Dan was on the phone with an old friend the other day. After chatting about the long winter and the latest developmental milestones of their children, his friend turned the conversation to work.
“How’s work these days?”
For those of you who don’t know, Dan is trained in math and computer programming. He says the buzz word for his work is “data scientist”, but everyone I’ve ever told that to has never heard of a data scientist. So now I just tell people he sits at a computer all day doing hard math.
Dan answered his friends question,
“I’ve been really burdened. As luck would have it, last year was the most prosperous yet for my company. And it looks like this year I’ll be making even more money.”
The words came out of his mouth without much thought. It was like brushing his teeth in the morning or “Goodnight” after tucking Lydia in to bed.
No, this didn’t really happen. And, no, that is certainly not what Dan would say.
I’ve noticed an article floating around Facebook lately called “The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying”. Now, I don’t make a habit of clicking on every link I see posted on Facebook because I would spend my whole day reading articles of questionable value. But when I see the same link posted over and over by people I know, I tend to skim through it. This particular article was one such example, but as I read through it I started to feel disturbed. As I talked it over with Dan, we both came to agree that the writer, Scott Dannemiller, has missed the point.
You can check it out yourself, it’s not very long. The thesis of the article is that we need to stop referring to our material prosperity as a blessing from God.
He makes the following points:
– When our businesses prosper, we shouldn’t announce to others that our year was blessed.
– When “material windfalls” come our way, we shouldn’t automatically credit them to God.
– God doesn’t give us material things as a reward or incentive for our faith.
– Calling ourselves blessed for our “stuff” can offend poor Christians and promote the “theology of prosperity”.
– The beattitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) and claims that Jesus is defining the word, “blessing” by his list (the poor in spirit, meek, pure in heart). – – In fact, those who do prosper in this life aren’t blessed at all, states Dannemiller, they’re burdened.
– Our ultimate blessing comes from knowing God, not having stuff.
There are certainly some important points brought up in this article. God does not guarantee material prosperity or a comfortable life to His followers. (Second Timothy 3:12 says, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”.) And we are to find our ultimate joy and satisfaction in God, not money or stuff.
But nowhere in the Bible does God tell His followers to seek poverty, discomfort, or persecution. God wants to give his children good things, and, yes, those things can be material. God rewards Job’s faithfulness with an abundance of material possessions. Joseph suffers throughout his life and God brings him to a place of authority and prosperity. Solomon, when he pleases God by asking for wisdom, is promised wealth and honor in addition to wisdom.
And, while the Bible doesn’t teach a prosperity Gospel, there is often an earthly blessing in following Godly wisdom and principles. The Proverbs offer advice on acquiring wealth (work hard, practice generosity, and don’t cosign on loans). Nations that repent and turn to God are protected. Nations that turn against God suffer judgement, including pain, suffering, and famine.
The thing Christians need to remember is that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, and giving or taking, He is to be thanked and praised. When our country prospers economically, we should thank God and give Him credit. When crops do well, the weather cooperates, milk and honey abound, and businesses prosper, we need to give Him thanks. These things are not “material windfalls”. They are not mystical or random. God is sovereign over all things, and He is not happy when people forget that all good things come from Him.
As for the beatitudes…I would argue that Jesus is not defining the word blessing. Blessing means happiness. Jesus doesn’t need to say, “blessed are the rich” because nobody needs to tell them that. They have their blessing already and they know it. He’s challenging our thoughts and encouraging His followers. God is sovereign in all situations, plenty or want, sickness or health.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.
They do not say in their hearts, ‘Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives the rain in its season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest.’ Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have kept good from you.
So, no, don’t expect to prosper just because you are a Christian. Don’t promise new believers an easy life. But, yes, give thanks to God for the material prosperity that He gives. Call it a blessing from God when you can afford good food for your family and a soft pillow to sleep on. Yes, give God thanks when life is happy and easy and comfortable. And continue to thank Him when things get hard, you lose your job, or babies are born two months early. Be responsible and generous with your abundance. But don’t forget where all good gifts come from, who they come from.