealousy spiritually dangerous?
The spiritual danger in jealousy is clearly evident in the pages of the Bible. The 10th Commandment, “You shall not covet,” includes the concept of jealousy. Jealousy can be a form of covetousness. Hebrews 13:5 states, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”
There is nothing wrong with asking God for things we need and want in prayer, but we should ask with the firm belief that God knows exactly what we need and want and will provide for us according to His will. Jealousy can turn life into a competition about who has the best, is the best, and can show off the most. This attitude pleases the god of this world (Satan), not the true God.
The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6:8, “And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (emphasis added throughout). Jealousy continually whispers to us, “God’s gifts are not good enough. You need/deserve/should have whatever you want in this life.”
Being content with having our needs met in this life can go a long way in reminding us that this life is temporary and that the Kingdom of God is coming. Therefore, jealousy hinders the fruits of faithfulness and goodness.
So let’s make a change. How can we overcome jealousy?
Identify the cause of jealous thinking
Make a written list of the stimuli that provoke jealous or envious thinking. To determine this, ask yourself questions like:
- Why am I not happy with my situation?
- What makes me think that if I received what I’m jealous about, things would be so much better?
- Are there things I see on TV that give me jealous thoughts?
- What do my eyes wander over that I may have to avoid in order to stop these thoughts?
Again, remember that God wants to bless us and give us wonderful gifts, but only gifts that won’t be harmful for us. All good gifts come from God (James 1:17), so gifts that are going to be negative to our lives must come from someone else.
A general rule of thumb when dealing with jealousy is that, realistically, the majority of the time it involves wants rather than needs. So, let’s analyze the jealous thoughts.
Analyze and compare jealous thinking to reality
Jealous thoughts are usually easy to identify, but sometimes they can sneak right past our brain sensors and develop into a feeling of envy without us even knowing what happened. Write down the various thoughts you experience so you can analyze them: “I can’t live without having this!” “Why does that person have so much while I have so little?” “Why do I always struggle for things while those people just get them for free?” “That’s not fair—I should have that!”
When we analyze such thoughts, we see that they can be very petty, greedy, lazy, unthankful and any number of other undesirable attributes. Overall though, we see covetousness.
Are these thoughts fair and rational?
- Is it fair/rational to think that we need certain worldly things to be happy or to have our needs met? Is it fair/rational to want what a person who is sinful has gained?
- Is it fair/rational to think that our knowledge of what we “need” supersedes the knowledge of what the Creator of the universe knows we need? (Matthew 6:8 tells us that God “knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.”)
- Is it fair/rational to think that a want is a need? Is it fair/rational to desire something that we know in our hearts will lead to sin or trouble?
Replace the irrational with rational
It can be challenging to grab hold of rational thoughts and shove them into our brains to combat the irrational thoughts that have become comfortable. Focus on thankfulness. Write down lists of all the great spiritual, physical, mental and social blessings God has given us, continues to give us and will give us in the future. For example:
- My greatest possession is my knowledge of God’s truth.
- Satan wants me to desire physical and worldly ideas and things.
- I can’t believe how blessed I am when so many people in this world don’t have nearly as much as I do.
Rational thinking looks at what we have and is thankful and receptive of God’s blessings; irrational thinking looks at what others have and is spiteful and mocking of God’s blessings.
What if I’ve already lost control?
If we are overwhelmed with jealousy to the point of feeling other negative emotions (such as anger or depression) in combination with it, then we need drastic action. We must remember to pray as soon as the thoughts enter our minds. We must look at the lists of blessings we’ve written down.
- What does the Bible say about coveting?
- What do I really need in this life, if I believe God’s teaching about His coming Kingdom?
- Do I control my thinking, or does it control me?
When we desire spiritual gifts from God and laugh at Satan’s puny, only-physical gifts, we are on the right track to controlling jealousy.