Once upon a time prosperity was found to be irrelevant, evil and a hindrance to eternal life. The previous generation of believers overrated spiritual things – worship, prayer, and moral virtues – in the expense of material abundance. The old school taught pain, misery and poverty as means of obtaining spiritual identity and supremacy. As a result Christianity (especially a charismatic, evangelical born again sect) was classified as a religion for the miserable, the poor and the social outcasts.
I can’t stress enough how glad I am that those days relegated to a distant memory. Rightly, today, the mainstream Christian faith recognises the divine value of material prosperity not only to the life of a believer, but also to a cosmic life as a whole. And I must say, again, I am well satisfied with this.
However, there is a component of the “prosperity gospel” that is, in my opinion, a bit worrying and needs correction.
Unlike the “poverty gospel” prosperity gospel is seemingly elevating material prosperity over and above spiritual well being. Publicly or privately many now believe spiritual virtues to be trivial unless when used as a means of attaining material excellence, identity and fame. Poverty, adversity, pain and suffering are now deemed to be purely as a result of sin, ignorance or lack of faith and therefore utterly evil, self-inflicted and unnecessary. Consequently most people now perceive the Church to be a place for, as one blogger put it, “”health and wealth,” “name it and claim it,” “confess it and possess it” blessing-seeking, hap-hap-happy followers.” The church is increasingly leaning towards the rich and the strong; the poor and the weak are being ostracized, and suffering, even for the sake of faith, demonized.
According to George Barna, the American researcher on religious habits, 66% of American Christians define success in life as the acquisition of sufficient money, education, material possessions, fame, or career prestige; only 7 percent related success to their faith (spiritual) condition and its influence upon their life and others. Today we measure how spiritual we are by how mega our ministry is, how wealthy, how well connected, how physically tough or how healthy we are. As the name suggests, prosperity gospel puts material prosperity at the heart of the gospel; spiritual things, sadly, have become an inferior commodity.
In economics, inferior commodity is a type of good whose demand declines when income rises (or rises in demand when consumer income decreases). On the other hand superior goods, ones that are often associated with wealth and the wealthy, are those for which consumers’ buy more when their income increases.
Naturally, people tend to passionately seek God’s presence when they are in crisis but worship God less and less as their condition improves. After all, a desperate person will do the utmost to get himself out of trouble. Even a sworn atheist will call for God’s help at the time of acute need.
To an average person worship is only an inconvenient means of getting what they really want – breakthrough miracles of material abundance. In this respect, we are more interested in God’s material blessings more than God Himself. This, to say the least, bothers God. It bothers God because we reduce Him to a vending machine that can be used to discharge prosperity by slotting in a few offerings here or a short prayer there. It bothers God even more because He is more than what we perceive Him to be – an insecure Santa that can be easily manipulated to achieve our material motives at certain times of the year and totally disregarded at other times. We need Him to either do things our way or He is not a good, loving God worthy of our worship.
Humanity has two complementary facets: body and spirit. An extremely narrow view that glorifies one facet over the other is simply wrong and must be utterly discouraged.
God created us with a body and spirit like a man invented a car with a chassis and engine. Each facet is uniquely necessary and God is the only source of both. Just like an excellent chassis can not make an excellent performing car with a faulty engine we should not expect to get a fulfilled life with a deprived spirit. As C S Lewis rightly said, ” a petrol engine is made to run on petrol, and it would not have to run properly on anything else. God designed the human spirit to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were intended to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other.”
Worship is the only means of fuelling our spirits. As we worship, Him we draw spiritual nutrients that help us attain material wealth that eventually feeds our body. When we stop worshiping God, we starve not only our spirit but also eventually our body. A great teacher, Os, said recently, “many start out well – only to be derailed once prosperity becomes a part of their life”. This is precisely what happened to King Solomon. When he was young and relatively poor, Solomon worshiped God with passion and sincerity. Nevertheless, as his wisdom, fame and wealth increased King Solomon kept on cutting down on the intensity of worshiping His God. As most of us know King Solomon’s heart eventually turned away from God completely and consequently lost everything. As Jesus said it is easier to blossom spiritually in adversity than under prosperity.
There is no best or worst time to worship God, but greater care is needed when everything seem to be going well. We must not allow material things to block the love veins to our hearts. In England they say a dog is for life, not just for Christmas, it’s time we realize that God is for life not just for the times of crisis. He is the life itself; we need Him all the time. We owe God every thing. He deserves our worship with every breath that we take and in every moment that we are awake. He is the Lord of our spirits and provider of our body. He is God in poverty and Lord in wealth; for better or for worse He’s the unfailing love.
In closing, I leave you with Moses’ tribute to his fellow Jewish slaves who were on the cusp of prosperity.
Make sure you don’t forget God, your God…when you eat and are satisfied, build pleasant houses and settle in, see your herds and flocks flourish and more and more money come in, watch your standard of living going up and up-make sure you don’t become so full of yourself and your things that you forget God, the God who: delivered you from Egyptian slavery; led you through that huge and fearsome wilderness, those desolate, arid badlands crawling with fiery snakes and scorpions; gave you water gushing from hard rock; gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never heard of. If you give some thought to yourselves, “I did all this. And all by myself. I’m rich. It’s all mine!”-Well, think again. Remember that God, your God, is the one that gave you the strength to produce all this wealth… (The Message Bible – Deut. 8: 10-18)