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The "Prosperity Gospel"

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Question:  I have a close friend who is becoming involved in a group that is promising her all sorts of blessings. They are quoting her the Bible that if she just delights in God, she'll be given anything she wants. Do you know where they are getting this from?

Response:  The passage you are referring to is no doubt Psalm 37:4: "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you all the desires of your heart" NIV. A couple of things should be pointed out right from the start:

1) this promise applies to those who "delight themselves in the Lord", that is, not in things and possessions (or any other earthly or fleshly desire). In other words, for those who are truly focused upon God, committed to following Him no matter what (even to the point of loss of everything, even one's life), He truly does provide all the [legitimate] desires that person may have. This is an important qualification, since people who are set on enjoying this world to the full are definitely not in this league.

2) the whole context and purpose of this Psalm is to encourage the meek and righteous that their humble approach is the right one in spite of the material success of the wicked (cf. esp. v.16 "Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked"; and v.21 "The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously"). For those who follow God in a righteous and upright manner, there is victory, but patience is demanded (v.1 "Don't fret"), so that this Psalm is the exact opposite of a call to immediate gratification by self-indulgence.

3) it is the Lord who gives the desires of the heart - we are not to rush out and grab them ourselves, whatever they may be (one hopes they are legitimate), but are to "be still and wait patiently" for Him (v.7), to "trust in Him" to accomplish what we legitimately desire/need in His time and in His way.

4) throughout the Psalm, the righteous are promised an acceptable lifestyle despite the persecution of the wicked: they will have plenty in famine (v.19); their offspring will be blessed (v.25); their cause will be vindicated when persecuted by the wicked (v.6). They are never promised wealth in this life as a matter of course.

Finally, the Hebrew word translated "desires" here is misha`loth, a word which literally means "requests" or "petitions", so that this verse falls neatly into what we know very well about prayer from elsewhere in scripture: 1) "the prayer of a righteous man is very effective" (James 5:16b); but 2) "you do not receive because you ask with evil intent that you may spend [what you hope to receive] on your pleasures" (James 4:3).

The "prosperity gospel" is a very dangerous development in contemporary religion (I refrain from calling it Christianity). It is a very effective way for a cult or cult leader to gain a following, by promising what so many lust after while taking a large cut for himself in the process (see the discussion on cult behavior in "Read Your Bible: Protection against Cults").

You may also find the following links helpful:

Are health and wealth a part of the gospel?

The Dangers of the Prosperity Gospel.

Does God really want us to be sick and poor? Revisiting the prosperity gospel.

Habakkuk's Prosperity Prayer: Habakkuk 3:17-19.

Yours in Christ,

Bob Luginbill


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