Suffering and Prosperity

I had a conversation the other day that reminded me of some observations I have about suffering and prosperity. I thought I would share them...

WARNING! I am about to make some generalizations. Generalizations are useful tools to organize our perceptions. Generalizations are well known as debate starters and feeling hurters. Generalizations have exceptions. Please do not read any further if you are overly sensitive to generalizations.

OK. Here goes:

I observe two kinds of churches in the world; churches that preach suffering and churches that preach prosperity. What do I mean by this?

Well, on the one hand, you have churches preaching that to be good Christians we must suffer. That the call of Christ is a call to sacrifice. That we will be persecuted. That we must give up everything that we have. That we must count the cost. That the last shall be first. That the world hates us. That the Christian life is about giving, serving, sacrifice, endurance, piety, humility...

On the other hand, you have churches preaching that Christians shall receive rich blessings. That good and perfect gifts come from God. That if we ask we will receive. That good stewards receive a hundredfold return. That by faith we can move mountains. That God is able to give us more than we can imagine. That Jesus carries our burdens. That God takes care of His children. That no weapon formed against us can prosper. That we shouldn't worry. That the Christian life is about prosperity, success, overcoming, reward, peace, happiness, joy...

So we have two kinds of churches preaching two seemingly very different messages. Why?

I have also observed that churches whose members and attenders are generally upper middle class usually are the type to preach suffering. And in general, churches whose members are more impoverished are likely to preach prosperity. I have seen this over and over again. Rich suburban churches preach suffering and poor inner city churches preach prosperity.

As to why, I think it is because these are the messages that need to be heard by these congregations. Both messages are true. Both come straight from scripture. But what does a wealthy Christian need to hear? I believe they need to hear that they must use their riches for God's Kingdom. Therefore they must give, sacrifice, and serve. They need a message of Christ that challenges them where they are. I count myself today as a wealthy suburban Christian. And I need to remember that all I have God has given me. It belongs to Him and I've got to use it for Him. I've got to be willing to give it all up for Him.

By the same token, when I was poor I needed to hear that God had something better planned for me. That He wanted to bless me. That He wanted to pull me up out of the miry clay and set my feet on solid ground. That my faithfulness would produce fruit in my life. That giving my life to Jesus would result in huge blessings, more than I could imagine. That He would change me, take care of me, protect me, provide for me. That He loved me and had a wonderful plan for my life.

I've been in both places in my life. I've been to both kinds of churches. I've needed to hear both kinds of messages. And both are the truth.

I think its awesome how God works.


Ken Bussell
Minister of Music & Administration
Our Place Christian Church

>sent via blackberry

9 comments:

Matt said...

Some cool thoughts, Ken. I think the only thing that I'm not so hip about the prosperity idea is the extremes it's taken to sometimes. Sometimes it seems like the message preached is that the ultimate goal of this life is to get as much physical blessing from God as possible, and that if we only we will live a life that is not "in sin", we will have our problems solved, an abundance of cash, nice cars, and a great big houses. The suffering message can be taken to an extreme as well, but it seems like it happens more often with the prosperity message.

I think one of the best examples for this is when I search for "Prayer of Jabez" on Amazon, and get Prayer of Jabez, Prayer of Jabez Bible Study, Prayer of Jabez Workbook, Prayer of Jabez for Women, Prayer of Jabez for Teens, Prayer of Jabez for Kids...I mean, come on. Is all that really necessary?

wasmachstdugern said...

prosperity is all its cracked up to be eh?

nice to see you back! what happened to chess/scrabble day?

Anonymous said...

Beautiful observations/generalizations there. :)

Ken said...

Matt, I totally agree about the "health and wealth" extreme. The "word of faith" movement that tends to dominate TBN and other Christian circles. Are you familiar with Hank Hannegraf, the Bible Answer Man. He wrote a book about a decade ago called "Christianity in Crisis", which tackles this subject pretty vigorously. You can check out his website at www.equip.org

Matt said...

I haven't read this book. You think I should pick it up?

Ken said...

Definitely. Hannegraf is a bit narrow minded at times. But I found it pretty eye opening when I read it. Its actually kind of shocking to read all the quotes from guys like Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Fred Price... And I hear they have the book on audio now and they include the actual audio clips.

Ken said...

I have a copy you can borrow if you want. Not the audio, but just the book...

Matt said...

Thanks for the offer! I've got a huge reading list hanging over my head, so I think I'll just add it to the list. I've gotta finish this other stuff first.

wasmachstdugern said...

no bloggy poo in a while eh? busy i assume, but too busy for chess? let me know id love to get together again.