• johned@aibi.ph

Spiritual Aspects of Prosperity

The economist Max Weber was one of the first people to systematically study the tie-ups between religion and economics. Firstly he found that the higher percentage of their GDP that cultures or nations spent on religion the poorer they tended to be. That is those that were more religious were poorer than those that were more secular. Secondly he found that the “Protestant work ethic” was part of the reason behind the success of the Western nations and his first major publication bore that name.  Since then many people have written about the tie up between religion and economics. From an evangelical standpoint these statistical facts need to be re-interpreted slightly since we do not believe that all religions are of equal spiritual value. It is of no surprise to an evangelical that Protestant nations are wealthier than equivalent economies with other religious allegiances. God blesses those who follow Jesus by faith. However why is Africa so poor? What is it about the spiritual dimension that makes nations that follow animism, tribal religions or voodoo so terribly poverty stricken? Also huge spiritual questions are raised such as “If God loves the poor and is in control of the financial realm why is there still poverty?” This article will answer that question in eight ways:

  1. Prosperity is totally under the control of the sovereignty of God
  2. There is a moral aspect to prosperity involving personal character attributes and right relationships.
  3. There is a spiritual realm of blessings and curses that greatly influences our prosperity.
  4. Satan steadfastly opposes God’s prosperity.
  5. People become poor because idolatry creates poverty.
  6. The quest for “luck/fortune” creates an irresponsible mindset that in turn creates poverty.
  7. The spiritual realm is used as a means of escape and illusion, an “opiate of the masses”.
  8. The spiritual world of primitive religion is chaotic and in need of appeasement not logical, lawful and predictable, it thus does not encourage long-term planning.

So we see that there are primary connections between religion and prosperity such as blessings, curses, idols and answers to prayer. Then there are secondary ones where our religion influences our mind so that we believe in ghosts or in luck or in gods that must be appeased in expensive ways. These religious beliefs affect the way we work and plan and have very real economic consequences. Lets examine these seven spiritual factors in prosperity and poverty a bit further.

Prosperity Is Totally Under The Control Of The Sovereignty Of God

This was Nebuchadnezzar's hardest lesson. On the rooftops of Babylon he cried out "Is this not might Babylon which I have made?" For this act of pride he was punished by God by losing both his might and his mind for seven years. After his sanity and his kingdom was restored he said:

(Daniel 4:34-37 NKJV) ….and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. {35} All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, "What have You done?" …Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.

God is sovereign over the most might of rulers and "does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth". God is able to influence both position in life and prosperity in life. The following five verses illustrate and clearly testify to God's absolute control over the financial, social and political realms that influence prosperity: He gives them to whomever He wishes.

God Controls Riches , Honor, Greatness and Strength

(1 Chronicles 29:11-12 NKJV) {11} Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, The power and the glory, The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, And You are exalted as head over all. {12} Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great And to give strength to all.

God Controls Political Position

(Daniel 4:17 NKJV) ..In order that the living may know That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men.'

God Controls Riches, Wealth and The Ability To Enjoy Them

(Ecclesiastes 5:19 NKJV)  As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God.

God Controls The Entire Financial Realm

(Haggai 2:8 NKJV)  'The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,' says the LORD of hosts.

God Can Give Us An Abundance For Every Good Work

(2 Corinthians 9:8 NKJV)  And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.

God is the totally sovereign giver of wealth and honor. He rules in the kingdom of men. His will prevails on Earth. He gives prosperity to whomever he pleases including the lowliest of men. He gives not only wealth, but the power to enjoy it. For the Christian worker He makes grace abound so the we may have "all sufficiency in all things" and "an abundance for every good work".

This is not a fatalistic view but rather an optimistic view. Since God controls all wealth and honor and since God cares for the poor then we have a powerful ally in helping the poor! To take these verses to mean "The poor have an allotted station in life, its poverty, God has not given them wealth, so be it" is to deny God's bias to the poor so evident in the Scriptures.

There Is a Moral Aspect To Prosperity Involving Issues of Character and Relationships

Some people are poor because they or the culture they are part of ignores basic morality and wisdom. This is not just “blaming the victim”. It is a real factor in poverty. The market factors and structural factors that cause poverty will be the main focus of the book, however, to be fair, we have to look at all the causes of poverty including those mentioned in Scripture. Irresponsible  behavior such as getting drunk regularly, taking illegal drugs, gambling or engaging in promiscuous behavior leads to poverty. A case in point is the AIDS epidemic that is destroying the prosperity of South Africa, which is a resource rich nation with generally good leadership. The working life of many South Africans requires long stays away from home at mines, and this has combined with traditional valuing of virility and the availability of prostitution to produce widespread promiscuity. Also part of the culture of virility is a deep scorn for the practice of “safe sex”. This lethal combination of promiscuity and folly has led to a vast HIV-AIDS epidemic which according to South Africa’s Medical Research Council is causing 25 percent of all deaths in the country and 40% of adult deaths in the 15-49 age group and which may reduce the life-expectancy to 41 years by 2010 (reported in Newsweek , Oct 29th 2001 p5) This is further compounded by a culture of shame about HIV-AIDS and government refusal to acknowledge the problem. Such a massive epidemic of course causes deep poverty in families bereaved of the provider and throughout the nation as a whole. Just one foolish immoral person can do great damage to their family and friends. When a nation, city or a sub-culture disregards biblical morality and wise living then disaster is inevitable. From the gin-soaked London during the time of Wesley to the drug addicts of New York the effects of immorality, ignorance, pride and folly are obvious. In addition to the “sex, drugs cigarettes and booze” aspects of poverty are attitudinal character aspects such as laziness, contempt for learning and choosing friendships with “the wrong sort of people”. These are extensively dealt with in the book of Proverbs and touched on in the section on prosperity so I will not discuss them further here. Thus while God desires all people to be rich the behavior of some people hurls them to destruction and poverty.

