Monday 30 April 2012
DOES GOD WANT US TO BE RICH?
What does the Bible say about abundance and riches?
“Come on, come on; you can make it,” my family cheered on as we watched those tiny creatures scurrying into the sea. Released by a turtle conservation centre, these hatchlings get swept by the merciless waves the moment they reach the shoreline. Sheer numbers help to offset the high casualty rate as many fall prey to predators; only a few survive into adulthood.
At night, as we lay on the beach, caressed by countless grains of fine sand, we marveled at the vast expanse of darkness lit by countless twinkling stars.
We see ample evidence of abundance in nature. But God’s abundance is also seen in the way He deals with His people. He promises to bless abundantly those who obey Him—just as he promised Abraham that He will make his descendants as abundant as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5).
What does Jesus actually mean when He says, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10)?
The Greek word Jesus uses to describe the abundant life His followers ought to be living is perissón, meaning "superfluous”, "overflowing”, "so abundant that it considerably exceeds our expectations”.
Tangible and intangible
This abundance can be in the form of material blessings or, more importantly, that which money cannot buy—meaning, purpose and fulfillment in life. Following God certainly has its rewards for what "no eye has seen or ear heard or mind conceived” has God prepared for those who love him (1 Corinthians 2:9).
To be rich financially should never the main focus for the Christian. Rather, He wants us to know Him intimately and find true riches in Him. He does not promise that all of us will live in bungalows and drive prestigious German marques once we come to the faith. However, He does promise to supply all our needs.
Thus the abundant life—in spite of what it immediately conjures up in our minds—is not primarily characterised by quantity but quality. It is focused not on things of our earthly existence, the here and now. Paul describes it this way: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2-3).
Abundance vs. scarcity mindset
While being rich should not be our primary focus, we should not embrace a scarcity mentality either. Many are apt to think that poverty is a virtue; the phrase “as poor as a church mouse” appeals to them.
But as God’s children, we have to think big and expect great things from God. In the account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Luke 9:10-17), Jesus tested the disciples, challenging them to feed the multitudes at the end of the day when everyone was all tired and hungry. To the disciples, it was inconceivable for Jesus to tell them, "You give them something to eat," when they were “stuck” in a remote area with no easy access to food.
Like the disciples, we too have often been driven to despair on realising our own insufficiency. When the disciples protested that it would cost a bomb to feed everyone, Jesus asked them what they had. They answered, "We have only five loaves of bread and two fish,” a little boy’s lunch.
Looking at the circumstances, they saw no way out except to send the people away to fend for themselves. But Jesus said, "Give them to me." And as they say, the rest is history. Jesus blessed the loaves and fishes, multiplied them and fed the multitudes.
Until the disciples were willing to commit to God whatever little they had, God did not move. Similarly, He is able to work mightily when we commit our “five loaves and two fishes” (time, talents and resources) for His use. For He is able to “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).
Embracing an abundance mindset—as opposed to a scarcity mindset—involves learning to walk by faith, tapping into His infinite resources, enjoying His blessings with gratitude and being a channel of His blessings.
We have to think big, move out of our comfort zone, envision great things for His glory— even what is humanly impossible—whether it’s in the church or marketplace. If we can do it on our own, what need is there for supernatural strength? As the Psalmist instructs us: “Blessed is the man whose strength is in You” (Psalms 84:5).
A pastor in a small town heard clearly from God to build a multi-storey church without any financing from a bank. Many thought that he had gone mad. But he stuck to his guns. Somehow God provided amazingly through a rich widow who funded the purchase of the building. If the God we believe in owns everything, including the cattle on a thousand hills, what is this miniscule project to Him?
Abundance and the marketplace
If the church wants to make a significant dent in society, it has to discard the notion that poverty is piety. “There have been three factors that have changed society far more than anything else, namely violence, knowledge and wealth. And the greatest of these is wealth,” emphasises C. Peter Wagner in his book, The Church in the Workplace. Indeed, wealth is the indispensable “fuel” for social transformation.
Many would immediately react and say, “Tut-tut … another proponent of the prosperity Gospel.” But Wagner offers no apology. He believes that for the kingdom of God to advance in the 21st century, two things have to be in place: productive workplace ministers and transfer of wealth. “A poverty mindset is not just a psychological problem,” stresses Wagner. It “hinders the people of God from stepping up and taking their rightful dominance over God’s creation.” Citing Deuteronomy 28:11 and 3 John 2, he affirms that it is God’s will for His people to prosper (To him, prosperity has four facets: material, spiritual, physical, and social). However, this teaching in no way undermines the need for spiritual insight, prayer and spiritual warfare before society is transformed.
While we believe in a powerful and generous God, we must not be taken in by the real proponents of the “prosperity Gospel”—those whose ethos is coloured by material comforts and well-being far above spiritual considerations. These are the bad apples among the television evangelists and larger-than-life charismatic ministers who constantly pressure people to give to “God’s work”. We have to be wise stewards of our money and be wary of supporting their spiritual empire or lavish lifestyle.
Their mantra goes something like this: “Name it and claim it”; “Ask and you shall receive”, “The more you sow, the more you’ll reap.” All these affirmations are positive; believers use it frequently. But even good things can be hijacked to serve selfish motives like greed and ambition.
Characteristically, they will cherry-pick verses to support their stance on the “prosperity Gospel” whilst downplaying the centrality of the cross and its demands (self-denial). Using religion as a means of gain, they manipulate the truth for personal ends.
Blessed to be a blessing
God is not niggardly. He wants to abundantly bless His children, and often materially as well (Psalms 103:1-5). But wealth is like a two-edged sword. How many people can handle great wealth? Many get mesmerised by the gifts rather than the Giver. Joseph, who became the Prime Minister of Egypt, could handle great wealth for he did not succumb to greed, pride or sexual immorality. But how many modern-day Josephs are there?
That’s why the Psalmist enjoins us, “If riches increase, do not set your heart on them” (Psalm 62:10). It’s so easy to be bedazzled by the gleam of riches that we lose our upward focus.
Paul also exhorted the rich “not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God … to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:17-18).
The best panacea against pride and hoarding, the twin dangers of wealth, is to be a channel of blessing. We are blessed that we might be a blessing.
"The same Jesus who promised an abundant life (John 10:10) warns against greed, citing that “a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15).
The abundant life Jesus promises is one filled with meaning, purpose and fulfilment. If He so chooses to financially bless us in abundance, that is an added bonus. But we cannot insist on the latter or treat Him like the genie of Aladdin’s lamp for He is not our servant but the sovereign Almighty (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
Want to experience the abundant life? It all begins with self-denial (Luke 9:23).
Am I Living the Abundant Life?
(Tests of living the abundant life)
1. Have I discovered God’s calling for my life?
2. Have I experienced true joy and fulfillment?
3. Do I know how to tap into His abundant resources?
4. Do I see myself as a channel of God’s blessing?