God Wants You to Be Rich!
If you are a good Christian, really following Jesus, you know these things:
God wants you to have a happy marriage.
God wants you to be employed doing the thing that is His "call" on your life.
God wants you to have well-disciplined kids who are on the path to being healthy adults.
God wants you to have a hospitable home where you can entertain for Him.
God wants you to be healthy.
God wants you to live as perfect a life as you can, and not rest until you have the fruit of all of the above statements -- or else you reveal that you really don't fully receive His grace.
Okay, there is truth in all the above statements. But there is also error! And the best way I can explain it is by pointing us all back to an obviously error-filled statement: "God wants you to be rich!"
Most Evangelicals spot right away the error in the "health and wealth gospel". After all, Jesus said "It is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven." Yet we also recognize that a life lived according to God's principles of responsibility and stewardship often does bear the reward of the produce of our hands -- both for the individual and associated family, and for us as a community. I think we get the point Jesus was making: that we are to be Kingdom people, focused on God and obedience to Him, "and all these things shall be added unto you." And we do understand that that isn't a promise of earthly riches.
That passage is fun (Matthew 19:16-26), because it is the passage where Jesus called the rich young ruler to leave all and follow Him, and instead the man left, sad. The disciples were amazed at Jesus telling them that it was hard for a rich man to be saved, because the thinking of the day was that riches were evidence of the blessing of God on the life of a man. So they asked, "If a rich man can't be saved, who can be?" And Jesus told them, "By a man's own efforts it is impossible to be saved, but through God's efforts anyone can be saved."
So we get the riches thing, right? We study the whole of scripture, and understand the call to obedience and good stewardship and hard work, with obedience at the center. We see all the places that Jesus and the writers of the epistles to the early churches talk about not valuing possessions but rather valuing Jesus and valuing others. And we get it. Riches are not evidence of godliness, and not evidence of God's blessing. Riches are not to be our goal. And if we find ourselves "blessed financially", we are to take care that they do not get in the way of our relationship with God, and that's so important that we need to sell them and follow Him rather than let them stop us from following Him. (It brings to mind his statement that we should gouge out our eyes and throw them away rather than allow them to lead us into sin, for it would be better to lose a part of one's body than to lose one's whole body to Hell.)
But how about my list at the start of this post? Don't we take each of those things as the same kind of evidence of God's favor that the disciples took riches to be? What if we examine each one of those statements in light of the whole of scripture? Does scripture support my list "as-is", or does it require a bit of modification?
I believe it requires quite a bit of modification. Jesus gave us His own list, after all, and this is what it said about who was really eligible to be seen as a national of the Kingdom of Heaven:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. "
And I think that all goes back to the same statement that He made to the disciples about who could be saved, if not a rich man. Who can be saved, if not the man and woman who have achieved a Godly, happy marriage? Who can be saved, if not the man and woman who have raised great kids? Who can be saved, if not the man and woman who are stewarding their money and resources wisely? Are these not all obvious evidences of God's blessing and pleasure with a man and a woman?
No. It is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Then who can be saved?
No one. Unless God intervenes.
But blessed are you who know you are impoverished and that only God's intervention can save you.
Leave everything you have, and go and follow Him.
"And I say unto you that, as much as you have left for my sake, you shall receive many times as much, and shall inherit eternal life."
So, what's my point?
It is this: We are as guilty of idolatry when we make our marriage or kids or career or home or "good stewardship" or "effective ministry" or even "godly life" our goal as we are when we make riches our goal. Our goal is simple: Jesus. We need to chase a relationship with Him, and pleasing Him, the way we chased our spouse (or the way they chased us) when we met and fell in love. We need to dedicate ourselves to a life with Him the way our Evangelical culture calls us to dedicate ourselves to all those things I listed that "God wants us to" be and do. And we need to realize, as we learn in our marriages and other intimate relationships, that relationship is all about time and communication and attention to one another. We cultivate passion by listening and responding, and by spending our time on doing that over and over and over. (And ask yourself: where does God rank in the list of the places I give my time and attention?)
Back to my initial list of our "markers" of godliness . . .
Does God want all those things I listed? Sometimes. But let's re-write each statement in the list to reflect the heart of His call, and to reflect the fact that not every outcome is promised or within our power to execute. For instance, instead of "God wants you to have a happy marriage", we can list "God wants you to let Him lead you in establishing your relationships" and "God wants you to honor your commitments" and "God wants you to let Him teach you how to authentically love another person."
And the best part to me is this: He says at the start: "You don't have to clean up your act and then you can come to me. Just leave it all and follow me!" And then He says 2 years into it, when I bemoan that I'm really not getting any better, and that I must not really be His: "You don't have to clean up your act and then you can come to me. Just keep showing up! I will clean up your act over time, as you and I hang out. I want your time and attention!" And then He says 15 years into it, when I've "blown it all" so badly that I'm convinced that He'd never take me back: "I never left you. You are just as much a sinner as I already knew you were. Now maybe you get it a little better, that's all. You can't clean up your act first and then come to me. You can't clean up your act. All you can do is show up, and let me work with you. I love you. I will change you. But it will take time. And you have to drop the embarrassment and just keep showing up, whatever the truth about how messed up you still are. I already know, and I love you anyway!" And so, each day, He says: "Come as you are, and come now! I have something for you!"
God offers us life -- full life! Let's take Him up on the offer by drinking deeply of Him first, and letting every other good and perfect gift come forth then from His hand. Then I may still not have enough money to pay my bills, or may not be married, or may be unhappily married, or may hate my job, or may have kids who thoroughly embarrass me or disappoint me, or may be sick and dependent. But I will have full life, and will not worry about anyone else's judgment that I must not really be following Him, or that I am just reaping what I sowed when I wasn't really following Him. Because I will know that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven . . . but that with God, all things are possible!