[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e named it, we claimed it.
We bound devils and loosed riches, stomped our feet and waved our fists until we were sweaty and hoarse and a little ridiculous.
We stood by our mailboxes and ripped open our bank statements, looking for “supernatural blessings.”
We went in debt for McMansions and Escalades and 10-button suits, all in the name of faith and the expectation that God would launch us bigger, wider, deeper, greater into the new paradigm, the next level, the higher dimension.
How’s that prosperity stuff workin’ out for ya?
Clipped a coupon lately? Painted your own ugly toes?
Had a distinctly unpleasant conversation with a bill collector?
By now, we’ve all done a little soul-searching. Maybe a lot. What many of us called prosperity has largely vanished. If we’re not suffering financially ourselves, we know of God-fearing believers who are. Our ministries are shedding employees, trimming programs, cutting operations to the bone.
Does it really need to be 70 degrees in the sanctuary? Will 74 do?
We admit it now—in the quiet of night, on that stealth visit to the Dollar Store—that we financed our dreams with debt, and maybe a lot of that stuff we called faith was really just greed.
We’re doing a sober re-assessment of the 10th commandment (Look. It. Up.); we no longer rationalize our way around the Apostle’s command, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another…”
We get it now—the borrower is servant to the lender, and you can’t serve two masters, because you’ll hate one and love the other.
That’s right, the answers were there all along, hidden in the Word of God, the parts we didn’t preach about when we were pulling big offerings and urging people to live beyond their means. “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow…”
We might have glossed over those verses a couple years ago, but we’re listening now. Maybe it’s because our get-rich-quick schemes have left us too embarrassed to talk about them, and our multilevel marketing dreams have dissolved into the fantasies they always were.
Maybe it’s because the vast majority of the world’s people are mired in poverty, and we’re not willing to thrust fake answers in their faces anymore.
We’re listening, Jesus. We really are this time.
We’ve rediscovered the value of integrity, and we’re learning how rare it is, especially in the church world. (Did I say “especially”? Oh yes I did.)
Funny, though. I haven’t lost my belief in prosperity. Not a bit. It’s no accident that the Word of God has a lot to say about money, as well as our responsibilities to care for the orphan, the widow, and the oppressed. I believe that God rewards those who diligently seek him, and part of that reward is material.
I happen to think that Pentecostal Christians, in particular, reclaimed an important principle of God’s Word, that blessings follow obedience. And this is coming from a faith tradition that, in its first 50 years, drew from the lowest strata of society—the poor and dispossessed, who got in touch with a Jesus who is no respecter of persons.
This Jesus still offers hope, a priceless commodity. Hope that your future is greater than your past, that every chain of mind, spirit, and society can be broken by the blood of Jesus Christ.
I am convinced that this teaching pulled many people out of poverty. I am encouraged that believers in the developing world have great expectations for a brighter, more prosperous future, and their hope is founded in Christ.
I’ll let my fellow American evangelicals do all the hand-wringing they want, decrying the ills of the “prosperity gospel” from their comfortable middle-class churches.
I’ve seen hideous poverty in Nigeria, South Africa, and the Philippines, and I’m on the side of hope. I’m not gonna tell my sisters and brothers in Christ to just suck it up and wait on their eternal reward in the great by-and-by.
But talking to Pentecostals of an earlier generation, I see that hard work, responsibility, compassionate giving, and obedience to God’s Word were always an essential part of any teaching on material riches.
We seemed to have lost that balance in the years leading up to the economic crash, especially in the charismatic-Pentecostal church world.
Today we’re reeling from our prosperity hangover, and my mind keeps going back to two scenes from visits to Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, a small country in southern Africa that is held out as a model of good governance and relative prosperity.
One day in 2008 we rolled up in a poor neighborhood with the cold remnants of a pizza, and as soon as we got out of the car, children began swirling around us.
Small arms reached, long arms grasped, a scuffle nearly broke out, but in an instant the pizza was gone. Including the piece that fell facedown in the dust.
These kids were hungry.
Later that year in Gaborone, we listened to pastors talk about the hardships of running a church in tough times. Their congregation members lacked work and money and school fees, and they weren’t doing a good job of supporting their spiritual leaders, who were going without many things.
My pastor listened sympathetically, because he’d been exactly where many of them were, eking out a ministry day after day, year after year with few material resources.
He understood, sure enough, and he saw a dazzling future for Botswana. But his advice took some of the pastors aback. I guess it wasn’t particularly deep.
“Get a job,” my pastor said.
I saw what looked like stunned silence. And a single amen, coming from somewhere in the margins of the room.
Julie Lyons is former editor of MannaEXPRESS. She is married with a husband and son.