The Joy Stealers

Third in a series on The Fruit of the Spirit

“Grace,” photo by Eric Enstrom

The fruit of the Spirit is . . . joy. –Galatians 5:22 NIV

I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. –Philippians 4:12 RSV

My grandson and I had an interesting conversation in church one Sunday. The pastor was preaching on the Ten Commandments, and Brent, as usual, was on the fidgety side. So I gave him a notebook and pencil to help burn up some of that nervous energy. He spent the next several minutes copying the Ten C’s in the notebook then showed it to me.

When I got to the last one, I noticed that “covet” looked like “cover.” I wonder if he knows what “covet” means? I thought. At eight, probably not. So I asked him. (Writing in the notebook, of course. It wouldn’t do to talk in church, and with my hearing loss, even with my hearing aids, I can’t hear whispers.)

He shook his head.

“It means to want something that you don’t have,” I wrote. “To want something that belongs to someone else. It’s a sin because it makes you feel jealous and envious of others—and ungrateful for what God has given you. It also leads to stealing, and it robs us of joy.”

I underlined joy twice.

I don’t know whether Brent understood what I was trying to teach him, but it sure gave me plenty to think about.

You see, the past couple of months had been lean as far as my freelance writing and editing go. It seemed as though everything had dried up. The outgo exceeded the income. And we needed both incomes—from my husband’s job and my freelance work. And focusing on the debt was sucking the joy out of life.

So we decided to streamline and simplify. I canceled the satellite TV and the newspaper subscription, and dropped my gym membership. Walking is cheaper and will give me the same results. I substituted skim milk for the expensive protein shakes I’d been drinking and warm skim milk at bedtime in place of ice cream.

I borrowed a relative’s unused bread machine and began baking bread from scratch.

My husband was okay with this.

“It’s what you get used to,” he told me with an I-really-don’t-want-to-do-this-but-I-will-if-you-say-we-have-to look on his face.

I was okay with it, too. After all, I’ve spent most of my life on the “have not” side of things. It’s taught me resourcefulness. And I love a challenge.

One day I pulled out my verse for the day—Philippians 4:12.

I’d always read that verse from the have-not perspective, but this time it hit me: I know how to be abased. I know how to face want and hunger. What I don’t know is how to abound. How to handle plenty and abundance.

I’ve had the chance, and I was unwise. I took the plenty for granted, felt a false security in it, and wanted more—so I could keep up with others whom I secretly envied.

But the abundance didn’t bring me the joy I thought it would. I worried I’d lose it, that someone would steal it, or it would be burned in a fire or otherwise destroyed.

It may be that not having enough steals joy. But the more dangerous joy stealers are covetousness and not knowing how to handle the blessings we’ve been given.

Deep, lasting joy comes from knowing that God will supply all my needs according to His glorious, abundant, limitless riches (Philippians 4:19).

And that’s a promise I can bank on!

Give me neither poverty nor riches, O Lord. Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may become content without You. And if I am too poor, I may steal, and thus insult Your holy name. Amen. (Proverbs 30:8–9)

MORE TEA: Read and reflect on James 4:1–8.

For more on joy and joy stealers, read Hebrews 13:5; Matthew 6; Philippians 4:4–7; Romans 12:12. And, when you’re feeling down, sing a verse or two of “Count Your Blessings.”

From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea, Vol. 3, © 2019 Michele Huey.


The Better Bone

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. – Proverbs 14:30 (NIV)

One morning years ago I gave each of our dogs, Bobby and Charlie, a big, juicy venison bone before I sat down for my devotions.

“There,” I thought smugly as they settled on the living room carpet about six feet from each other, “that’ll keep them quiet and occupied for awhile.”

I sank onto the love seat and opened my Bible to the day’s meditation. After a few minutes, Bobby got up, dropped his bone on the carpet at my feet, and stood over Charlie until she let go of hers. Quickly, he snapped it up and scooted behind the love seat. Charlie was too surprised to growl.

I didn’t want a dogfight in the middle of my living room, so I picked up Bobby’s bone and gave it to Charlie. It wasn’t long before Bobby sneaked out from behind the love seat and, once again, snatched the bone Charlie was chomping on. I took the bone Bobby had left and dropped it in front of Charlie. Catching on to Bobby’s thievery, Charlie left the bone I gave her and went after Bobby’s.

On and on the swapping went, each dog acting as though the other had the better bone. What I thought would make for peace instead became a source of envy and caused trouble.

I, too, battle envy. I try to stifle envy when I speak with retired friends who have the time and money to do things my husband and I can’t do because he can’t retire yet. After I’ve visited with someone who has plush new carpeting, it seems as though mine has gotten shabbier overnight. And it’s all too easy to find fault with those who I feel are smarter, thinner, or more talented than I am.

Nine of the Ten Commandments deal with our actions; the tenth deals with our inner desires: “You must not be envious of your neighbor’s house, or want to sleep with his wife, or want to own his slaves, oxen, donkeys, or anything else he has” (Exodus 20:17 LB).

Like an acid, envy eats away at my peace of mind, my inner joy and contentment, and my relationships with others. No wonder God tells us to rid ourselves of envy (1 Peter 2:1). He knows what I’m still learning: that love, not envy, is the better bone.

When I feel that tug of envy on my heart, O Lord, help me to be satisfied with what I have, for everything I have is a gift from You. Amen.

Read and meditate on Matthew 6:19–33; Psalm 119:145–160

For further study: Hebrews 13:5; Philippians 4:11–13; James 1:17; Psalm 145:14–21; 1Timothy 6:9–11; Colossians 3:5; Matthew 15:19–20.

(c) 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.