Monday, February 22, 2010

Dealing with subtle sins: envy

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.—Psalm 51:10 (NIV)

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I haven’t dusted my house since before Christmas. Call it laziness, call it setting priorities, call it avoidance, call it denial (“It’s not that bad.”), call it whatever you want. But it’s such a futile activity, especially in the winter. Especially if you have a woodburner. Especially if your furnace has a blower. I could dust one day, and the next it doesn’t even look like it.

The only time the thickening accumulation bothers me is when the sun is shining. But I haven’t seen the sun very much lately. Only gray, dreary skies and snow flying sideways. But eventually the sun will return, and the dust shall be dealt with. (No cracks about Genesis 3:19, please: “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”)

Just as the dust accumulates in my house if I don’t deal with it, so sin accumulates in my heart. Call it laziness, call it setting priorities, call it avoidance, call it denial, call it what you will, but if not dealt with, it results in spiritual dryness, an empty prayer life and stunted Christian growth.

Lent has always been a time for spiritual introspection, a time to clean my spiritual house and get rid of the hindrances, time to face the ugly things that I’d rather keep hidden, for I’m ashamed that they even exist in me.

Yet I’m an imperfect human being, struggling to live a godly life in an ungodly world. I don’t lie (outright), but is there any way I deceive others? I haven’t murdered anyone, but have I, by spreading gossip, murdered someone’s reputation? I claim to love others, but do I harbor bitterness or envy or unforgiveness in my heart?

For the next six weeks, we’re going to examine some of these “subtle sins.” Today we’ll start with envy.

A couple of months ago, I discussed unanswered prayer with a friend at church. I couldn’t understand why there seemed to be a roadblock to book publishing. My first novel was considered by the publishing committee at several houses only to be turned down again and again. In addition, speaking and teaching gigs had dried up.

He asked if there was unconfessed sin in my life. I told him I’d considered it, but didn’t really see anything. I prayed for God to show me, but He knew I wasn’t ready. I really didn’t want to see, didn’t want to know. But God always brings us to a place of readiness first.

Then we started a two-week prayer and fasting time for a writers and speakers network I belong to. Many needed breakthroughs, especially financial. The first devotional was about sin hindering prayer. Once again I prayed, “Lord, show me . . .”

And He did. The sin was envy. Not a strong presence (so I thought), but a grasping one. I don’t want to say “little,” because no sin is little in the eyes of God. But when others would ask for prayer for favor for their book proposals, for book contracts or speaking engagements, the envy would stir. “I want that for me, too!” I’d cry silently. And I wouldn’t—I couldn’t—pray with a sincere heart. If you couldn’t have it, why should they? Envy whispered.

For so long I either denied the envy I harbored or refused to acknowledge that it was big enough, strong enough, to affect me and make a difference. I was wrong.

Unlike dusting my house, cleaning the accumulated dirt in my heart is not futile. It’s vital.

Lord, pluck this envy out of my heart! Then spray the weed killer of Your Word on it to destroy any root that may have been left behind. Plant the seed of Your love that will grow and spread and blossom and give off a sweet fragrance. I know, Lord, that envy has hidden in me for a long time, and that I will have to be on my guard, watching for it in case it sprouts again. Never again will I underestimate the cost and the power of this deadly sin. Only through the blood of Your Son, Jesus, can I overcome this and live the life You have called me to live. I thank You for Your patience, steadfast love, and unending mercy and grace. In the name of Him Who died so that I might live, Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord of my life. Amen.

Special-Tea: James 3:13–4:10

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