By Marlyn DeFoggi
When I was young, I had a naive view of what ministry entailed. My aunt, a featured speaker at missionary conferences would return from her trips and tell us about her remarkable adventures. One day, I overheard a conversation she was having with my father. She had arrived at a conference for missionaries, but as she looked out over the audience she noticed their eyes were filled with pain, and she grieved over their dryness of soul. As she began to speak, Christ’s presence filled the room. These missionaries began to weep and ask forgiveness of one another. A spirit of unity returned, and the conference ended with great spiritual renewal. My aunt’s story both surprised and confused me: how could Christians live in strife toward one another?
Today, I have a much more objective view of ministry. I have learned that as people with different perspectives work together, disagreements are inevitable. Sometimes they grow into conflicts that can become a breeding ground for relational sins.
How will we handle these situations when they arise? How do we find resolution when jealousy and strife become evident through hurtful words and actions between co-laborers in Christ? And what do we do with the spirit of competition and envy that tries to grow within our souls?
The Apostle Paul understood the complexities of ministry like these. Though Luke, Timothy, Titus, and others served faithfully at his side, others were guilty of relational crimes. Demas deserted him (2 Tim. 4:9) and Alexander the metal worker opposed Paul’s message outright (2 Tim. 4:14-15). In his Epistles to the churches, Paul repeatedly called for unity among Christ followers and pleaded with them to set aside strife and to care for one another, “having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Phil. 2:2).
Not long ago, I learned I had been passed over in favor of someone else to present speak. Suddenly, I felt the green-eyed monster’s sting! I recoiled in pain. The sting was so deep that I had to withdraw to a quiet place to examine my response and regroup. Where had this come from? I wondered. Why do I feel so wounded and rejected? As I traced the pain back, God showed me an area of envy that had taken root in my heart.
Uncovering our Insecurities
Envy is rooted in a basic discontent with ourselves and is often expressed through jealousy over someone else’s opportunity. I then began a process of healing which included uncovering the insecurities that grew at the root of my envy, rediscovering my personal worth to God, and recognizing the Lord’s unique calling on my life. Though it was not a quick or easy process, it was well worth the time and effort.
In her excellent book, Gifted to Lead (Zondervan, 2008), author Nancy Beach describes the struggle that women often have with envy:
Each of us is most susceptible to envy in the areas in which we feel most vulnerable or weak. Women leaders who are not at peace with their identities or confident in the choices they have made can doubt themselves to the point that they tear down others in an effort to boost their own worth.
Whom do you envy? Maybe you look at other leaders who are more highly educated or who excel in business arenas. Perhaps you envy the Martha Stewart types in your life: women whose homes are gorgeous, whose children are perfectly behaved, and whose husbands adore them. Maybe you envy those who are financially secure. Are you willing to risk a close examination of your soul and name the relational sins that may grow there? Are you willing to face the painful process of change in order to experience spiritual and emotional transformation that can result in a more fruitful ministry?
Dan Allender and Tremper Longman write about the need to listen to our emotions in their book The Cry of the Soul:
Ignoring our emotions is turning our back on reality; listening to our emotions ushers us into reality. And reality is where we meet God….Emotions are the language of the soul. However, we often turn a deaf ear—through emotional denial, distortion, or disengagement. We strain out anything disturbing in order to gain tenuous control of our inner world. We are frightened and ashamed of what leaks into our consciousness. We forget that change comes through brutal honesty and vulnerability before God.
Some of us brush aside the nagging frustrations and anger that bubble up from our souls. We ask the Holy Spirit to cover us in grace, but we overlook the need to investigate the source of our insecurities.
The key to all change comes as we commit to knowing God. Standing in His presence, we realize that any brand of sin we permit to exist in our hearts separates us from His life – and nothing is more important than living in Him. Like Isaiah, we must look with disgust upon our sin. We must face the fact that it exists, drag it into the light and name it. We must cry out, “Woe to me! I am ruined!” (Isa. 6:5). That self-revelation, repentance, and true humility before God becomes a point of transformation and renewed vision.
Rediscovering Our Personal Worth to God
A renewed revelation of God’s love for us frees us from the need to be better than someone else and the unquenchable thirst for recognition and appreciation. Our identities will no longer rest in our work; they will be rooted in our loving relationship with our Heavenly Father. We will be free of the feeling that we need to impress others with our giftedness.
In the story of the prodigal son, we see the older son’s relational issues: disgust with his brother and frustration with his father (Lk.15). His father pleaded with him to enter into the celebration for his brother, but he stubbornly refused. Then the father revealed two profound relational truths that his eldest son had failed to understand: “you are always with me,” and “everything I have is yours” (Lk.15:31). When you discover that your name is written in bold letters across the heart of God, that He loves you unconditionally, and that He wants a “with me” kind of relationship rather than a “serve me” kind of relationship, you will experience emotional and spiritual transformation.
When you realize that God has more than one fatted calf, and that the hillsides are filled with His provisions, you will stop withholding and measuring out your love and care for others. The Father pleads with us to enter into the celebration of spiritual life and to open our arms wide and discover the pure bliss of grace-filled living.
Recognizing God’s Unique Calling on Our Lives
Once we have faced our failures and rediscovered the Father’s love, we will be free to embrace our unique strengths and live in gratitude for God’s special work in us and through us. We will not only serve with humility, but also with confidence that “He who began a good work in (us) will carry it on to completion” (Phil.1:6). Gone will be the pressure of always having to prove ourselves to others. Instead, we will enjoy clarity of vision and engage our strengths to fulfill our unique calling.
One of the greatest advantages in overcoming envy is the freedom we gain to celebrate the successes of other women in ministry and link arms with them to advance God’s Kingdom on earth. Author Nancy Beach says, “Being a woman leader in the church is hard enough without trying to do it alone, distrusting or demeaning our sisters who could provide us with understanding, support, refuge, mutual challenge, and encouragement.”
Relational sin is destructive to God’s work and God’s people. We must do the hard work of getting to the root of the problem and let the Holy Spirit lead us to a new level of emotionally healthy spirituality. Through His strength, we will emerge into ever-increasing effectiveness in our service to Christ and His people clearing the pathway for others to discover Christ.