A few weeks ago my husband and I conducted a little experiment of sorts. We gathered our children around the computer to watch a video clip of a church service from a very, very popular pastor. This mega church leader and author is known for his uplifting, positive, and inspiring messages. Regardless of how his message begins, the ending is always the same: All will be well; the Lord will bless; you will be happy because that’s what God wants…your happiness. The prosperity gospel defined. This, my friends, is a dangerous, yet popular gospel and millions of people are drawn into the false hope that is preached.
We wanted to see if our kids could pick up on the erroneous ways of this kind of preaching. Our children are getting older. In a few years they are likely to be on their own, making their own decisions. Would they fall for this hook, line, and sinker?
Well, we sat through roughly 15 minutes of the sermon. Within two or three minutes my youngest, twelve, looked at me through the corner of his eye. I looked back at him and asked, “What?”. We paused.
“Mom, Dad; why did he just say that on the other side of the valley God has promised everyone blessings?”
Hmm. “Hold onto that and keep watching,” we said.
As we continued we heard groans and comments from under the breaths of our boys. Finally, my oldest piped up, “What in the world is this guy talking about?”
We stopped and talked for a very long time about what they had picked up on. Blessings. Happiness. Prosperity. Self. Little God.
We were thankful that the boys picked up on the false nature of this teaching. As we ended our time I pulled up a picture of the arena filled to capacity for one of the church services.
“Is that a concert,” one asked.
“No, it’s one of the church services. This church has a membership of over 40,000 people. They meet in a 16,000 seat arena. There are a lot of people who fall for this and cling onto a false sense of who God is and how He works in our lives.”
You may be asking, “What’s wrong with someone giving hope to others? Doesn’t God want us to be happy? Doesn’t the Bible say that He wants to bless us?”
Our happiness is not God’s first priority.
I am not a Bible scholar, but I am unaware of any verse in the Bible that tells me otherwise. We are a people of happy endings and lovers of a rags to riches story. We want to hang onto the hope that God will fix, bless, and prosper.
He may. But, He may not.
It is very easy to get pulled into this thinking. Very easy.
A few weeks ago I was working on my last blog post. It was a tough, pointed one that came from a very personal place. This was a heavy piece. I had read my rough draft to my husband before publishing the article. He had suggested that I needed an ending paragraph to tie everything together. He was right. As I reread my piece, I was compelled to end the post on a high note…to leave some encouragement with people. I typed away. Once completed I had asked a dear friend to read things over one last time for me. She did. In her honesty (the mark of a true friend), she questioned my last paragraph.
What was in that paragraph? The promise that God would make beauty out of the ashes. The false promise that all would be well. The misguiding promise that God is planning to fix all problems and provide a storybook ending.
I had done it. I had written the happy ending.
I got to work and rewrote the ending paragraph so that it was Biblically sound.
This now leaves us with a question: What happens when God doesn’t make everything all right? Here is where the false teaching of prosperity and happy endings causes the most damage. If we expect God to fix everything, and He doesn’t, we are often left feeling angry, let down, and bitter. Our perceived lack of action from the Lord drives a wedge between our relationship with Him. We begin to question and doubt His goodness. We doubt His love. We question His sovereignty and authority. We doubt that He has a plan. We simply begin to doubt Him. Our doubting brings us exactly to the place where satan wants us to be. Doubt does not come from a loving heavenly Father; it is a tool used by the evil one to draw us further away from the Lord.
I do not need to search for long to come across instances where the Lord chose not to remove hardships. The life of Paul…imprisonments, shipwreck, snakebite, house arrest, beatings, stoning, mockings, plots of his death, loss. Most notable is Paul’s thorn in the flesh, a persistent condition that many have speculated about. The word thorn is best translated “stake”. From this we can assume that this condition was significant and intense. Three times Paul petitioned the Lord to remove this thorn from him. In His will, the Lord said no.
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12: 7b – 10
As was with Paul, sometimes the Lord does not remove our thorns. He permits them because He has a far greater purpose in them, a purpose that in our limited minds, we can not comprehend. Storybook endings do not necessarily fit into the Lord’s earthly plan for us. Yet, through pain and sickness and loss He moves and works and refines, drawing us closer to Himself to make us more usable.
We were recently driving home from a college visit in Virginia. Everyone in the car was snoozing, so as I was driving, I turned on the radio to help me stay alert. An unfamiliar song was playing. As I listened to the words in the quietness of the car, I was brought to tears. The words of this song summed up perfectly everything that I had been experiencing over the past few weeks; it brought all of my Bible readings and discussions regarding blessing, prosperity, and happy endings to full circle. Here are a few snippets of the lyrics as well as a link to the song (with the lyrics).
by Mercy Me
…It’s easy to sing
When there’s nothing to bring me down
But what will I say
When I’m held to the flame
Like I am right now
I know You’re able
And I know You can
Save through the fire
With Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
But God when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Give me the strength
To be able to sing
It is well with my soul
I know the sorrow
I know the hurt
Would all go away
If You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
You’ve been faithful
You’ve been good
All of my days
Jesus, I will cling to You
Come what may
‘Cause I know You’re able
I know You can
It is well with my soul
Like many of you, I’ve experienced hardships of many kinds throughout the course of my life. There have been times that my faith has faltered. There have been times when I have ached for the Lord’s hand to simply move and heal and fix. And while there have been times that the Lord has indeed moved and answered, there have also been times of silence. There have been times when the mountain in front of me has remained unmoved as part of God’s plan. Through it all my God has been good. He has been faithful, and my hope still does rest in Him.