The tenth commandment is that you shall not covet. (Exodus 20:17) In Proverbs 23:17-18, the term used is envy. They mean the same thing. Don’t be jealous of what your neighbour has that you don’t. I’ve been guilty of this lately. I don’t envy any particular neighbour, or desire anything that was gained through inappropriate means as Proverbs 23:17 suggests, but I have certainly desired to have things be different than they are. I and my family have been going through a lot of strife lately, from car accidents that resulted in injury, unceasing pain and the hassle of replacing a vehicle with insufficient funds to family members with brain cancer and kidney transplant rejection and friends who are suffering from cancer or have lost loved ones. Everything just seems to be so hard lately, and I envy those who appear to have things more under control than I do. Of course, that is just my perception and possibly an illusion. I guess we all have our struggles.
The point of these two verses in Proverbs seems to be to trust in the Lord. Oswald Chambers wrote, “Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.” We must trust God to be God and realize that although we don’t see the value in whatever hardship we’re enduring, He does. He knows the plans He has for you, and they are good plans. (Jeremiah 29:11)
I think the key is to control your thoughts. (Romans 12:2, Colossians 3:2, Philippians 4:8) Instead of focusing on how someone else is better off than you are, focus on what you can be thankful for. Focus on the hope you have for your future, and know that when we get to eternity in heaven there will be no more pain, no more sorrow and no more strife. (Revelation 21:4) We also need to focus on the character and promises of God. We know that He is a good and loving Father (Ephesians 2:4) who desires to give good gifts to His children. (Matthew 7:11) We know that even though all things are not good, all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) There is hope not only for peace and joy in eternity, but also for things to be better on the other side of this trying time.
Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. For that matter, it might be more accurate to say that usually things don’t go according to plan. Our plans anyway. That was certainly the case for Joseph, whose story is told in Genesis 37-50. Let me give you the condensed version in case you are not familiar with the story.
Joseph was his father Jacob’s favourite son which made his brothers jealous. When he was a teenager Joseph had a dream that was interpreted to mean that one day his brothers would bow down to him. This didn’t endear him to his brothers who conspired to kill him. One brother opposed the killing, but was willing to leave him stranded in a well, with the intention of coming back to rescue him later. In the meantime the other brothers came up with a different plan—to sell him as a slave. Joseph was taken to Egypt where he worked for Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. Potiphar’s wife took a liking to Joseph and made a pass at him. When Joseph refused her, she accused him of trying to rape her. Joseph was thrown into prison where some time later he interpreted the dreams of two other prisoners. Eventually one of them remembered him to Pharaoh, when Pharaoh needed a dream interpreted. The interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream led to Joseph being put in charge of storing food for the famine that was to come, which saved the lives of many people including Joseph’s brothers who in desperation came to Egypt in search of food. Joseph chose to forgive his brothers, but when their father died the brothers feared that Joseph would seek revenge. Joseph’s answer to them is Genesis 50:20: What you meant for evil, God meant for good.
God’s plans are not thwarted by the deeds of humans. Because our perspective is so limited, it is difficult for us to really understand how things can possibly work out for good when we are in the midst of terrible situations. I’m sure there must have been times when Joseph wondered why all these horrible things were happening to him, but he trusted God. That is significant in itself since Joseph didn’t have the benefit of written scripture to encourage him. Yet he must have had a good relationship with God, because scripture now tells us that the Lord was with Joseph, and Joseph continued to do the right things despite being physically harmed, sold into slavery and falsely accused and imprisoned.
Thankfully we get to see the end of Joseph’s story, and see that things worked out for the best. Joseph saved not only his own family members, but also many Egyptians and whatever foreigners came to Egypt in search of food. And because the Israelites were saved in Egypt, they went on to become a great nation. Through the Israelites, Jesus came into the world, and brought salvation for all. So Joseph saved more lives than he could have at that time imagined. Joseph surely knew the promise that God had made to Abraham (Genesis 15:13-16), and he trusted God to fulfill it.
You may be in a struggle right now that you can’t see the end of. You don’t know what will come of it, but God does. He already knows what the ending will be. I hope that you are able to look back at previous struggles and see how they worked out, and maybe that will give you some encouragement to keep going, and to keep doing what is right in God’s eyes. God has a good plan for your life. (Jeremiah 29:11) Trust Him to fulfill it.