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The Prosperity Gospel
I got saved at the age of eight, but I don’t think I really started to understand my faith until I began to taste suffering.
From an early age, I was taught to pray.
“Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” resounded from the sanctuary.
I knew every word of that and the Apostle’s Creed by heart. But did I truly know and understand what I was saying? What was the difference here between stating the words and living them? What was the difference between mundane repetitions and changes of the heart?
Nevertheless, as a child, I prayed fervently. And when I did, God truly answered every prayer.
Sometimes it was what I expected and asked for.
Sometimes it was the exact opposite.
Nevertheless, it was always what I needed.
But as I grew older, I began to wrestle with what happens when God doesn’t answer you.
When pain still lingers.
When anxiety just won’t cease.
When healing doesn’t come.
When silence echos empty prayers and phrases bounce off the walls.
When doubt creeps in.
When you struggle to keep the faith.
And I realized, that for the majority of my life, I’d believed a false Prosperity Gospel.
Why The Prosperity Gospel Is Not Theological
Whether it was intentional or not, many of the experiences I had growing up in the Church presented this idea that if I followed Jesus, and was a good enough Christian, He would always answer my prayers.
That if I just read my Bible enough, prayed more, and did the right things, then life would go well for me, right?
I’d have wealth, joy, and satisfaction.
I just needed to claim it and receive it.
Believe it and achieve it.
Read it and apply it.
Yet life isn’t always that easy. And the true Gospel certainly isn’t that way.
Growing up in a home struck by physical, mental, emotional, and social chaos should have taught me that. I was used to seeing my half-brothers die from an overdose after an overdose and come back to life with some Narcan. I was used to facing verbal abuse from those who were to cherish and care for me. I was used to people stealing from my family, and treating me like the scum of the earth. And eventually, I grew numb to it.
When I heard sirens outside my window, I rolled over and went back to sleep.
When I heard my parents fighting, I shut myself in the bathroom to drown out the noise.
When I was fearful of growing up, I turned to my own method of control which left me more weary, worn, and wounded than I began.
Yet, deep down, I somehow still fought the belief that I needed to pray more. Read more. Be a better Christian. Do the right thing. My prayers were always broken fragments of, “Lord, make me a better Christian,” when they should have been, “Lord, help me to understand and rest in your love and grace.”
The True Gospel
The true Gospel that Jesus and His Apostles preached, however, certainly isn’t that way– it doesn’t preach that if I follow Jesus and pray enough, He will always heal. Always take away the pain. Give me an easy life.
The Disciples went to places where people spat in their faces. So did Jesus.
The Disciples endured much physical and mental abuse. So did Jesus.
The Disciples saw many healed, but I’m sure many were still suffering.
Because while God can heal and can answer and can provide, it’s not based on my ability to pray or believe more, even if that’s what I’ve been taught to believe.
And the fact of the matter is this: while Jesus saved me from my sins, I very well may still wrestle with suffering, heartache, and calamity.
His Word promises that. This world is not our home, and we will face trouble.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, New International Version).
We live in a fallen and broken world, which means that bad things will happen to good people. Perfection is unattainable. Control, on a scale of larger things, is much out of our control. And while we do have free will, it is within the confines of a fragmented temporary reality.
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people because all sinned—” (Romans 5:12, New International Version)
“So the Lord God spoke to the serpent. He said, “Because you have done this, You are set apart from all livestock and all wild animals. I am putting a curse on you. You will crawl on your belly. You will eat dust all the days of your life. I will make you and the woman hate each other. Your children and her children will be enemies. Her son will crush your head. And you will bite his heel.” The Lord God said to the woman, “I will increase your pain when you give birth. You will be in great pain when you have children. You will long for your husband. And he will rule over you.” The Lord God said to Adam, “You listened to your wife’s suggestion. You ate fruit from the tree I warned you about. I said, ‘You must not eat its fruit.’ So I am putting a curse on the ground because of what you did. All the days of your life you will have to work hard. It will be painful for you to get food from the ground. You will eat plants from the field, even though the ground produces thorns and prickly weeds. You will have to work hard and sweat a lot to produce the food you eat. You were made out of the ground. You will return to it when you die. You are dust, and you will return to dust” (Genesis 3:14-19, New International Version).
The Scriptures present hundreds who were still sick, hurting, wrestling thorns in the flesh up until they died. Think about Paul, Job, the paralyzed, lame, and weak who still suffered. Not all of them were healed here on earth (though many were). Not all of them received a touch from the Lord, in which all their problems melted away.
And that’s something I needed to hear.
Something You Need to Hear
I suspect it is something you may need to hear, too.
That just because I’m suffering, that isn’t a reflection of my faith.
That just because I’m worn, weary, and filled with doubt, He still loves me and sees me, and will bless me where I am.
It certainly isn’t an indication that I just need to pray more or worry less. To let go and let God.
It’s evidence I’m human.
I’m living in a fallen world.
But this life isn’t according to a prosperity Gospel, because that’s something God never promised.
What He did promise was to never leave or forsake us.
And that I will cling to amongst it all.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6, New International Version).