Sister Geraldine was an austere, yet caring Roman Catholic nun for almost eighty years. She began her avocation at thirteen and died in the convent at ninety six. Geraldine’s heart was in education; she invested her professional life teaching children at a local primary school.
I only observed Geraldine wearing her prescribed black and white habit. And she always lived in community with her fellow sisters, never drove a vehicle, and taught primary school within walking distance of home.
On Easter, my older brother and I received hordes of candy from the sweet nun. And on all other occasions, we were granted copious amounts of school supplies. My great aunt lived a profound, yet simple life. She was a spiritual model for dedication, devotion, consistency, and humility.
I miss her.
Over the last several years, another type of minister has infiltrated the ranks of Christianity. These wolves in sheep’s clothing are easy to spot. Instead of living modestly, you might see them flying on personal jets or wearing expensive suits. Other times, they could be driving a Rolls Royce or residing in a multi-million dollar home.
In every case, however, they’ll be spouting a mellifluous and charismatic message: God desires His followers to acquire financial riches, experience vibrant health, and live comfortable lives.
These are peddlers of the so-called Prosperity Gospel. “Name it; Claim it!” is their mantra. And the number of goodies that God doles out—whether it’s a lucrative job, an increased bank account, or physical healing—depends entirely upon your faith.
This is because faith is the “currency of heaven.” It gets God to move. So, the only barrier, to gain our heavenly privileges is to search within ourselves and uproot our own unbelief.
There are endless lies with this theology. They result in false hope, a skewed reality, and wishful thinking.
First, God never promises His Followers financial wealth. The Apostle Paul warns the church in Ephesus on this matter: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Tim 6:10).”
Jesus simply didn’t die on the cross to be our genie. He knows that an excessive amount of money (or things) often harms us. That is why He commands His Followers to “store up treasures in heaven.”
To make matters worse, Prosperity Gospel teachers regularly promise their listeners monetary blessings by donating to their ministry. “Sowing the seed,” is the euphuism preached for you to empty your pocketbook. This scheme will fill someone’s coffer, though not likely yours.
The second prominent lie of the Prosperity Gospel is that pain and suffering shouldn’t exist in the Christian life. Reality would say otherwise. For example, when we place our heart and soul into a relationship because we know it will lead to marriage? Reality check. And when we fervently pray and believe God for the healing of a loved one but they die? Reality won again.
Reality can be defined as “what you run into when you’re wrong” (Dallas Willard). It’s unyielding, and will shatter all of the wishful thinking of Prosperity Gospel against its rock-face, no matter how much faith we have.
A type of theology that doesn’t’ embrace the reality of pain and suffering is downright egregious.
“Normal Christianity is pain… It’s sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,” as John Piper states. We can trust that God will ultimately restore what ails us—in this lifetime or in the next. If He chooses the latter, it will be for his Glory.
Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
The stark irony of the Prosperity Gospel is that it creates poor Christians. It deprives us of God’s actual blessings because it creates an indomitable hope in its own pre-assigned outcomes. This allusion leads to entitlement. Can you imagine the Creator of the Universe ever feeling obligated to write a check to pay-off our prayers?
God will never owe us because we packed our heavenly bank account full of faith.
The tendrils of this harmful theology can only be cut with a heart of gratitude. Thankfulness realigns us toward how God is already blessing us. It also opens new opportunities for other gifts. This is because it creates an expectation of how He really wants to work a situation, not what He has to do.
Gratitude is never dependent upon a change in circumstances, it’s grounded in a Person. True Faith trusts in the loving and character and nature of Christ, even when we don’t see a desired outcome in this side of heaven.
We shouldn’t abandon bold prayers in faith, however, because the Spirit is still in the business of restoring relationships, instilling social justice, and creating beauty amidst ashes. He might even heal our infirmities or bless us monetarily.
Whatever the case, our hearts can always rejoice because our spiritual life can be rich. We can always claim joy in suffering (James 1:2), peace in tribulation (John 16:33), and faith in a better world to come (Hebrews 11:16).
If Jesus walked on earth today, I don’t think He would travel on a personal jet or work as a televangelist. Instead, He’d drive an economy car and be employed as a mechanic. And Jesus would wear the same dark blue coveralls every day. You’d eagerly listen to Him teaching the Kingdom of God while replacing your alternator. He and Sister Geraldine would have a lot in common.