Thursday, February 4, 2010

Suffering and "Prosperity"

The notions of suffering & struggle as well as 'prosperity' & blessing have been on my mind a lot these past years. The 2 most recent discussions in my heart have been on Genesis 39 - the story of Joseph and also Jeremiah 29:11.

Genesis 39 was tough for me recently because parts of it rubbed me the wrong way. I was trying to figure out if something was lost in the translation, if I was reading into specific verses too much and not reading them in context of the bigger picture, or what. Specifically vs 2, 3 and 5

The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered... - 2

...When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did... - 3

...The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field... - 5

I guess what bothered me was knowing how people can abuse these verses. One could read this and begin claiming these verses are telling us that when the Lord is with you, you prosper. And when the Lord is with you, you will have success in everything.... and blessing will be on house, field, all. (and then vice versa they will say... well if you aren't successful and don't have blessing... the Lord must not be with you - ouch!). That makes sense to me --- if we're talking about spiritual success/prosperity - but in these verses it bothered me because it was clearly talking about 'worldy' success/blessings. On the house and in the field - and something Potiphar, not a follower of God, recognized. So I saw how it could be 'abused'.

The past years I felt like God had been teaching me away from this 'prosperity' gospel. I don't believe all children of God will be 'successful' or 'prosperous' in earthly terms .... just like I don't believe God will have all of us be healed from diseases and live really long healthy lives. What this verse made me do though was recognize that earthly blessings *are* from God. The reminder that money/earthly blessings/things are not inherently good or bad... it's the *love* for them that is. I think where I am with this passage is that Potiphar, through Joseph's spirit, faith, and attitude saw that there was something different about him... and at the same time the Lord did give earthly rewards to Joseph as well as spiritual. Perhaps that is what Potiphar needed to see to understand Joseph's relationship with God. He needed to see the "blessings" to allow Joseph's story to continue and Potiphar to continue to assign him and keep him around..... so God did use the earthly blessings to show His relationship with Joseph. So God will use worldly blessings to reward us.

At the same time - what I also want to acknowledge is that if God doesn't reward with worldly blessings it doesn't mean we are necessarily out of His will or out of His favor! Things that the world says are "good" can also be used for "bad".....and things that seem "bad", God can use for "good". Basically - God is not limited by the world's definitions (duh) and isn't concerned so much about our earthly stances than our spiritual health. Though He does care about us here!

This is the primary focus of Joseph's story - he was abandonded from his brothers and family, sold to be a slave, wrongly accused.... all "bad" things for sure -but all during that time, the Lord was with Him and he was in His favor. I wish it had mentioned that more when Jopseh was struggling - not just proclaiming the favor when things were turning around and "looking up". But in the long term, God used it all for the good. What others used for bad - God intended for good.

So I think the general lesson God wanted me to learn through Genesis 39 was that yes the Bible even mentions "prosper" and "success" and is referring to earthly prosperity/success in certain verses.... and that's okay. It's just that those verses should not be taken individually as a way for somebody to justify that God desires all of us to *always* prosper in *earthly* terms. There are too many other verses in the Bible to be taken to contradict that.

The second verse that came into my mind after thinking of "prosperity" was Jeremiah 29:11. One of the first verses I ever memorized.

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.

Which is another verse that I believe can be over-used and abused. A verse that can be "claimed" as people try to get God to agree with *their* plans of prosperity, hope and future here on earth as they desire.

This verse is not promising earthly prosperity and the future that *we* desire here on earth. When I looked up the word "prosper" used in the original Hebrew and the word was "Shalom" - a word many of us are familiar with - the Theological WorldBook of the Old Testament says Shalom can mean, "Completeness, wholeness, harmony, fulfillment. . . . Unimpaired relationships with others and with God"

So the "prosper" here isn't an emphasis on earthly gain/wealth.... but on positive relationship with God & others.

This shalom God was promising wasn't a promise of immediate justice but a long term promise that His plans would not be thwarted. It may seem like the world is full of injustice & evil is flourishing and going unchecked... but God is assuring us once again of His control.

So then I started thinking about my husband's situation at work with a boss who is miserably negative, abusive, hot headed and down right immoral. (btw - obviously we won't have shalom with everybody! as the new testament shows how common persecution was --- but He will make sure to give us Shalom with Him and others to support us!) This job for the past 6 years has been full of suffering yet I know Brandon has done what God has asked of him. He doesn't react in anger, he stays calm and is a kind servant... and he many times suffers because of it.

