So many of our churches – otherwise sound, godly, healthy churches – have been infected by the prosperity gospel. Obviously, we’re not handing out lifts across the world in our private jets. We’re not typically telling people that, if you just trust God enough, he’ll make you rich. But we definitely do believe some soft prosperity lies.
Let me land on just three examples.
Be honest, how many of your prayers start and end with thoughts about the glory of God? How many of the things you ask the Lord to do are to serve his glory? Now there are things in the everyday life of the believer that, should we ask the Lord for them and should he grant them to us, most certainly serve his glory. But often, that thought it nowhere near our motivations.
Many of our prayers, if we’re being honest, are just transactional. We imbibe the slightly iffy theology of the third, and frankly questionable, verse of the children’s chorus, the wise man built his house upon the rock. We effectively think, as the song goes, the prayers go up and the blessings come down. I’ve prayed for the stuff I want now the Lord’s gonna bless me big time.
Even if we’re not being quite so crass about it, we happily pray for Norma’s back to get better, or Ali’s asylum application to be successful, or Frank to get that job he applied for. But often, underlying those requests, is a belief that the Lord never wants us to be ill, face deportation or out of work. But, who do you think put us in those situations to begin with? What is more, guess who never promises to take us out of those situations?
What the Lord is concerned about is his glory and the multifaceted ways that it is served. Rarely is that our concern, we are more bothered about folks being upset over their situation and want the Lord, like some prosperity genie, to make it better. Give them the thing they crave Lord, then they’ll be happy, and you only really want us to be happy, don’t you Lord. In other words, we affirm the person’s contentment is tied up in things other than Christ and then petition the Lord to grant the thing (that isn’t him) to make the person content. That is prosperity praying.
It’s pretty easy to fall into a quid pro quo with the Lord regarding our service. If I do enough evangelism, the Lord will give me whatever it is I’m after. I scratch your back, Lord, you scratch mine.
Granted, we’re often not saying I’ll serve in the soup kitchen and Jesus can send me a nice fat cheque. But we often think to ourselves, I’m doing all the right things, so the Lord is sure to bless me. Perhaps we recognise it more clearly when, so far as we’re concerned, we’re doing all the right things and the Lord isn’t giving us what we think he should. I’m obeying you in all the right areas, Lord, why haven’t you fulfilled my desire yet?
So often, our service ends up being transactional. I will serve here, I will obey rightly as far as I can, and when I’ve done that Jesus will give me whatever I’ve decided I need from him. But that’s not how grace works. That is the older brother from the parable of the prodigal son talking. I’ve slaved away for you, Lord, because I want what is yours and yet you haven’t give it to me. If we’re only serving when we feel it, or we’re serving because we think the Lord will give us what we want and need when we do, that’s prosperity service. Transactional service for the purposes of extracting from the Lord what we really want (which, if that’s our attitude, usually isn’t him).
We are wont to be unduly affected by our feelings when we come into church. That’s not to say our feelings don’t matter at all, it is just to say they aren’t ultimate. But frequently, if we feel low or like the Lord isn’t giving us what we feel by rights he should, we have no real interest in worshiping him like we should.
Again, just as with our prayers and our service, it becomes a highly transactional approach to church and worship of God. If the Lord has blessed me with a good wife, top job, all the various things I could wish for, I’m happy to rock up to church on a Sunday morning and sing with gusto, praising him with all my might for the great things he has done for me. If, however, I consider my life or circumstances lacking in some way, my worship is non-existent. The Lord hasn’t blessed me in the way I think he ought, so I shan’t be blessing him either.
This is prosperity worship. Never mind that the Lord, if you are his, has blessed you beyond your wildest imaginings. Never mind that the Lord is using your current circumstances, hard as they may be, for his glory and your ultimate good. You’ve decided the job you really wanted, or your singleness, or your sense of lack, mean that the Lord hasn’t done as you wanted. And, if that’s the case, there’s no way you’ll be singing or praising him. No way. Not until he does what he’s supposed to and gives me what I want. Until he contents me in the way I reckon I need to be contented, he can forget it!
That is prosperity worship. We’ll only worship the Lord, we’ll only bless him, when he blesses us in the way we want. We’ll give testimony to his goodness, but only once he’s been good in the way we’ve decided he should be good. We withhold our worship because, as far as we’re concerned, we we aren’t feeling it because the Lord hasn’t given us what we demand.