Saturday, April 23, 2011

Has God Really Promised Prosperity and Success?

When I was in High School my classmates voted me "most likely" to be the next Edgar Allen Poe. I was into writing poetry, and not all of it was the "daisy" variety. It's funny at times what we consider successful. My friends figured success for me would be to become an acclaimed poet. Imagine if they could see me now. I wonder if they would consider me prosperous? 

We hear a lot about prosperity in the Church; some people preaching it and others coming against it. The fact is that the Word of God is filled with promises of prosperity from the Lord:

Blessed are all who fear the LORD, 
   who walk in his ways. 
You will eat the fruit of your labor; 
   blessings and prosperity will be yours. 
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine 
   within your house; 
your sons will be like olive shoots 
   around your table. 
Thus is the man blessed 
   who fears the LORD. (Psalm 128:1-4)

In this psalm we can understand "blessed" to mean happy or content as a result of our relationship with God, but there is also a very clear indication of prosperity here: "You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours." This is one small example of the many passages that promise blessing and prosperity in the context of obedience. One of my favorites  is found in Deuteronomy when Moses was pronouncing blessings upon the nation. Blessings and prosperity were always promised in the context of obedience:

If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God. (Deut 28:1-2)

A list of blessings followed, one of which is this:

The LORD will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land he swore to your forefathers to give you. The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. (Deut. 28:11-12)

I am not a "prosperity preacher" and neither do I believe that God wants all his children rich. He has purpose in all that he does and in all that he allows according to his will, grace and plan. However, he has promised us that the labour of our hands would bear fruit and would be prosperous. He has promised us great blessing to support this labour. He has promised us success but such blessings flow through a relationship of obedience.

We need to understand that there is a two-fold purpose in the prosperity of God's children. First, he simply wants to bless us out of his great unfailing love. Second, he is using us to reveal his glory to the world:

The LORD will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the LORD your God and walk in his ways. Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they will fear you. (Deut. 28:9-10)

But where there is disobedience there is only failure. Blessings, success, prosperity flow out from a relationship of trust and obedience. Jesus told us that if we love him we would do what he has commanded us to do. He also told us that we could ask for anything in the context of our relationship with him and our Father would provide it. He also warned us not to doubt:

“I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." (Mark 11:23-24)

Our curse is that we doubt so we do not ask. The other curse is our holding back from God. We don't abandon ourselves to him and instead hold back some part of self that continues to rise up and bite us. James made it clear why we don't always meet with success, why we seem to fail, why we are lacking:

You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:2-3)

I am one who believes that when we are in an obedient relationship with Jesus, when we are worshipping him and serving him with all our heart, when we have abandoned everything of us and trust him with everything we need, we know what to ask for. We need to ask, we can't just assume. Jesus told us to ask and to trust. He told us to ask and to know that our Father would provide what we need. He told us to focus on the work of the Kingdom, to be obedient, to listen to the Spirit and the gates of God's storehouse would open wide for us. However, it may not be all butterflies and daffodils. Remember, Jesus was considered blessed, prosperous and a success but look at everything he went through. The same for Apostle Paul. God's measure of success and prosperity may not be as the world measures it but even Jesus and Paul had everything they needed for their work.

The facts are in black and white: God promised us blessing and prosperity in a relationship of trust and obedience. He did not promise us prosperity to supply our greed. He wants to bless his obedient children simply because he delights in them but he also wants to bless us to glorify himself in the eyes of the world. Your attitude of defeat and despair does not glorify God. Check the root of the problem. Is it disobedience or is it unbelief? May the Lord reveal the root to you so that your life will begin to reflect his glory.

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