I believe God wants to bless us and I believe in healing for our physical bodies. I believe God is capable and willing to bless people financially. I don’t believe any of these are the central focus of the Gospel. They are parts, but not the center. However, in the past 50 years, American Christians have focused a great deal of thought and attention to wealth and health. Certainly, we have a better understanding of healing and blessing as a result, but I suspect we have also wandered from our primary mission and lost any understanding of the theology of suffering.
Have we created a theological ideology that eliminates any discomfort and marginalizes any element that would cause us pain or even death? To be clear, I am not suggesting that we look for persecution or that we pursue suffering because it is my opinion that persecution and suffering will find us without us looking for it. But, have we, as pastors, teachers and leaders prepared our churches for difficult times? Have we created a sense of entitlement among our people that lead them to believe that any hardship is a direct reflection on their capacity of faith or the result of some secret sin?
I do believe that unbelief and sin can cause bad things to happen to us, but I also believe rough times can happen to even the most devoted of followers. When it does, Jesus said to “take heart, for I have overcome the world.” So while Jesus is trying to help us regain our courage and move forward, we are being bombarded with messages from well meaning people that difficult days were probably our fault. This has to stop or we are going to shipwreck people with an incomplete theology.
I suggest we keep teaching on healing and we continue praying for miracles. I suggest we keep teaching people that God wants to bless us financially, especially those who are willing to use those resources for the building of His kingdom on the earth. But, let’s not avoid the difficult teachings of Jesus and the Apostles that clearly describe seasons of suffering and loss.
God promised to walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death and Jesus promised to enter into our suffering to comfort us and protect us. Jesus guaranteed persecution but He also said we would always have the right words to say when brought before our persecutors. He promised us the Holy Spirit, who would teach us, lead us and guide us.
My challenge to pastors and leaders is teach all of Scripture and not avoid the tough questions or sensitive issues. To preach and teach only on the comfortable topics is setting up our people for failure when their lives are not comfortable. Prepare the people for healing, blessing, suffering, and persecution and then the entire Gospel is really being taught.
January 4, 2010 at 1:16 pm
Hi Pastor Brady,
I so agree with you! Yes, God blesses and heals us … it is his nature to do so. But there’s also something to be said for the “fellowship of his suffering,” and just the suffering that generally come from living in a fallen world. For me, personally, suffering has wrought a spiritual work in my life that no prosperity or health could ever have done. When I look back, the hardest times in my life are the sweetest because of the way in which my understanding and relationship with the Lord flourished in the midst of it. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything! Like you said, I don’t go around looking for trouble and suffering. But, when it does come my way, I’m not so quick to run from it or try to :”rebuke it away,” because I’ve seen the fruit that came come from it. Good word!
January 6, 2010 at 11:23 am
Thank you so much for this post!
I think there’s a lot of truth here that a lot of people often don’t want to admit. As an extreme example of how some within the church have gone astray, the doctrine of Prosperity theology, the idea that God will make Christian believers materially wealthy in this world, is a serious distortion of Christianity, I would argue, to the point of being totally incompatible with Jesus’ teachings.
Following Jesus is not easy. It brings on a life of suffering and persecution. It also comes with great responsibility: a belief that money does not truly belong to us (think of the parable “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s), a responsibility to manage wealth responsibly (the parable of the talents), and a notion that we must give up ALL our material wealth to the poor when it stands in between us and God (the parable of the rich ruler and the well-known).
That’s not something people want to hear! But Jesus also brings a deeper sense of comfort, something that can’t come from money or material goods. And the church brings a community that can help people immensely in times of hardship. It’s important to remember this in the hyper-individualism of American society…where everything is all about the individual. The disciples did not work alone and in isolation! The early church held together in the face of hardship and persecution because it had a strong sense of community. This is not the model that we learn in America. Even when we grow up Christian we often get sucked into this destructive hyper-individualism to the point that we don’t even know what a community is. But what use is wealth if we are alienated from each other and from God?
January 10, 2010 at 3:51 am
You are to be commended for your balance. I do believe that God does want to bless us (it is his nature to bless) but blessings so often comes through suffering. I would even suggest that without experiencing God in our times of sufferings we are not ill prepared to experience his material blessings when they come. Suffering deals with our selfishness in a way that prosperity never can. Blessings from Australia