The prosperity of poverty: When poverty is desirable and prosperity is not

 

 By Gbenga Osinaike

 “Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” James 2:5 (NIV)

 

 The undue obsession for wealth and the promotion of material prosperity are the bane of modern church. The prosperity gospel has been taken too far to the point that being poor is seen as a sin while being rich is seen as an indication of being favoured and being blessed of the Lord. Wealth for the believer of today is the hallmark of right standing with God.

It has gone so bad that any time a believer is challenged he is seen as either being lazy or being too weak in faith to lay claim to the promises of God. The message of 3John1v2 where the apostle expresses a wish that believers would prosper and be in good health even as their souls prosper has become the mantra of the prosperity preacher.  The irony however is that the apostle had only expressed a wish. That was not the case with the people he directed his letter to in reality. They had gone through so much pain, deprivation and want. Many of them were suffering under the ruling emperor of Rome.

In Foxe’s book of Martyrs we read of the dire situations many believers found themselves right from the Acts of the Apostles till the days of communism and even till present age in some parts of the world. We see believers going through deprivation, persecution and want. John correctly captured the experiences of these believers and expressed a deep wish that the brethren may prosper even as their souls prospered. But that was not a reality. Apostle John who was penning that epistle was in fact in prison when he wrote those words. He had been banished to the Island of Patmos. It is that scripture that many of us turn to an anthem and thereby lose our souls to filthy lucre.

What many have not come to realise is that poverty is not a vice, though it is being presented so; neither is wealth a virtue. These two extremes have no correlation with one’s relationship with God. But God nonetheless uses both extremes for His own purpose. There is a prosperity that accompanies poverty and there is a poverty that accompanies prosperity. It takes a discerning mind to know this.

The natural man does not like pain. He does not like being poor. He does not like being deprived. The flesh longs to be satisfied all the time. We really don’t want to suffer. Some have gone to the extreme of saying poverty is a curse. They are quick to quote the scriptures that Jesus became poor so we could become rich. Their definition of being rich is to live in affluence and opulence. Christians have become so pathetic that they use the world standard to rate their achievements in life and would not mind to do anything so they could become rich in material things. Is it not amazing that we now struggle with the world to be rated as world richest people? A brother once boasted that if he does not become rich he would throw away his Bible. Some have gone to the point of blackmailing God and if possible would hold God by the jugular if he fails to line their pockets with wads of naira and dollar. The prayer of the average believer is that God would enrich them and make them have material prosperity. Their definition of prosperity is the number of material things in their possession. Yet throughout the Bible there is no good word for the rich. James 5v1 says of the rich “Go to ye rich men, weep for the miseries that are coming over you….”

On the other hand, God has kind words for the poor. As a matter of fact the Bible for instance says in Proverbs 19v17 that he who lends to the poor lends to the Lord. The poor person is thus a representative of God. While nobody desires that situation, it is a metaphor for the presence of God in our lives. What we see from this is that God uses poverty as a window to know the heart of human beings. Poverty is not desirable, but it is a transit point. It is the examination class for entry into genuine wealth. If we fail in our days of want we will fail in our days of wealth. There is no accident in the life of the believer. The reason some of us remain perpetually in need is because we do not fully grasp the wealthy that is buried in our want. Our focus is in the poverty not in the prosperity of the poverty.

Throughout the Bible you only find a few scripture castigating the poor. And none of those scriptures sentence the poor to hell. I believe this is so because poverty is a transit condition. Until we have that understanding we will continue to grope and hurt ourselves. The truth is that God is the one who gives His own children the power to get wealth. The wealth that God gives does not come with sleeplessness. It does not come with sorrow. It does not come with nightmares. The wealth he gives comes with joy, peace and tranquility. A believer does not struggle to be rich. He does not labour with the sole intention to amass wealth. The Bible counsels us in 1Tim 6v9 that they that will be rich will fall into divers temptations. Wealth for the believer is bestowed by God it is not the goal of the believer. And he gives it for a purpose. If the Lord has so much blessed us, it is not for us to acquire stuffs we don’t need. It is not for us to have cars that are not used. It is not for us to build houses that nobody lives in or that are underutilized. It is not for us to flaunt it in the name of serving a God that is not poor. Wealth for the believer is to serve kingdom purpose.

