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Does God Agree with Our Idea of Prosperity?

It’s interesting that the debate about what we call the “Prosperity Gospel” continues.   I’m not surprised because anything that sounds like hope is a tough thing to walk away from – whether it’s true or not.  I have some mixed feelings because I understand that preachers of the post-World War II era rightly wanted people to understand that God is a good God.  It’s hard today for us to understand the vibe from that era.  Back then, most people believed more in a “God with a stick” than any real sense of grace.  Writer Philip Yancey has written very eloquently about
the toxic church he grew up in and the harsh view of God they taught.  Many churches of the time were very dead places.

But today, on the other extreme, it’s really gotten out of control.  The Old Testament prophet Isaiah said, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord.”  C.S. Lewis rightly understood that what seems to us good may not actually be good in God’s eyes, and what seems to us evil may not actually be evil.  Therefore pain, suffering and disappointment may not be as bad or harmful as we assume.   Likewise, prosperity, success, and accomplishment may not always be as good for us as we wish.  Lewis always reminded us that we need to let God be God.  Our thoughts are not His, and his judgments will often be dramatically different from ours.   He admitted that we really know infuriatingly little about God and the way he works in the world.

Does God want what’s best for us?  Of course.  Will “what’s best” always line up with our expectations?  Not hardly.  I read a statistic recently about lottery winners.  It said that within a few years, a significant number of big winners are right back where they started.  In some cases, vast sums of money actually ruined their lives.  I know many people who were much better off – and happier – when they were far less prosperous than they are now.

Let God be God.  Encourage people, but seek a balance.   Believe for His best for your life, but be careful assuming that God should live up to your expectations.

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  1. Very good thoughts Phil! The Gospel is not about getting God to surrender to us – rather the Gospel is about us surrendering to God and accepting His best for our lives (whatever this might be). As CS Lewis wrote about Aslan, in what appears to be an apt description of God: "Nice? Oh no he’s not nice! But he is good." Pain, suffering, deprivation are not nice. But if the child of God experiences these it does not mean that God is not good. Of course this more Biblical worldview is harder to sell than the very appealing idea that accepting the Prosperity-Gospel guarantees a no-pain, no-sickness, no-disappointment, no-prayer-unanswered type of Christianity. But it is the worldview that will stand the test of time. Keep up the thoughtful comments Phil.

  2. I completely belive that God wants us to prosper. I agree with you that prosperity is different for all of us. I believe that God will never put more on us than we can bear. Many of us may want to be rich, but God knows that we may not be in a place to responsibly handle large sums of money. It is important for us to remember to be faithful over the small things that God gives us. If we do that, he will be comfortable with giving us more which will lead to the prosperity that many of us desire.

    Thank you for such a thoughtful commentary.

  3. Perhaps we should remind ourselves that “it is harder for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than enter the kingdom of God…” or “the love of money is the root of evil…” how about “lead us not into temptation…” All sound pretty clear to me.

    If you want riches you need to prepare yourself for the great responsibility. BTW, compared to the vast majority of people in the world, most of us in the western world are millionaires already.

    God doesn’t want our money, he wants us!

  4. Phil, 

    Since you consult on his television show, you should ask Jerry Savelle about this.  I’m sure he could opine pretty thoroughly on the subject. 

    I’d love to read a transcript of the conversation.  🙂

  5. Good stuff Phil – appreciate the balance and that’s what’s really needed.

    Form a historical context poverty is not holiness.  I also struggled with the “guilt and fear is why we’re here” approach that some of my ancestors presented to me.  When the faith message first showed up we needed it.  Sadly some have taken it WAY too far making God our cosmic bell hop.

    Something to ponder.  In developing countries it’s pretty hard to preach Cadillacs and condos to people living in storm drains and on the street.  And is our prosperity directly or indirectly tied to the poverty of others?  Those are dots we need to connect if our gospel is authentic.

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