Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Prosperity 101: What Every Christian Should Know

There was this Bible study in a church where I used to attend - and the discussion slightly got on the subject of sufferings and persecution for being a Christian. A relatively new member kind of reacted like, "wait, I come to church so that I may be blessed and find favor from God, now you're telling me I will at some point experience all these dreadful stuff because I became a Christian?" A good pastor or teacher has got to be prepared in answering every question while keeping his composure amid an ensuing air of activism from an unsatisfied audience. If anything, the argument this member raises is quite valid, isn't it?

People are drawn to church because they hear church people are friendly and welcoming. Others are convinced Jesus is the answer to all their troubles in life, and they heard of a certain promise that they could live their best life now. While the first two arguments are generally true, the third argument is somewhat shady. Why today's Christians do not like the idea of suffering and persecution being a part of a Christian life? We should be reminded that our generation and those before us are no different from the people who were with Jesus 2000 years ago. The people who walked with Jesus were considered blessed yet they suffered from all forms of persecution and suffering because of their testimonies.

Mary's suffering yet she is blessed
Mary the mother of Jesus was called 'blessed among women' by the angel Gabriel. Of course we know that nine months later she gave birth to the Savior of the world. So, if Mary was a blessed woman, why did she have to be subjected to so many uncomfortable circumstances in her lifetime? Certainly, giving birth to the baby Jesus in a manger because they were refused shelter in a crowded inn can be attributed to them being poor and lack of humanity from people around them. If it were in today's setting, I'm sure a lot of good-hearted individuals and few altruists would not hesitate to usher them in even to some creepy basement if only to shelter the heavily pregnant woman and her husband from a cold night. Imagine Mary in deep pain struggling to keep a supine position in a cold pavement while first-time father Joseph frantically catches baby Jesus' head with bare hands. And I bet the oppressive all-conquering stench and occasional chorus of bleats and neighs from curious onlookers did not help much either to alleviate their predicament.

Just imagine the terror a young mother would have felt when at the middle of the night she and her baby had to be whisked away to a far country to escape from a king's plot to murder her baby. Imagine the exhaustion she must have suffered from a long journey and the indifference people might have shown them for being foreigners in another country. Imagine the pains of watching your beloved son struggling to stand on his toes with a heavy cross lodged on his shoulders and getting whipped every time he topples - and the sound of a piercing spike hammered into her son's hands and feet. The agonies she had to be subjected to certainly do not equate to a blessing - in fact they are a complete opposite - if today's Christian's concept of a word 'blessing' is anything to go by.

Early Christian persecution
By all accounts, the apostle Paul was arguably the most persecuted born-again believer in all of New Testament. The persecution he had suffered as detailed in the book of Acts is anything but impossible to duplicate. From getting whipped and dragged into prison even without charges, to getting stoned and left for dead by a mob - such were among the cruel and terrible things that he experienced, not to mention the countless murder plots and attempts that he had to survive - and God knows what kind of cruel death he had to be subjected to, if only to obtain that true spiritual prosperity that he aimed to achieve.

Herod the chief persecutor of early Christians in Jerusalem got James the brother of John killed by the sword so as to please the Jews and to continually terrify the believers. Peter got lashed and bound with chains, not only once but several times for preaching the gospel - and history says he was crucified upside down as a matter of personal pleading for he thought unworthy to be crucified in a manner similar to that of Jesus'. So many other early believers also died a horrible death - either by stoning, their heads chopped off , some were fed to lions - and take this: sawed in two (imagine the act of manual sawing sans electricity); shall we go even further? Amid all these indescribable forms of persecution and methods of death early Christians had to face daily, was there ever a biblical account saying they had suffered a crisis of faith or that they had stopped midway in their race for realizing Jesus' promise of abundant life in John 10:10 was a 'hoax'?

Influence of megachurches
Given the advent of mega churches in our time, it's not very surprising that today's brand of Christianity has morphed into something else compared to that of the early believers. Even in our local churches, very few pastors put emphasis on  spiritual prosperity which we should desire rather than any form of material and financial prosperity which is a hit to the congregants. If you happen to visit any local church in your area, take notice of the familiar and long exhortation on tithes and offering that sounds more like a sales pitch that guarantees overflowing return of investment rather than an encouragement to be obedient to what God decrees. It is very common to hear them say, "if you want to be blessed then you should give" - a really typical forceful admonition that doesn't even spare the new attendee who in the first place is utterly clueless of what is happening around him and the 'trouble' he just got into.

The typical thought pattern most Christians maintain today is that the God of the universe is their ultra-rich abounding source of all material blessings because they contend what belongs to Him also belongs to us and He is overly-joyed if you are happy and being yourself. Wow! Thanks to Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer et al for making us all feel good with such hypnotic brand of gospel - the most popular antidote ever invented for a weary soul since vanilla ice cream. If only to grasp the state of today's Christian concept of prosperity, look no further as Facebook is awash with quotes from these prosperity gospel preachers, being shared by so many 'Christians' as if their shout of  having a big God "willing to send them to places they've never been and grant all their wishes", is not deafening. Such distorted view of the true meaning of prosperity can only get scarier because time and again, we prefer to hear words that are lullabies to our ears, words that do not even tell us that we are to be held accountable for our sins; and as Paul Washer puts it, these prosperity preachers that we so love to hear is God's judgment on this generation that forsakes knowledge and wisdom for earthly gains.

