For those of you who have never heard the term, the ‘Prosperity Gospel” or “Prosperity Theology” teaches that God wants you to have incredible wealth and fabulous health here on this earth, in this lifetime, and all you have to do to get it is to ask for it and have ample faith.
“Ample faith” is typically defined as a willingness to give large amounts of cash to pay for the Prosperity Gospel preacher’s new private jet. And if you don’t get what you want when you ask for it, well, you just have to have more faith—which you can demonstrate by sending in more dollars.
One of the key verses used in this teaching is Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
And, one of my favorite verses could even come to mind:
Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4 NIV)
Well, I would like to say that the Prosperity Gospel is absolutely true
—for your soul.
Jeremiah 29:11 is spoken by the prophet Jeremiah to the people of Israel when they are exile in Babylon. What he is telling them is that the LORD will restore His people to Israel. And, very few translations use the word “prosper” in this verse. The Hebrew word in the original text is “shalom” which means “peace” or “completeness.”
Remember the beatitudes? Jesus spoke before a great crowd in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), listing a variety of people who were blessed: The poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness.
Not one of those blessings is about any kind of material possession at all.
Nor, are there any blessings listed for people with excellent health. In fact, verse 11 says: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”
Well, that doesn’t sound like any fun at all. Clearly, Jesus needs a lesson in marketing. Who would send in a fat check after that kind of talk? C’mon, get to the part about the shiny new car.
And, you will notice that Psalm 37:4 says taking delight in the LORD will result in Him giving you the desires of your heart (your soul), not the earthly desires of your flesh.
Oh, the flesh.
For everything in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--comes not from the Father but from the world. (1 John 2:16 NIV)
Whenever I find myself a little confused by any theology, I find a peek into the book of James helpful. James is absolutely lacking in all subtlety, which is very useful for someone who needs a two-by-four between the eyes to finally “get it.”
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:1-3 NIV)
Oops. That doesn’t look at all like a shiny new car.
See, the danger in the Prosperity Gospel is that it comes up so incredibly, terribly short of what the real blessings God intends for you and I.
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”—from “The Weight of Glory, and other Addresses” by C.S. Lewis.
When we go back to the Beatitudes, what do we find Jesus promising to all those poor, mourning, meek, hungry, thirsty, merciful, pure, peacemaking, and persecuted people?
For the poor in spirit: the very kingdom of heaven.
For those who mourn: comfort.
For the meek: the inheritance of the whole of the earth.
For those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: to be filled.
For the merciful: mercy.
For the pure in heart: to see God.
For the peacemakers: the title of Children of God.
For the persecuted: the kingdom of heaven.
In other words, it’s everything in heaven and earth our souls could ever desire, including a perfect relationship with God Himself!
And that makes a shiny new car and a private jet look like the mud pies they truly are.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4: 17-18 ESV)