And I recognized how angry that makes me! I had such wrong expectations of the world system. I truly believed my schooling and the way of the world growing up that when you do what's right, it will be rewarded. What you sow you shall reap. Hard work will always lead to promotion..... but I realized that although that applied in school and chores around the house - the world system is a mess! The law of sowing & reaping can not be applied where and how I want it to be... especially today it seems where so few companies are moral! or have loyalty and good business practicies with their employees.

However, how we face adversity is what makes all the difference and that *is* our responsibility - we can not change others or how others treat us. We can't change the evil in the world. We can't change many external situations - but we can make a choice to not let it control us and have power over our hearts and our emotions. When we are struggling, will we become a victim and allow our situation to drag us down and allow us to be bitter, angry and discouraged forever? Will we start making statements that the whole world is against us and convince ourselves that is true? "nothing ever goes our way".... OR will we understand that how we respond can make the situation a curse or a blessing. Will we run to God and ask Him to make good out of this? Will we ask Him to keep our hearts pure and believe in the hope we can have in Him? Will we take ownership of our response and emotions when we are struggling?

Despite what a mess the world is... I do trust that 'law' of sowing & reaping is a promise from God for the long term. That when the new Jerusalem comes and we are in full glory - we will have justice, full reward for our sowing and "prosperity" in all ways.

For the christian life on earth, there is that "balance" of 'suffering' and 'prosperity'. Life on earth is full of suffering and I don't think we, especially our generation, are being prepared for it or even acknowledging it. We truly would rather things be easy and have leaders who agree with that and only preach on that! And then try to lead us that way - to try to get control of our lives - how to get through life with as little pain and struggle as possible. Preachers and leaders who make it seem like glory can be *now* and life can be easy if you follow x, y, z steps. Making it seem it is possible to be in control and have it all together and have things go exactly as planned! (yeah right!)

Where is God in that all? Where is taking up the cross? Where is Romans 5? where is so much of the new testament? Why are we so busy preaching "how to's" and life lessons and how to have a better life --- and not the beautiful gospel of salvation & reconciliation!?

Perhaps our generation and what is happening is a case of how "good" things can be be "bad". We put so much security in 'things' and how easy life is for most of us (especially in comparison with the rest of the world!!) that when things get even a little hard, our entitlement attitudes won't even allow us to suffer with right perspective. This journey isn't supposed to be 'easy' and the path to glory is paved with suffering. Romans 5. As much as I don't like to admit it, it's the truth. There is a role of suffering in sanctification. Suffering is one of the way God molds and conforms us to Him as a potter does to His clay. Isaiah 64.

So again the lessons I feel God nudging me on are:

Contentment: But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. - I Timothy 6:6-9

and to remember to continue to "give God" the suffering we're going through. I often had in my mind what "suffering" (for God/carrying our cross) was supposed to look like --- some sort of persecution with the most radical being death for confessing Christ --- but really suffering is different for each of us. Sometimes it doesn't even seem related to our 'faith' at all, right?

Just as our experiences and personalities and heart is different - so is our suffering unique to us - and many times it's not the suffering we would choose for ourselves.

We are recognizing the suffering for what it is and as much as we don't "like" it - we are learning. We are learning to talk to Him first and seek Him first no matter what's going on and pray for His wisdom, insight and for Him to help us see His sovereignty and how He can use it all for our good.

We are praying that we can give up trying to have our own desires & plans which always leads to discouragement and depression (because they don't go the way we 'planned' or expected).... praying for Him to turn our heart's desires & plans to be whatever His are. To have His joy and the Shalom that comes when we are aligned with Him.

I am thankful for how He allows us to "prosper" in so many ways even throughout our suffering here. We have 'shalom' with Him and with so many friends and men & women He continually puts into our path that 'cancel out' (make up for? what's the phrase?) those who afflict & injure us.

Even economically we understand we do have "economic prosperity" -- which we now define as, "having enough wealth to accomplish God's will in your life"

We are blessed and prospering and we are suffering in many ways.

1 comment:

Muthering Heights said...

Personally, I'm horribly wary of "prosperity: messages!!