Well-Intentioned Coveteousness

Through the years I’ve heard and overheard enough conversations to know most ministers and most ministries start out wanting what God wants – spiritual fruitfulness. “Just use me, just use us, to bring glory to Your name,” we pray, and set out to earnestly, prayerfully do whatever the Lord asks. We know “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me HE!” (grammarians, my apologies).

We face a hazard in our time, however. It’s easier than ever before to look across the way and see how heavy and rich the fruit on other branches in God’s vineyard. Wanting so much to bear much fruit (Jn 15.5), we see what God seems to be doing for someone else and naturally compare our harvest to theirs.  It’s more of a problem today, I believe than it has been in the past.   Here’s why I say so:

  • The New Testament letters we call epistles were hand-written, hand carried and hand delivered. Copies of them were also hand-lettered one at a time, and hand-carried to their destinations. It wasn’t until the late 1500’s that Mr. Gutenberg gave the printing press to to mankind and Scriptures could be copied more quickly.
  • It took years for Silent Night to make its way around the world. Written for guitar and voice one afternoon because mice had ruined the organ’s bellows, it sat in an organ bench until a repairman discovered it and shared the carol with another congregation. It spread one Christmas at a time.
  • A century and a half ago, diligent servants of God read about God’s working through each other after the fact, usually weeks later, perhaps days later if a first-hand witness carried the news by train or ship. (Air travel is relatively recent when you stop and think about it). Most of the accounts I read in biographies, etc. tell of hearers rejoicing with what God had done in such and such a place.
  • Today news of something new and apparently fruitful or effective can reach the other side of the world in minutes. We can see the text, hear the sound bites, download the pod-cast or stream the entire event – right now.

We see, we hear, we watch — and we want.

“Lord, do something that significant with me!” we pray.

Longing for results and blessings, sometimes more than fellowship with God Himself, we pray “God, do that with me.”

In time we rationalize that we need to pray with greater faith and begin asking –or maybe telling God– “Do that for me.”

When He doesn’t, we look for ways to bring about the results ourselves.

It’s covetousness, albeit well-intentioned at first, but when we take our eyes off the Savior, the lover of our souls, and crave what He’s doing in someone else, somewhere else, we’re about to be seduced by what looks like success. And the enemy smiles to himself, “Distracted!”

Our adversary has no new tools. He’s stuck with the same temptations he’s been using for centuries, but he’s good with them. He’s mastered their marketing and application. Start with a legitimate desire, even a prayer like “use me, use us, to bring glory to Your name”. Offer something appealing. Don’t worry about motive right now – thread a hook of selfish ambition through it to snare when desire takes the bait (lust of some sort; power, pleasure and pride all work well). Be patient. The time will come. When it does, set that hook! You can read more about his method in the last half of James chapter 1.

The enemy’s not limited to embezzlement, infidelity, or tax evasion. Many respond best to his offers of success by man’s standards. “I want a ministry like that guy’s! I want to reach as many as they do! Why cant we have hundreds of conversions like they have? Our musicians are good, why can’t we record a CD, put our music on the net, maybe recover a few ministry dollars, or even turn a slight profit?” (You get the idea.)

If you’re a branch in God’s vineyard that’s drawing what you need from the Savior, seeking to be faithful and fruitful where you are with what you have, you can relax:

We’re not stars, we’re stewards.

God expects us to develop and grow, to multiply over time — as HE provides. HE is responsible for our fruit when it comes right down to it (see John 15.5). There’s only one thing the Master requires of a steward, really, faithfulness. (see 1 Cor 4.2) If you have the time, start with Numbers 12.7 and follow the word “faithful” through the Word. It’s enlightening to see God’s faithfulness and ours in response to Him.

We need not be seduced by success as defined by someone across-town or in another hemisphere. We need not wish for a larger budget, more people resources, more hours in the day. God is still God and he wants us to be faithful to Him. Obedient. Trusting. Willing to let Him work in and through us for His good pleasure – right where He has us. Today if He chooses to, not-yet if he chooses too.

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? It is, when we decide to let Him supply what we need and allow Him do what He chooses to do and when.

When we look over there and want what someone else has? Ahh-h that’s when we’re most-inclined to heed the enemy’s suggestion that God isn’t doing enough or maybe even isn’t enough and we covet. As I recall, the Lord was rather clear on that one:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Exodus 20:17

… I doubt he wants us coveting his ministry either. Not even the fruit of it.

Selah —


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