But what kind of true prosperity does the Bible really advocate for Christians to pursue?  And how come the biblical concept of true prosperity is oftentimes being misunderstood and misapplied? Let's see how the Bible is being explicitly clear and coherent as to the real concept of prosperity: 

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." ~ Matthew 6: 19-21

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." ~ Romans 8:18

"Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, so that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy." ~ 1 Peter 4: 12,13

True prosperity
Jesus, Peter, and the apostle Paul are one in their concept of true prosperity - the heavenly riches, the glory that will be revealed in us, our partaking of Christ's sufferings  so that we may share in His glory - all refers to eternal reward that awaits us in heaven. It speaks in complete contrast to what we've been made to believe by our favorite preachers: that we should live our lives on earth like we are "the most blessed ones, the highly-favored, the apple of God's eye - that God itches to prosper every aspect of our life, so that when we are happy God is also happy - that He serves up answers to all our entreaties, on a silver platter - so that we feel entitled to all His riches because He considers us His own, that if we lack few good things in life or fail to succeed in our plans, it is as if we failed to unlock the keys or secret to enjoying our best life now that is already ours for the taking. Of course Jesus said in John 10:10 that "He would give us abundant life and have it to the full". But they ask "is this not the same Jesus who said 'heaven and earth shall pass away but My word shall not pass away'? So there you have it brother, don't tell me your different theology".  Views such as these serve as a rude awakening why modern Christians prefer to flock to mega churches, get inspired and swoon over the success stories of their mega-rich pastors who dwell in multi-million dollar palatial houses and travel in their luxurious jets.

God calls for His children to lead a life of humility, contentment and thankfulness just as what Jesus exemplified when he walked the face of the earth. These preachers constantly invoke the life of Jesus as the perfect example of all the virtues mentioned yet the glaring contradiction in the way they conduct their lifestyles is beyond astonishing. This is the reason why today's Christians gravitate toward their feel-good message of a loving, generous and cheerful God who is too obsessed to drown us with good things but are oblivious to the fact that God disciplines and subjects His children to trials and sufferings to prove the genuineness of our faith that may result in praise, honor and glory when Jesus is revealed.

If you claim to be a Christian and have an appetite to twisting the words of Jesus pertaining to His promise of abundant life in John 10:10, I advise that you stop twisting His word, lest you be like Satan. Stop following your favorite prosperity preachers like Joel and Victoria Osteen, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Creflo Dollar, T.D Jakes, and Kenneth Copeland (because they are the obvious among the multitudes) - and if you're a Filipino Christian, stop swooning over Bo Sanchez with his encouragement that you could all be millionaires - because you are parading your ignorance every time you share his quotes on your Facebook - instead study your Bible and ask wisdom from God so that you may understand the biblical concept of true prosperity. 

And before you argue and defend your theology that was passed on to you by your favorite preacher, just a quick reminder, that it is not God's will that you live in palatial houses when few meters away, the homeless struggle to keep their heads and limbs covered - neither it's His will that you shop till you drop from Prada or CK stores when a lot of other believers around you struggle to keep dry - neither it is God's will that you keep posting on Facebook your expensive breakfast, lunch and dinner alternately from different high-end restaurants, when so many missionary brothers in indigenous areas struggle to live off yam and tapioca so that the gospel of Jesus is introduced to some natives.  Whereas you cannot even share John 3:16 on your Facebook wall so that all of those whom you are courting to join your group in AIM Global, Emgoldex, Royale and SWA business, will also be able to hear the profound love of God that He gave us His Son Jesus so that if we believe in Him we will receive eternal life, as opposed to the promise of gold bars in Emgoldex  - and a greeting of "welcome good and faithful servant, share your master's joy", as opposed to the greeting of "wealthcome to AIM GLobal".

Pursue righteousness
Of course I do not advocate that Christians should live a life of poverty because that would be tantamount to twisting and disrespecting scriptures - and that is what we call hypocrisy. In Psalms 30:8, Agur the son of Jakeh tells God that he wants neither riches nor poverty but only his daily bread. King David asserts in Psalms 37:25 that he has never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. In Matthew 6:33 Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you. In Hebrews 13:5, we are being admonished to keep our lives free from the love of money, and be content with what we have, for God has said "I will never leave you nor forsake you." In Philippians 4:19, Paul tells them that God will supply all their needs according to His riches and glory by Christ Jesus. Shall I go on and on? The scriptures speak in plain language - its clarity and simplicity beyond question - it requires no hidden formula for us to discover - as opposed to the purported secrets your prosperity gospel preachers would want you to discover by buying their books.

In His earthly ministry, Jesus being the symbol of incomparable humility, was found in appearance as a man, humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:8). That means He was a majestic God dwelling in His glory, stripped himself of His majesty and glory, born in a manger, in a stable (where few of us would dare to get close to and be able to hold breath) - had worn probably a cheaper set of clothing and an old one (tell me of a carpenter's son and a firstborn for that matter, who frequents Starbucks in his daintiest signature outfits). Jesus had experienced to go hungry (Matthew 21:18-19), got tired from a day's long journey (John 4:6), had no roof on his head (Luke 9:58), wept over the death of a friend (John 11:35), was persecuted, rejected by His own people, cursed and slapped at, and died the most humiliating and painful death so that all of those who would believe and put their trust in Him will be with Him to share in His glory in heaven. Jesus willingly embraced all of these sufferings and persecution not for His benefits, but for you and me, so that we may be overjoyed when we partake of his suffering, because the glory that will be revealed in us is beyond compare. While awaiting for that Blessed Hope to appear, Christians should lead a life of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and if I may add, the word contentment - to me that is true prosperity. So, how is that to you?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...