When Prosperity and Health Seem Hard
by Peter Wade
Let's just read verses two to four of the third Epistle of John. "Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. 3For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. 4I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth" (ESV). So often we quote verse two, but we don't read on to verses three and four. Verse two is a tremendous verse, a powerful verse. It's a verse that's at the basis and heart of our teaching, and that is that God wants you to prosper and that God wants you to be well. Those two matters are very specifically the will of God for His people today and of that I have absolutely no doubt.
But how do we make it work in our lives? We make it work because of verses three and four. We make it work when the truth is in us. Not just when we've got a head knowledge of the truth but when we have become so convinced about the truth that is just really a part of our lives.
For example, the fact that two times two equals four was something fascinating when you were four or five, but at the age of all the adults assembled here that is such a part of our life that I would imagine hardly a day goes by when some multiplication thing happens or some addition or something like that that we learn as little kids by rote. Those principles had become a part of us. They are now part of our makeup.
You can talk yourself blue in the face, but you'll never prove that two plus two is five (see Wikipedia, 2+2=5). We all know two plus two is four and everything we do in the whole world around us operates on that principle, right. It's become part of us. The fact that two plus two or two times two equals four is in us. Do you agree?
In the same way, the truth that God wants you to prosper and the truth that God wants you to be well has to be in you. If it's in you then, as it goes on to say at the end of verse three, it says you are walking in the truth. If you're not demonstrating the prosperity that you think is your right and God's will for you and if you're not demonstrating the health that is God's will for you, then perhaps you should look at how you are walking in the truth, because that is a very necessary part of it.
If you walk in the truth, you have to work real hard not to be prosperous. If you walk in the truth, you have to work hard not to be in health. If you're not enjoying prosperity or if you're not enjoying health, then I say simply the logic of that verse is to check up on how you are walking in the truth. John said "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." Nothing brought him greater pleasure than to see people get results from their faith in God's Word.
With that as an introduction, I want to share some Bible reasons as to why perhaps you did not become prosperous this year and some Bible reasons for perhaps why you did not enjoy health this year. Now in doing this, I of course run the risk of the fact that folk will misunderstand me, yet I am willing to run that risk. I believe there are some truths that we need to examine, and that it is also possible that I will not cover every particular case, and so if you still feel that you are not covered in this suggestions I am going to make from the Word of God as the reason why you are not prosperous or healthy this year, then perhaps we need to examine some more scriptures along these lines.
God does not change
Malachi chapter 3, verse 6: "For I am the Lord. I do not change" (NKJV). Well, if that's the truth, then if God hasn't changed what is the problem? Maybe we're the ones that need to change.
I've quoted for many years this statement and you folk have heard it and accepted it: "I am not a victim of the world I see. I am responsible for what happens to me." How many folk have heard me repeat those one-liners? "I am not a victim of the world I see. I am responsible for what happens to me," and if I am going to make any change in my life so as to enjoy to the full the more abundant life Jesus has promised, I've got to recognize that I must take at least some of the responsibility for what happens to my life. I've got to take some responsibility. Perhaps I should take all of it, but at least I've got to take some of it. "I am not a victim of the world I see. I am responsible for what happens to me."
God said, "I am the Lord. I change not." He is always the same. I am the one that's going to have to do some changing. God loves you too much to leave you like you are, and He has provided the motivation for your change. What you have to do, of course, is to make the changes, and those changes, incidentally, for those who are worried about the theology, are changes of attitude.
God can't change what He has put inside me, His spirit within me, eternal life, this Holy Spirit within. He can't change that because that is perfect and complete. Colossians 2:9 and 10 says that. Ephesians 1:3 says, "I am blessed with all spiritual blessing in heavenly places." What has to change is my attitude, my aged intellectual equipment. That's where the change is going to be. The greatest unexplored territory in your world is the six inches from ear to ear.
Right, let's get back to Malachi, chapter 3. "For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them" (verse 6-7a ESV). Attitude again! "Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, 'How shall we return?' Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How have we robbed you?' In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you" (verses 7b-9). The reason why a lot of people did not have a prosperous year is very often because of their attitude to giving.
I am coming to the belief that the foundational principle of all life is the principle of giving and receiving, or as Emerson in his essay calls it, the "Law of Compensation." It seems to me that that principle is foundational to every area of life. A prosperous person is always a person who gives, not one who holds back. He is a person who looks for ways to keep that flow going. Many times I have taught on this. You know I prefer the word "affluence" to "prosperity" because of the derivation of the word. The word "affluence" comes from the verb "to flow". Prosperity is a flow. Riches are what you see when money is flat to stack. Prosperity is when you see money is made round to go round.
