By Bill Girrier
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.”
Question: What sort of prosperity do you think disciples of Jesus experience? G.K. Chesterton is credited with saying, ”Jesus promised his disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.”
Chesterton’s statement starts out great but has a troubling finish (no pun intended). What is that trouble he refers to? Deep down I know what it is and it challenges me. I ask myself if I’m one of those who pray for God’s will in my life but I have another track of my will and goals that try to steer clear of the “trouble”. How often do I pray that I would have God-honoring devotion in my life, to my ministry work, toward my career, toward my business … especially in troubles? I wonder how many truly pray for God’s plan, God’s outcome – whatever troubles may come and rest in the day to day battles that present themselves as part of the prosperity that He promises?
“ We can stand affliction better than we can withstand prosperity, for in prosperity we forget God.” ~ D.L. Moody
Os Hillman pointed out in a recent TGIF devotional titled “Elevated From The Pasture” that, “Joseph’s greatest test was not his temptation to be bitter against his brothers. It wasn’t the sexual temptation that came inside Potiphar’s house. It wasn’t even the discouragement of years of imprisonment for being wrongfully accused. It was the temptation of prosperity and ownership. Once he was elevated, he was given choices that he never had before. It was totally up to him as to which choice he would make. Stewardship reveals what we believe about God and ourselves.”
I should make this clear; God is not predisposed to disfavor the affluent. God led Joseph to affluence. In fact, God favors the affluent – who are good stewards of their affluence. Consider Zacchaeus and a host of others in the Bible who were available to God with themselves and the fruits of their prosperity.
The author of the best selling book, Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby, points out that our character determines our assignment. The Bible is full of the stories of great men and woman who submitted to God’s will and plan. Many endured setback after setback. In the end God came through. There was a resulting prosperity. In the process, character was developed. In whose hands was their character development? In whose hands do we relinquish our trust and belief? Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. Does our faith have this sort of substance? Does our faith show evidence of things unseen?
Prosperity, when we define it our way, is an illusive thing – and fleeting. There should be no doubt that the prosperity that God has in mind for us is not at all the sort of prosperity that this world defines for us. His prosperity is other worldly prosperity.
Many of us struggle with unbelief. As we endeavor to point ourselves toward that standard of total reliance on God we go from wishful thinking to trusting belief when it comes to some of the goals we set and our expectations of the characteristics of a good life. In Mark 9:23-24 we find a story of a father of a possessed child who approaches Jesus for a cure and encounters the grace of God. The scripture goes like this; “Jesus said to him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes’. Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” I am so taken by the account of this man’s honesty before Jesus about his unbelief. He is so transparent. And Jesus tolerates him and blesses him. I too believe but am often reminded of my unbelief. That is double-mindedness. And so blessings are often withheld as my character is developed. I don’t know about you but if all things are possible to him who believes then that “belief” Jesus is referring to is not always what I think it is. Jesus’ sort of belief requires His mind and heart.
So let me lay out these verses … James 4:13-16 (NKJV), “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” The presumptuousness of it – eh?
With those verses from the Book of James in mind I must say that many people pray to God for prosperity and success and their pleas often come with an expected outcome in mind. It’s hard not to get the impression that these people view God as some sort of genie in a bottle who is rubbed from time to time to dispense favors. You can count me in that group. I’m guilty of limiting God to my definition of success, prosperity and outcome – not His. And I’ve prayed “let’s make a deal” too – like anything that I have to offer is something God really needs. The Apostle Paul himself laments of this in Romans 8:26, “… for we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
It often goes like this: I’m going to set my goals and do it my way and when that doesn’t work I’ll cry out to God, maybe even try to bargain with Him and if the outcome I have in mind still doesn’t manifest – I’ll question God. This kind of praying just shows me how shallow my faith has been and how little I think of God.
