Updated: Aug 28, 2019
If the goal in life is to amass wealth, then perhaps prosperity can be measured by ‘net worth.’ If the goal in life is to raise another generation, then perhaps prosperity can be measured by the number of grandchildren in the family line, or perhaps the goal in life is to accumulate knowledge, then the measure of success may be how many books on the library shelves have actually been read. But how should a Christian measure prosperity? What is the end goal for Christians and how can we ensure some measure of success towards God’s idea of prosperity?
Deuteronomy 30:15-16 says "See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.” This verse informs us of several things about prosperity:
God allows us both options of prosperity and destruction
We get to choose
The choice is directly related to walking with (obeying) God
Let’s unpack these three biblical truths about prosperity.
1. God allows prosperity and destruction for His people
Some things come free when we give our lives to Christ (salvation, Holy Spirit, His grace), a hassle-free life is not one of them. We're a fallen people, living in a fallen world. Many paths are present for our life choices of career, spouse, family dynamics, social relationships etc; and these paths remain open after we profess our faith. God calls us to follow Him, and we know His ways are better, but they aren't always well sign-posted. We need to carefully discern what's down the path before getting on.
2. We get to choose
For better or for worse, God gives us freewill. He sets before us the world, full of all of its attractions (or distractions) and we get to choose either the path of prosperity or the path of destruction. It lies entirely in our hands. In shepherding the Israelites through the desert to the Promised Land, Moses was challenged on several occasions by the people choosing their own path, rather than God's. Moses says: “But the Lord said to me, “Tell them, ‘Do not go up and fight, because I will not be with you. You will be defeated by your enemies.’” So, I told you, but you would not listen. You rebelled against the Lord’s command and in your arrogance, you marched up into the hill country. The Amorites who lived in those hills came out against you; they chased you like a swarm of bees and beat you down from Seir all the way to Hormah" (Deuteronomy 1:42-44).
The Israelites knew they were God’s chosen people, but they still opted to lead their own path. They chose the path of destruction. Some of the reasons for their choice of the destructive path were fear (Deuteronomy 1:26-29), lack of trust (Deuteronomy 1:32), arrogance (Deuteronomy 1:43), and impatience (Exodus 32:1).
3. The choice is directly related to obeying God
In the key verse (Deuteronomy 30:15-16) prosperity is spoken of in direct reference to God’s presence: walking with Him, hearing Him, obeying Him, and loving Him. When God set prosperity and destruction before the Israelites, there was no suggestion that prosperity had anything to do with social, economic, or physical gain. Prosperity, in God’s eyes, is entirely independent of these realms; but because they dominate world culture so much, as Christians we can get caught up in worldly measures and use them as yardsticks for self- (and other-) evaluation. We are then misled into pursuing these worldly accolades and labelling that as prosperous.
In God's presentation of the two paths of prosperity and destruction (Deuteronomy 30:15), He also provides the means for Prosperity “For I have commanded you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His decrees and laws” (Deuteronomy 30:16). This is the yardstick for every Christian’s measure of prosperity – walking with God. Denying God while being wealthy, socially acceptable or physically fit, is not prospering. Christians who are economically or socially thriving, but living out of God’s will, are not prospering according to God’s mandate of Deuteronomy 30:15-16.
A Truly Prosperous Path
The challenge is walking with God day-after-day, constantly pushing the world’s flamboyant ideals of prosperity aside, and staying focused on God: His words, His desires, His commands, His Love, and our adoring relationship with Him. Walking with God does not guarantee sunny days. Sometimes our Lord leads us by still waters (Psalm 23:2) and sometimes He leads us through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4), but as long as He is leading, His rod and staff comfort us (Psalm 23:4), our cup overflows, and goodness and love follow us (Psalm 23:5-6) - that’s prospering!
The purpose of every Christian is to give unfettered glory to God: in our praise, in our thinking, and in how we live our lives, whether on the mountain top, or in the valley of the shadow of death. We prosper when we fulfill that ordinance, and we sit in apathy, or worse, despair, when we don’t. When we can say that we love Him with all of our heart, mind, and soul, then perhaps when it comes time for us to be measured by God’s yardstick, we will hear “well done my good and faithful servant, in whom I am well pleased” -
– a prosperous end to a prosperous life.
1. The Israelites decided to take matters into their own hands due to fear, lack of trust in God, arrogance, and impatience. Which of these traits has spurred you down the wrong path in the past? At what point did you realize this was your own doing rather than God's? What were the triggers of that realization? How can you guard against that happening again tomorrow?
2. Do you ever think about the legacy you will leave after you die? Where does financial wealth, wisdom, generational knowledge, and Godly testimony fit in?
3. Given the dominant view that worldly treasures are the mark of prosperity, how can you guard your heart, your daily actions, and your long-term goals, against falling prey to the influence of these temporal trophies?
P.S. A note on The Prosperity Gospel
There is a growing movement in the USA, “The Prosperity Gospel,” who's basic premise is that God wants to bless his children and we shouldn’t be shy about declaring His promises for prosperity over our lives. While this might be fine within a much, much bigger context of Christian living, the Prosperity stops here, promoting a message that is entirely self-centered (and primarily financial), promulgating a negative spiral into self-aggrandizement. Also, it makes no attestation to the enemies of greed, covetousness, or self-idolatry. Worse still, our hope is in the world, our identity is ruined, and our Holy God is dethroned to become little more than a one-arm bandit. Is that really prosperity?