They are two different concepts. In fact there are three financial areas: there is poverty on the left, there is prosperity in the middle, and there are riches on the right. God never puts the emphasis on riches. God said, "That you may prosper" (III John 2). He wants us to be in the flow. To be prosperous means you have what you need for whatever you have to do, plus you have a little bit left over to help somebody else.
There is a difference between the three areas. No one wants to be poor. In fact, there is a beautiful verse in Proverbs, where the writer is praying, "Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, 'Who is the Lord?' or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God" (Proverbs 30:8-9). Let me have just what I need. That's prosperity, in the middle.
Prosperous people are people who stay in the flow and they stay there by giving. Malachi speaks about tithes and offerings. (Paul speaks about proportional giving.) Both speak about giving to God and surely that's where giving should start in the first place. Drive past the shopping mall on Christmas Eve and see the cars parked right down to the very bottom corner where nobody is ever stupid enough to park. Yet on that day the whole car park is just about full because people are rushing around buying gifts to give to somebody. Why do they do it? Because they feel under pressure, don't they? They feel that "So and so gave me such and such last year, I must give them something."
This is the same reason lot of people send Christmas cards. You send cards to people who send you cards. You send one or two others because you know it's the right thing to do for in-laws and outlaws. But none of you send a card to a person who hasn't sent you a card for 10 years. You see that's the attitude of the world we live in. Yet the Bible says the first place you start giving is giving to God. When you get your giving to God right, then you are in the flow and it doesn't become as hard to give a bit of your time or your treasure or your talent to somebody else along life's way.
I suggest to you one reason perhaps that you are not prosperous this year is perhaps that you have been robbing God. In New Testament terminology, that means you have not invested in your future by taking God as your partner and giving him His portion. Unless you stay in the flow, you are going to reflect your own future in the matter of giving and receiving.
God said, "Get into the flow." He says, "Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house... Put me to the test [prove Me]." The two things we do are to bring and to prove. Then God says, "If you do those two things I'll do three things for you." "I will... open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you..." (verse 10-11a). Notice the verbs there. "I will open, I will pour out, and I will rebuke." In other words, you have to work real hard not to be a success when you have that kind of guarantee coming from our prosperous God. All right, that's Old Testament.
What is true life?
Let's take a New Testament passage, Luke chapter 12, verse 13. "Someone in the crowd said to him, Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me. But he said to him, Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you? And he said to them, Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (verses 13-15). That is not life. You see the abundance of the things you possess is seeing money as flat to stack. It's being able to total it up and say, "Wow, I am worth x amount," or "I have x number of cars in the driveway, even if they are secondhand Volvos" or whatever. "I've got the yacht over at the marina, and of course I've got the beach house and... "
A man's life doesn't consist of that, is what Jesus said. It doesn't say a man shouldn't have those things, it says his life doesn't consist of it. That is not the primary reason for life is to have a whole lot of possessions. The 20th Century New Testament says, "Even in the height of his prosperity a man's true life does not depend on what he has." That is a beautiful translation. "Real life is not measured by how much we own" (NLT). Even at the height of prosperity a man's true life does not depend on what he has. You know what it depends on? On what you give, what you share in this world.
Then as Jesus gives the parable about a rich man who had a series of good crops, "and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" (verses 17-20). Pretty strong statement, right? "Thou fool," is what God said (KJV). Then notice verse 21. "So is the one..." So is he what? A fool. "So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God." Could that be the reason why you were not prosperous this year? Are you a fool in God's sight? If you think that "if I can do this or that then I'll be able to give some money to the church" you are a fool.
God tells you to give what you have, not what you anticipate getting. That is a great principle. I've had people come to me and say, "In x years I want to be able to give so much," and that sounds wonderful but what God is looking at is what are you giving now? That's the question. Otherwise you are in the same category as that fool about to build bigger storage facilities. You say I will lay it up and I will relax and enjoy the rest of it, but you're only lying to yourself.
We must be rich towards God and there is only one way I know of being rich towards God and that is by giving. Giving of my time to worship Him and help others, giving of my talent to serve Him, and giving of my treasure in faith and love that He will provide the harvest. And you need three out of three. That is how you become rich towards God. That's the only sort of richness the Bible likes, richness towards God. Everywhere else it says richness is something to be avoided at all costs and prosperity is something to be enjoyed at all times. There is a difference between the two. I once taught a series under the title, "God wants you prosperous, not rich."
So there are two passages that might just throw a few little clues out to you. Somebody gave me a little saying a few weeks back: "When it comes to giving, some people stop at nothing." That would be good on the church notice board.
