If to judge someone is to stand on a self-made pedestal and to look down, thinking “I am better than you,”
then to be jealous is to see another person standing on the pedestal and to think, “I want to take your place up there. I want to be better than you.”
A jealous heart is the kind of heart I had growing up. On the outside I looked like a good person, but on the inside I knew that my heart was not that good. I was competitive in cross-country and track and tried to gain achievements academically as well. But no accomplishment ever gave me a real sense of fulfillment. I kept looking ahead, seeing other people as my competition and wanting to be the best.
Our theme for high school graduation was “A Time for Everything” from Ecclesiastes 3. And in my graduation speech, I remember referring to this passage: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13b-14) Such a great passage! But at the time I didn’t have a clue what it meant. I thought I was a Christian because I went to church almost every Sunday and was basically a good person. The whole concept of a personal relationship with God had never connected with my heart.
Then I went to college and experienced loneliness for the first time. During my first semester I realized that more friends and more accomplishments could never fill the emptiness that I felt inside. Someone in my dorm invited me to attend a weekly Bible study, and I started reading the Bible on my own for the first time. Since I thought I already was a Christian, I was amazed by how much I didn’t know!
Back home, my sister was a high school senior and doing really well on the cross country team. We talked on the phone after each meet, and beforehand I always hoped I would hear that she hadn’t done well. Then I could sympathize with her, but would be inwardly happy because that meant that I could still be on the pedestal I had created. I was able to sound like I was excited when she ran well and placed in the top, but my jealous heart hated her victories because that meant that she was on the pedestal and not me.
I wanted to be genuinely happy for my sister, not a hypocrite! But was this even possible?
My jealous heart was a glaring ugliness in my life, and seemed like something I just couldn’t change. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t make myself truly happy for my sister when she ran faster or placed higher than I had. More than anything, I still wanted to be the best.
So, as I was reading the Bible that fall, I was also praying, “God, if you are real, will you change my jealous heart?”
And I began to see a definite difference in those phone calls with my sister. I could tell (and I rejoiced!) when my words of congratulations actually matched up with my true heart attitude. God was taking my jealous heart and changing it to be more like His! That convinced me that He was real, that He wanted me to be more like Him, and that He had the power to change me.
I came to understand that it was Jesus who was the missing part of my life and that only He could fill that deep emptiness inside. Applying my “graduation verses” in Philippians: I can forget what is behind (my heart of jealousy) and strain toward what is ahead (genuine happiness for others). I don’t have to live in the bondage of a jealous heart. In pressing on toward the goal, I am not trying to come in first! I see people around me as God’s creation, not as my competition. I want to be faithful to what He has called me to, and to cheer others on in how God has uniquely gifted them and in what He has called them to. Receiving the eternal prize doesn’t mean being the best.
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)