Monday, August 3, 2015

The Problematic Promise of Prosperity

Who is not in favor of prosperity? No one I know. Singer Sophie Tucker once said, “I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor, and rich is better.” Even if we can’t relate to the rich part, if given a choice none of us would opt for poor. At the very least, it’s nice to have a few dollars still in the bank when the next paycheck arrives.

In the business world, prosperity is of paramount importance. It’s reflected in the “bottom line,” measuring whether a company is profitable and how well it’s serving its shareholders. Regularly the media report on economic indicators, showing whether our country as a whole is prospering. Presidents are evaluated in part by the flows and ebbs of U.S. prosperity during their terms.

Prosperity is a concern even for non-profits, including churches. If contributions aren’t sufficient, not only to cover expenses but also to empower organizations in pursuit of their respective missions, potential beneficiaries of their services will suffer.

So prosperity’s always a good thing, right? Not necessarily. In fact, if we’re not careful, prosperity can distract us, even steer us down the wrong road.

Do you have a hold on your things --
or do they have a hold on you?
C.S. Lewis, a one-time atheist who became an ardent Christian apologist and author of beloved books on faith for both adults and children, came to that conclusion. In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis observed: “Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home in earth.”

The Bible describes followers of Jesus as “aliens and strangers” on earth (Hebrews 11:13 and 1 Peter 2:11), but prosperity has a way of making us feel right at home – and reluctant to leave. In addition, having all of our needs met as well as many of our wants can greatly diminish our sense of dependence on God.

Perhaps this is why the writer of the next to last chapter in Proverbs declared, “…give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:8-9).

In the 1960s, Americans were settling into the post-World War II economic boom, beginning an unprecedented era of material prosperity. About the same time, judicial edicts and legislation were being formulated that essentially declared our exalted nation no longer needed God. Seems the writer in Proverbs might have been right. Coincidence – or direct correlation?

Jesus did not oppose prosperity outright, but offered these words of warning: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Three verses later He declared, “You cannot serve both God and money.”

Does this mean we should err on the side of caution by taking vows of poverty or practicing lives of self-denial? This might be the Lord’s call for some, but for most of us it’s more a matter of being diligent to maintain a proper perspective about God, ourselves and our stuff. We find the guideline for this in the Old Testament book of Joshua, where God is providing instructions to the man who has just replaced Moses as the leader of the huge, wandering band of Israelites:
“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8).

If we strive to keep God foremost in our lives, focusing on His truths and principles, we can succeed in avoiding the trap of letting our material possessions become idols and mini-gods in our daily lives. True prosperity, we’re told, is living according to God’s “owner’s manual” and becoming everything He intended for us to be. Whether that means hefty savings accounts and residences fit for Better Homes & Gardens and HGTV, or just having the satisfaction of paying the bills every month, what matters is being “prosperous and successful” from His point of view.

What is prosperity to you? As Jesus would say, it depends on where your treasure is.

1 comment:

Aldiepeveen said...

Good stuff, Roberto!!!!