If you want some other thoughts on this just grab a piece of paper and I'll give you some versus from Proverbs I don't have space to quote, but each one of these verses gives a reason why perhaps you didn't make it to be prosperous this year. Check these references out at your leisure in your favorite translation. Proverbs 6:26, Proverbs 10:4, Proverbs 11:24, Proverbs 13:18, Proverbs 23:21, and Proverbs 28:8. They cover a multitude of reasons as to why people are not prosperous, all the way from fornication to laziness. That will make you read them now, if you want to see which one's which!
When health seems hard
"And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up" (Luke 4:14-16a). Back to the old home town. "And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph's son? And he said to them, Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Physician, heal yourself.' What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well. And he said, Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown" (verses 22-24).
Then he told them about Elijah. He was the only one who was fed in that time of famine. He told them about Naaman the Syrian, the only leper that was healed in that period of history. "When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away" (verses 28-30)
One may say from that passage that Jesus' ministry in his home town was less than a success. Much less than a success! In the corresponding passage in Mark chapter six it says "And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief" (verses 5-6). If there are situations where Jesus Christ can do no miracles then there are situations when any Christian is in that same position and can do no miracles.
What caused this terrible situation that closed the gates of heaven and nothing happened? Very simple. The passage told us. It was unbelief. A lack of faith in God virtually shuts the doors of heaven. A lack of faith in God will cause you to endure sickness, will cause you to endure poverty, will cause you to have bad relations with other people.
Unbelief is the lack of trust in what God says. Maybe that has been the cause in some people not getting their healing this year, because they have this lack of trust in what God really says. Now we must balance this of course. The Bible, I believe doesn't teach that we should not seek human aid in our problems. In fact we should perhaps seek more human aid than we do, because God placed you and I where we are so we can bloom where we are planted.
God placed me here on the Internet so I could help people around the world. God placed you in your street so you could help people in your street. We need to get away from this veneer of thinking that we are so tough and macho that we don't need to ask anybody for help. That's the tragedy because there are people who could help by just saying the right word at the right time.
The Bible is not saying we shouldn't seek outside medical help for our situation. I believe God heals through doctors as well as He heals through a direct miracle. But in either case the whole medical world will tell you that if there is a person who doesn't believe in the program of recovery laid down by the physician, they will have far less chance of getting well than a person who does believe in it.
There are a number of excellent books out on the subject, Getting Well Again by Carl Simonton is one of them by a medical doctor. The whole thesis of his book is based on surveys that he has done. He found that a person who has faith in the physician and has faith in what they are being asked to do, has a greater chance of getting well than the person who doesn't believe it's doing them any good.
This has also been well covered in Norman Cousins' book and film The Anatomy of an Illness, where that great journalist was in a situation where he had a life-threatening disease and it was only through his own change of attitude that he cured himself. In fact, he signed himself out of hospital, hired a hotel room and sat down and watched old Marx brothers' movies and Candid Camera television classics, among others. He watched, and laughed himself well. It's important to see that there are other ways of getting back to health.
Whichever way you choose, folk, unbelief will hinder the progress of your step towards health. That's what I am saying. I believe the way things are going, that perhaps the way the bills are going up, believers are going to have to start believing in God for healing anyhow. Because we won't to afford to pay the bills. But God is the way. One of the prime reasons people do not receive from God what they need is unbelief, a lack of trust in what God has said.
Let me just refer you to one final incident from the Old Testament. "And in the thirty ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet" (II Chronicles 16:12). He probably had gout according to the commentaries. You can get gout from other ways apart from drinking alcohol, by the way. "And his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but sought help from physicians. And Asa slept with his fathers, dying in the forty-first year of his reign" (verses 12b-13). Now people see that verse and they say, well there you are, Christians shouldn't go to the doctor. That's not what the verse is saying at all. The problem with this king was he didn't seek the Lord.
"He did not seek the Lord, but sought help from physicians." Who were the physicians? The physicians were probably Egyptian spiritualists who were using incantations and magic potions to try and get a person healed. That was the problem. He sought the devil and not the Lord. It wasn't a case of physicians versus God, it was a case of the devil versus God. Asa with his terrible disease, which obviously was painful enough and finally killed him, sought the wrong side. He went the devil's road instead of seeking God. Earlier in his life he had been worshiping God, but when the rubber met the road, he decided to try these new boys down the street to see if they could help him, and he died anyway.
I just thought I'd explain that verse in case some over-enthusiastic Pentecostal throws it at you and says "Look, there you go. Christians shouldn't go to doctors." It doesn't say that at all. Christians should go to the Lord, that's what it is saying. According to your faith be it unto you. That's the principle.
Perhaps you can now see some reasons as to why you didn't enjoy victory in the area of health this year.
-- Peter Wade