It feels like we’re bombarded with messaging from all sides some days…right? Sometimes it’s hard to sort it out, to make sense of it and to decide what sits with us for the long run.
One of the messages I’ve been seeing crop up a lot, and discussed even more, is the “prosperity” gospel. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, you are not unfamiliar with the concept. In this view, those who trust Christ and live according to his standards are automatically blessed beyond measure. Those who give the most receive the most. Those who live their best lives are blessed accordingly.
Before I go further, just from reading that, I think it’s obvious why there are some skeptics when it comes to Christianity. When these promises fall short, who’s left to blame?
The Problem with Prosperity
Here’s the thing. This life is hard. We’re promised it will be. We will be handed more than we can handle on our own, forced to rely on a God that’s so much greater than us. We will be tested the way a silversmith tests silver until we are refined.
When we focus on prosperity alone, we focus on a half (at best) truth.
I tell my kids regularly that God is not a genie. “Why?” you might ask? Let me walk you through it.
The other day, my kids were with me in a store. I saw my middle one bow his head as we walked to the check out. “Lucas…what did you just pray about bud?” I asked, thrilled that he felt the need in the middle of his day to resort to prayer.
“I prayed that God would make you say yes when I asked for Pokemon cards,” he replied. Cute? Yes. Limited view of how this whole thing works? For sure.
Another day, my oldest was playing a game with his brother. He prayed out loud that his brother would lose, giving him the opportunity to pick the next game.
We have thus had to have some serious conversations about the fact that while God can intervene in all aspects of our day, he’s not to be treated like a genie who grants wishes and all of our hearts desires on a whim. That prayer is so much more than asking and receiving. While this is a Biblical promise, there’s much more to it than this.
When we focus only on prosperity and on the expectation that we will be blessed, we miss out on a few important things.
First, we set ourselves up for disappointment, not only in this life, but in our relationship with Christ. When we expect blessings because we’re following the rules, we fail to prepare for what might feel like very real heartaches and failures. We forget that the Bible also promises that in this world we will face heartaches, challenges and temptations that feel much greater than ourselves.
Second, we develop a limited view of God that looks a whole lot like the view that my children naturally have. We fall into the rut that tells us that we have to behave a certain way to get rewarded, instead of following biblical guidelines because of our love for Christ, for a deeper relationship and all that it entails.
Third, we forget that blessings don’t always come in the shape and form that we expect. We have these ideas about what feels best, what we truly want and desire. We forget, once again, that our view of blessings is limited. We lose sight of the idea that sometimes blessings come from situations that hurt, situations that make no sense to us…and might never make sense on this side of heaven. When this happens, we fail to appreciate the real blessings in life because we fail to recognize them.
The Flip Side of the Coin
If you’re reading this and thinking “wow…what’s the point?” or feeling as though this is more of a discouragement than anything else, I want to share a little encouragement. What I feel is a more accurate view of real life with God.
Recently I’ve gotten to share really great times with really great friends…people that I know God has put in my life for a reason. Friends who show up for a minute to drop off baked goods. Friends that come over for game nights. Friends that set up picnics, who we can laugh with when we forget utensils and improvise. Friends that we’ve walked through real-world heartache with on more than one occasion. Friends that we’ve hit the ground praying with when that’s the only – and best – course of action we have.
During some of these occasions and during some serious reflection (I feel like the front porch is a great place for this), we’ve gotten to talk about how God really does bless us with things we desire. Perhaps it’s because he puts those desires on our hearts – I think this is absolutely true – but, I also think it’s because he really does want to, just because. I feel like we just get so busy, so bogged down that sometimes we miss out on them.
I thought back to the house we live in right now. It was the neighborhood we wanted to live in when we found out we’d be moving back…but building here would cost more than building the exact same home in a neighborhood down the street. Using logic, we reserved a lot in the other neighborhood and designed the basic layout of the home we’d build. During the relocation, it fell through; we wouldn’t be able to build the home we wanted and take advantage of the benefits the company offered. We were heartbroken.
We were told about a home in the neighborhood we wanted in the first place…a model home that was perfect and could be modified a bit to meet both our needs and budget. We jumped at the opportunity and are still in the process of settling into this new home. While it would have been easy to focus on the heartache of losing the home we thought we’d be building, God had something even better in the works. Looking back, it’s amazing to see how that plan worked out. This home can be a refuge for people who are hurting. It can be a place to build memories with our family. It can be a place that our friends can come for a break and where we can share many laughs (and already have!).
It seems like a simple example, but sharing it with friends, we’ve heard similar stories of blessings in disguise…even blessings that have come after loss and true heartache – life changing heartache that hurts so much it manifests itself in a physical way.
God blesses us – but not because we expect it. Not because it’s guaranteed. And, not in the way we think it should look (although sometimes it does!).
When someone promises an easy life filled with blessings – financial or otherwise, think critically about that promise, and instead, look for truth and balance. The problem with prosperity (aside from almost blatant falsehood) is the limited view of something SO much bigger, that it creates.
What are the blessings in disguise that you’ve seen in your life? Where can you look back with thankfulness, even if it felt impossible at the time?