We live in a time and place that has been given a “blessed” station in history. 21st century Americans know very little of what it means to have nothing but the clothes on your back and the people in your life. However, we are the same people who feel like we deserve better. I am so burdened by the lie that God wants to give us more, better. I know “prosperity gospel” is an overused word. I feel like when we (Christians) first started talking about “prosperity gospel” it was easy to identify, but it’s gotten sneaky and has found a way to creep into well-meaning Jesus followers’ theology.
There are many verses that talk about God wanting us to prosper. Jeremiah 29:11 may be among the most popular verses quoted on that topic. I’m not here to debate the definition of the word prosper, but I would like to consider that it may not mean what we want it to mean. I have looked, and the bible does not promise that God will make all our dreams come true. It’s not in there even though I would love for it to be. I think if we’re not careful, we can use that verse to give us a false hope that God will make us influential or wealthy or at least comfortable.
My trouble comes in when I place that verse next to passages of scripture that describe followers of Christ being tortured, imprisoned, and killed because of their faith. Why would God promise to make all of his followers prosperous, and then ask some to have nothing or die for Him? I’m not a theologian, but I make sense of it by thinking like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. “The God we serve is able…, but even if he does not.” God can give us all things. God can save us from all things. God can heal us. God can rescue us. But even if he does not respond the way I'm hoping, he is in control and worthy to be praised because he has already fulfilled all of those things (saving, healing, rescuing, etc.) through Jesus.
Just consider the life of Christ. I would say he was successful because he accomplished what he came to accomplish. However, if you judge success from a 21st century American view, you will find that he was not wealthy, he did not have a large estate, and he was as famous for ruffling feathers as he was for his miracles. In fact he made the wrong people mad long enough for them to have him crucified on a cross. Dying on a cross does not seem like the American view of the word “prosper”.
Thankfully, that is not the end of the story. Jesus rose from the dead and overcame death so that we might also be with him eternally if we believe in his dying on the cross payment for OUR sins. Now that seems like successful life, but success that had very little to do with materialistic life this side of heaven.
I’ve been seriously wrestling through this topic for a year now. When we moved, a dear friend from our old hometown and I were talking. I was trying to tell her that part of the reason the new town is so hard to live in is because there is just an oppressive spirit everywhere with a false religion that parades as truth. I felt it the first time we lived there, and I feel it still. But in the wake of this false religion many are left feeling like something isn’t working. This false religion says that if you love God and have enough faith he will make your dreams come true. In the process of me trying to explain this to my friend she said, “I believe God wants us to prosper, and not just spiritually. I think he wants to bless us materially.” I didn’t know how to respond. I love this woman and worship with her, and it left me reeling with confusion because I really respect her.
Thus began my wrestling process. I knew what I've always believed, but then here was my friend who believed differently, so I pressed into the scriptures like I do whenever I have a big question. I know God wants to meet all our needs. I just think that as American’s we have a skewed idea of “need”. But recently it seems like God is trying to tell his people that He is ENOUGH. He is the prize, not the promise of something better or something more. In the past week I have seen the following quotes by women who are public Christian figures.
When we voluntarily moved so Jay could pursue a new path he felt called to, we took a step back financially, socially, occupationally, and in living space. After that conversation with my friend, I kept asking if God wants to bless us not just spiritually but materially, WHY is my family where we are? We serve God, and have served him faithfully for decades. According to what my friend said, there was something wrong with us because God wants to give us more not less. Then I would think about missionaries who serve in places without the promise of comfortable living. I would read passages like the end of Hebrews 11 and the book of Habbukuk. I would think how it is impossible for every Christian on the planet to be “the best” at whatever it is they do. Not everyone can be the CEO, if you will, but they can still be successful, and even the jobs we deem insignificant are important. The world works best when everyone plays their part well. After all this, I just couldn’t conclude that God was all that concerned with me being blessed in the American sense of the word.
If I have learned anything by walking through the last year of my life, it is that God is not interested in making all our dreams come true unless our only dream is to have more of Him. He wants to be our pleasure, our delight. He wants to be what defines us, sustains us, and brings us joy. God is able to give us all things because he is God, but even if he does not, he is still worth living for and is still good. Just like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego… My God is able, but even if he does not, I will still live for him.
We cannot give, serve God, or place our faith in Christ based on the idea that he will make our material or physical life better. We place our faith in Christ because we acknowledge our desperate state and know we need saving. We know that only God’s son is qualified to save us. We see that his ways are the path to the best life now. Even when we don’t understand. Even when things around us seem to be out of control. Even when the world seems against us. He is in control. He is working. He is good. He is worth serving. His words are true. He is the Prize.