Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Gospel of Prosperity

I work in the midst of a very rich community.  As "The Help," I get access to a lot of things I never would have imagined.  My favorite perk is going to the pool at the golf club where the annual membership is more than twice my salary.  There were days this summer when I gazed around the pool and became irritated by the waste, the gaudiness, the snobbery, etc., that comes along with the lifestyle of the rich.  I'm not saying they are all the same (by any means) but there is a stereotype that holds true.  And if I wasn't irritated, I was usually jealous.  I was jealous of the fact that these people could afford to just not bother with making lunch and go over to the pool instead.  I was jealous of the designer swim suits and clothes I saw.  I was jealous of the cars in the parking lot, of the houses I drive by to get there.  And what really irritates me, no, angers, me? A good portion of these people aren't even good people!  They have lied, cheated, gossiped, and slandered to get to where they are.  They treat me poorly because I'm "The Help" or they simply act like I'm not even there, they talk behind each other's backs, they're not grateful, and so on and so forth.  It frustrates me that they have "it all" while I'm the one working hard and trying to live a morally upright life while barely being able to afford a small house (which is still a lot for some, I know).

But God's word bring a new light to my irrational thinking:

Psalm 37:1-5
1 Do not fret because of evildoers,
Be not envious toward wrongdoers.
2 For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb.
3 Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
4 Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.

It doesn't seem fair does it?  The "wicked" thrive while I work extremely hard to succeed.  But God has so much more for us than the gorgeous homes and sports cars of the wealthy.  He reminds us here that we should not fret (or be angry) because of evildoers, nor are we to be envious of them for they will wither away (Strong's H2734).  But those first couple of verses (1-2) do not mean "'Do not envy the wicked man's prosperity, nor wish it were yours, but solace yourself with the assurance of his speedy ruin.'  What is said is far nobler than that.  It is, 'Do not let the prosperity of unworthy men shake your faith in God's government, nor fling you into an unwholesome heat, for God will sweep away the anomaly in due time'" (Expositor's).  God does not define prosperity the same way that we do.  Money and worldly success do not equal prosperity in God's book.  In fact, if you have received the gift of Christ, you are one of the most prosperous people in the entire world!  I may not have a penny to my name but I am far richer than the agnostic pool-side high-school girl who drove her Lamborghini to the pool so she could soak up a tan in her Ralph Lauren bikini. (**Just a can be prosperous both in the world and in Christ, I am simply speaking in generalities in order to satisfy my point).

The problem is that worldly prosperity is pretty easy to see.  It isn't like I have to look hard to notice the houses I drive by are 3 or 4 times the size of the one I might be buying.  And I don't have to use a magnifying glass to see the BMW emblem on the cars in the parking lot.  Because of blatant worldly prosperity, we tend to overlook the beautiful characteristics of Godly prosperity.  When we give God what He asks of us, when we strive to succeed in His eyes, He has promised us SO much in return!

In these verses alone (3-5) He has promised to take care of us physically, spiritually, and intellectually!  He has covered the basis of humanity - head, heart, and hands.


We are intellectual beings.  As Rene Descartes put it, "I think therefore I am."  We process all of the information around us and a lot of times our finite minds cannot handle what all of that information entails.  Right now we are in the midst of putting together an offer for a house.  There is a lot of change going on right now and we have a lot to figure out.  My brain starts to take over and I'm instantly in panic mode - how will we ever do this?  What if it doesn't work out?  What if something happens?  What if we can't afford it 6 months from now?  What if, what if, what if....  But I have to remember to commit these plans to God and trust Him with the outcome, as vs. 5 states.

And what will He do in return?  He will do it.  The Holman Christan Standard Bible puts it this way, "Commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him, and He will act."  He knows what is best for us and if we commit our ways and plans to Him, trusting Him completely, He will guide us toward the best possible outcome.  The word 'commit' is translated from the Hebrew word galal meaning "to roll, roll away, roll down, roll together" (Strong's H1556).  Now I don't know about you, but that doesn't really make sense to me.  What does 'commit' have to do with 'rolling'?  Clarke seems to think that this is a metaphor taken from the camel.  You see, the camel, since it is so tall, has to lie down so that his load may be rolled upon him.  If we are committing our ways, our thoughts, our plans, to the Lord, we are rolling them off of ourselves and onto Him!  He will carry our load!!  I love this imagery!  And if I had not dug deeper, I would have missed it completely (see more on this subject here).  He is literally taking our worries and racing thoughts onto His own shoulders and caring for us intellectually so that we don't get burnt out or overwhelmed!


As Henry puts it, "The instructions here given are very plain; much need not be said for the exposition of them, but there is a great deal to be done for the reducing of them to practice, and there they will look best."  Vs. 4 is a well known verse, Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart.  Okay, simple enough right?  But what does delighting myself in the Lord look like?  How do I put these simple instructions into practice?  Well, "we must not only depend on God, but solace ourselves in Him" (Henry). defines 'solace' as "something that gives comfort, consolation, or relief."  We must turn to God at all times, He must be our source of joy!  We must "expect all...happiness from Him, and seek it in Him" (Clarke).  When we are in our most joyous moments - on your wedding day, at the birth of a child, with the purchase of a new home, etc., we must attribute those moments to Him!  And when we are at our lowest, when the world insists on kicking you while your down, we must look to God as a source of joy - we always have a reason to be thankful and full of joy.  If we do these things, He will grant us the desires of our heart.  In other words, He will nurture us spiritually. 


As noted before, worldly prosperity is not the same as Godly prosperity,  "He does not say, 'So shalt thou get preferment, dwell in a palace, and be feasted.'  This is not necessary; a man's life consists not in the abundance of these things" (Henry). Vs. 3 may not seem like it is referring to our physical state at first, but upon closer examination, and using the context of the other verses, it most definitely makes sense.  The text reads, Trust in the Lord and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.  Now, I'm going to include what the commentaries have concluded and let you read that again, "Trust in the Lord and do good; Dwell in the land I have given you and feed upon security."  

The first adjustment I made here is the underlying understanding that they are to dwell in the land the Lord has given them!  The Israelites, how ever many hundreds of years ago, would have understood this without having to have the added clarification.  They knew the land they were in was the land He had literally given them!  We may not have traveled through a desert for 40 years, crossed through the Red Sea, or marched around the walls of Jericho - but God has still given us the land we have today!  I think we miss that sometimes.  We forget that everything is His, He has merely given it to us for a time (this is why we tithe, after all, it belongs to Him in the first place).  

I then changed "cultivate faithfulness" to "feed upon security." To understand this, we have to examine the Hebrew.  'Cultivate' is translated from the Hebrew word ra'ah meaning "to pasture, tend, graze, feed" (Strong's H7462).  This is yet another beautiful image that we miss when just simply reading the text.  This one word implies that we are sheep and God is our shepherd!  "God Himself is a shepherd, a feeder, to all those that trust in Him" and do good (Henry).  Some commentaries leave the translation at that - we are to feed upon His faithfulness.  But, in context with the other verses, I, along with Adam Clarke believe that 'faithfulness' here should be 'security.'  The Hebrew word is 'emuwnah meaning "firmness, fidelity, steadfastness, steadiness" and could very well be translated either way.

The point of the matter being - God will provide a sense of physical security for those that trust Him and do good!  We are His sheep and He is our shepherd.  I love the nurturing and protection that this image brings to mind.  He is so good.

There you have it.  God will take care of our head, heart, and hands, our intellectual, spiritual, and physical well being!  With Him, we are the most prosperous people in the world.  We don't need fancy cars or giant mansions.  Who wants to clean those anyways!?!  ;)  

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