Have you not wondered why Jesus never had good word for the rich? In fact he told his listeners that it will be easy for the camel to pass through the eyes of the needle than for a rich man to make heaven. When he was at the temple, he observed the giving pattern of the people and concluded that the widow who gave a mite gave more than the rich folks. When the rich young ruler came to him, he said to him, go sell all you have and give to the poor. The man went home sad. This is a man who had no problem with adultery and fornication. He had no problem with lying. He had been keeping the whole commandments from his youth. But he had an idol in his heart. It is the idol of mammon.

It’s good for us to take a pause and think? What is the position of money in our heart? The lesson Jesus was trying to make the rich young ruler learn is that he should detach himself from his wealth. Until we get to that point of being poor in the sense of owning nothing we would truly not know the joy of serving the Lord and having true riches. By the way, like somebody said, whatever will not enter the grave with us does not belong to us.

The poverty in this sense is not that we don’t have material things. We have to get that clear. We all enjoy the goodness of the Lord. We all have material possessions. It is in the sense that no matter the attraction, no matter the temptation, no matter the allure and the grandiose; material things would not take the place of God in our hearts.

It is getting to the point that when it comes to money or any material things for that matter, we will not have a sleepless night. We will not become so obsessed with it that we want to do anything to get it. Our conversation will not be determined by veiled monetary promises.

I believe God wants us to remain perpetually poor; not in the sense of being denied the material things of these world, but in the sense of not allowing the material things to have us. Those who grab wealth are pathetic. They can kill for it and they find it difficult to let it go. They sacrifice friendship on the altar of wealth. They sacrifice their fellowship with God on the altar of wealth. They sacrifice values and would do anything for wealth. Such people are no longer truly wealthy but have become welded by money; that currency that cannot talk have edged them in and has become the controlling force in their lives.

We miss it every time material things dictate our joy. Paul in writing to the Philipians had told them that he could do all things through Christ Jesus that strengthens him was actually saying he could stay with much and could stay with little. The condition he finds himself notwithstanding, his temperament would not change. Wealth does not make a man. Poverty does not make a man. But like we have established in the foregoing they are experiences of life that should be treasured.

One of the strongest characters in the Bible is Joseph. The day I read that Joseph was a prosperous man in the prison and even in the house of his master, my perspective about wealth changed. Do we really get the import of what the Bible is saying in Genesis 39v2 that Joseph was in his master’s house and was a prosperous man. Can you imagine that a houseboy could be described as being prosperous? What that tells me is that prosperity is a person not a possession. It is this understanding that makes me conclude that there is a prosperity that comes with being poor only if we have a deeper understanding of the poverty we are talking about. Being poor does not literally mean you have no material possession; it only means those things don’t have you. Some cannot keep their head when they are blessed with a few millions; so God would sometimes allow them to go through lack and bless them with material things as far as their character can take. The implication is that if your Character can’t handle N1million for instance God will not allow you to have it. Sometimes when we are denied certain material things it is not that God does not love us. It is as a matter of fact an indication of his love because he does not want us to shipwreck our faith.

Can we for once be patient to allow the Lord to take us by his hand? There is a prosperity in that lowly situation we find ourselves. The prosperity inherent in it is the prosperity of our character. It is the prosperity of our soul. It is the prosperity that keeps us humble in the hollow of God’s hands. The time of want is the time of unquantifiable wealth. It is that period that draws us closer to him so that when our needs are met we still remain focus.

Joseph was able to put himself together in the face of provocation because he had gone through the mill. He had experienced prosperity in times of need and has such was not carried away with the allure of the palace. If he had not been properly trained by the Lord himself, he probably would have dealt harshly with his brothers when they came to Egypt. He would have used the occasion to gloat and ridicule them. But he allowed himself to be schooled properly when he was going through deprivation and persecution. By the time the Lord placed him in the palace, his temperament remained the same.

Friends, we are a work in progress. Our present condition may be a dire one. But it’s not the bus stop. It is a curve, a bend you would say. We need to pass through the bend to get to the straight road. And we had better be careful how we pass through it.

About Gbenga Osinaike

Gbenga Osinaike is a 1992 graduate of Dramatic Arts from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. He specialised in Play-writing. He also holds a Master of Arts Degree from the University of Lagos. He was Assistant Editor in Punch Newspapers from where he resigned having worked for 13 years to start Church Times Nigeria in March 2007. He is currently the Nigeria representative of US based Institute of Global Church Studies and also the Publicity Secretary of the Lagos, Nigeria Chapter of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria. He is married and blessed with two children.

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