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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Prosperity: Blessing or Trial?

Pursuing prosperity, in the current climate, is a given. We are capitalists, diligent workers, impressed with the upwardly mobile, enamored of success. But is prosperity really a blessing?

There are many in these times who are laid off, unemployed, or afraid of both. Being unemployed reduces our pride of position in the community. We dare not lose face. 

In God's economy, if the Bible is taken seriously, being successful may not be the blessing it seems from a distance. In fact, it might be a curse. Here are a few examples:

"In my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved" --Psalm 30:6

"A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches..." --Proverbs 22:1a

"...give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, 'Who is the Lord?' or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God." --Proverbs 30:8-9

Of course there are also many verses that teach us to be diligent, avoid poverty by saving up for the future, or to use our wealth to further the kingdom of God. But, in the current atmosphere, we may find some who flaunt their prosperity like a badge of superiority while others look for enough work to pay the rent and feed their families. Where is the balance?

"Brother, beware of the smooth places of the way; if you are treading them, or if the way be rough, thank God for it. " So Charles Spurgeon, English Baptist preacher of the late 19th century, summarizes prosperity's pitfalls. In fact, his whole outlook toward abundance and riches rests entirely on suspicion. "If God should always rock us in the cradle of prosperity...we should become intoxicated with pleasure, we should dream 'we stand'; and stand we should, but it would be upon a pinnacle...each moment we should be in jeopardy." 

The apostle Paul goes beyond mere suspicion. For him, the love of wealth at any level is a 'root of all evil.' He condemns those for whom godliness is a 'means of great gain.' Instead, he suggests contentment with what we have. 

"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs." --I Timothy 6: 10

So, then, is money evil? Certainly not, if we read the Bible carefully. But it is a potential stumbling block for all people, and especially for professing Christians. Rather, the love of wealth and all its trappings, over and against the love of simplicity for the sake of contentment in our daily walk, is a great trial. 

As a by-product of the current financial malaise, I am daily bombarded with emails from websites run by unsavory characters who promise unbelievable results, if only I will sign up for this e-book, give my credit card number, and begin the good life of prosperity. My first instinct may be to delete them, which generally I have. It is the subtle ones, the ones that trade in words that sound like capitalist jargon, or Christian truth, that most tempt me. Of course, being as skeptical as I am, they go in the trash bin as well. 

But my point is, we are all at some level of prosperity as we move through 2009, be it great wealth, reasonable prosperity, middle class comfort, or barely making the bills each month. Let me be the first to say unemployment, being laid off, and having barely enough are not things I would like to recall. However, in the same breath, I never want to be so arrogant, to say that because of my level of prosperity, "I shall never be moved." God forbid. Let me have enough, and with that contentment, so I am not tempted to steal, vaunt myself before those less fortunate, or be boastful. 

Afflictions, though they seem severe, in mercy oft are sent. [see Morning and Evening: March 10, by C. H. Spurgeon for more wisdom on this subject]


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