When I was a young and aspiring professional, a man of “great expectations” you might say, I spent a few years in commercial real estate development in the late 1980s. To be specific, I started in 1987. Those of you who may recall that time will know that it was the period of another great recession led by what is now called “Black Monday” in October 1987. Along with a stock market decline of nearly 25%, the bottom fell out of the real estate market. You could do everything right and the outcome was wrong. Prosperity eluded me. It was discouraging. I didn’t know God as I do now and I remember being angry and frustrated. Outcomes were out of my control. So I worked harder and grasped at superficial victories and sought an alternative route to prosperity in a more secure corporate setting. That “solution” eventually ran its course of disappointment as well.
I remember an elderly gentleman I came to know during that recession who owned a lot of income properties in an affluent section of Rhode Island. He was considered “prosperous”. He took a liking to me (I think he took me under his wing) and he’d treat me to lunch at his favorite delicatessen every now and then. He’s ask how I was doing and in a “professor-ly” manner help me understand the ins and outs of the local real estate market. He drove an old diesel Mercedes Benz with cracked leather seats that oozed yellow foam and a falling headliner. The radio was broken and the car made a chugging sound as it ambled down the street belching sooty diesel exhaust. The car was reliable though – it always started.
I wouldn’t have called this man “rich”, more like “wealthy”. He could have driven any car he wished and bought and sold most people in that city many times over. One thing that drew me to him was that he radiated confidence and contentment. He loved what he did and nothing rocked this man. He always ate a liverwurst sandwich with a thick slice of onion, brown spicy mustard and a kosher dill spear on the side washed down with a bottle of some locally made root beer. I forget what I had. But I remember one time sitting at a little table behind the potato chip rack in the corner of that little deli with our sandwiches sitting atop the white wrapping paper that overwhelmed the table and this fellow asked me how I liked my sandwich. It was a good sandwich. Then he said this, “You know you can only eat one sandwich at a time. Can that satisfy you?” What that man said and how he lived held a key to contentment.
We pluck verses from scripture that promise prosperity (like Jeremiah 29:11 quoted above …) or “the desires of our heart” (as in Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” ) or for God to give us influence and authority (like the prayer of Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4:10, “ And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!”) But we take these verses out of God’s context and pray them in our context.
God has a plan – His plan. The “desire of our heart” is something He plants deep inside us that resonates with His plan. We have to stir it up and He will help us do just that if we invite Him to do so. Our own desires and plans may or may not be realized – God is gracious much more than we know.
We often confuse what we think our desires are for what He has placed in our heart. We confuse what the world and others think our heart’s desires should be and we neglect to go to God first with this plea, “God what is the desire of my heart that You have placed in me where I will find the joyful, peaceful, successful and prosperous outcomes that You have intended for me?”
Prosperity, as a word, conjures thoughts of success, power, influence and affluence. Here are some words that describe the biblical Hebrew and Greek meanings of the English word “Prosper” (e.g. to prosper) found in God’s promises of it in the Bible;
To: be tranquil
be prudent and skillful
break out from
reach a destination
finish a journey
receive help along the road
To me the concept captured by the descriptions above regarding biblical prosperity is not all about destination but more of a state of character qualities, a state of being and prowess, a state of protection, a source of confidence and a demeanor of energy and power to carry in oneself as a journey or adventure unfolds.
The question that remains for me is this; Am I and can I be satisfied with God’s form of prosperity.
Bill Girrier was born and raised on Long Island, New York. After graduating from the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and embarking on a naval career, he landed in New England where he has successfully led ”for-profit” and “for-cause” enterprises. Bill is presently engaged as the Southern New England Chapter President of Truth at Work Christian Business Leader Roundtable Groups and he helps small and mid-size business leaders define and achieve their ambitions as Managing Director of WayPoints Partners, LLC. Bill is the author of Fruition ~ Reflections on a life grafted-in (Westbow Press, 2011), an introspective on the bountiful potential of every born again Christian. Bill shares on matters of faith, leadership, management and the life experience in “Bill’s View from the Crow’s Nest” at: www.atthemasthead.blogspot.com. He and his wife Denise live in Bristol, Rhode Island.