Curses and Blessings Have Great Influence On Our Power To Generate Wealth

Curses and blessings are generally considered to be primitive superstitions but they are taken very seriously in the Bible. In Genesis 1 we find God's initial blessings on mankind bestowed three things that greatly affect our prosperity: Fruitfulness, Multiplication and Authority to "rule over".

Fruitfulness is the proper expression of our inner nature. Fruitfulness includes the crops in the field and the seven strong sons and enjoying the work of your hands. The opposite of fruitfulness is barrenness and sterility, dried up crops, a life that peters out and goes nowhere.

Multiplication is exponential increase . It is seeing your abundance produce more abundance and then yet greater abundance. Its classic illustration is how Jacob got large herds even though his wages were  "the spotted and the speckled". The exponential multiplication of his flocks was a clear sign that God was with him and that Laban was unrighteous. The opposite of multiplication is frustration and futility.

By Authority to "rule over" we have dignity, headship, authority, the ability to be ascendant, to be the head not the tail, to be victorious and to maintain our boundaries in peace. Its opposite is being humbled, despised, invaded, to eat the dirt, to be crushed and humiliated, to be unable to rise.

Countering this in Genesis 3 we see the first curses in operation. The very opposite of the blessings is brought to bear by God as He judges Adam, Eve and the Serpent. The woman is made unfruitful, the man is made to work in futility and the serpent is told he will eat the dirt and eventually be crushed in utter defeat. Prosperity was denied. The power to enjoy Shalom was taken away.

Thus blessings are a spiritual influence that brings about fruitfulness, multiplication and authority. Curses are a spiritual influence that brings barrenness, futility and humiliation. Curses and blessings thus "tilt the playing field" and make it either easy or difficult to make wealth. Because the physical world is undergirded by the spiritual world a change in spiritual reality can profoundly affect human prosperity.

The close tie between cursing and blessing and national prosperity is clearly delineated in Deuteronomy 26-28 where the nation would be blessed and prosperous if it obeyed God and destroyed in futility if it served idols instead. The nation's power to make wealth thus depended on whether it was blessed or cursed by God. In the book of Haggai the curse on the nation (Haggai 1:5-11, 2:16,17 ) that was leading to economic ruin was removed when the people obeyed the prophets and laid the foundation on the Lord's temple (Haggai 2:18,19). Then prosperity was rapidly restored. God's claim in Haggai is that "the silver and gold are mine". The power to make wealth is thus contingent on a spiritual universe - which we know is in conflict.

Prosperity Is Opposed by Evil - Including Satan Who Comes To Steal and Kill and Destroy

Jesus defines the mission of Satan as "To steal, kill and destroy" (John 10:10). In Scripture Satan is portrayed as destroying the prosperity of God's servants such as Job, unleashing persecution, and afflicting people with various diseases including mental illness. Satan also lays claim to the commercial and political realms falsely boasting to Jesus that he could give them to whomever he wished (Luke 4:5,6). In the "King of Tyre" discourse Satan is seen as "wise in trade" (Ezekiel 28:5). Indeed there is a kind of demonic and godless prosperity that is purely financial and does not participate in God's Shalom. At the end of history the choice will be between entering a Satanic world of trade and investment and maintaining faith in God (Revelation 13:16-18).

The reality of these principalities and powers can be readily seen in that some of the fiercest and most irrational persecution these days is directed at Christians who help the poor successfully and thus break some of Satan’s society-wide strongholds. (Proverbs 31:8,9). Thus the principalities and powers behind social evils need to be addressed as these powers can greatly afflict the power to make wealth of a city or nation. The battle is not only political but spiritual.

In fact there are two spiritual battles here, Firstly is the battle to stop the Satanic destruction of the bodies, minds and prosperity of the  poor - opposing the "steal, kill and destroy" aspect of Satanic rule. This requires a strong commitment to pastoral care, healing and vigorous intercession by Christian workers. The second and more sophisticated battle is against the Prince of Tyre aspects, against the power of trade turned evil.

Systemic injustices, drug trafficking, piracy, the effects of globalization and currency trading and usurious rates of interest can be seen as based in a power greater then mere human ingenuity. This requires a strong prophetic and political stance by Christian workers. Success is possible. Many of the Scripture passages that most vividly picture success and prosperity start with the phrase "a new heavens and a new earth".(Isaiah 65:17, 66:2, 2Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1).

This implies the heavens have been cleansed of demonic influence. Under the new purified heavens demons no longer torment people's minds or afflict their bodies. The principalities and powers in the heavenly realms have been totally defeated and are now bound so that the heavens are "new" and the blessing of God to mankind can flow freely and without let or hindrance. The power to make wealth is unleashed under the new heavens and great length of life and material wealth is promised in Isaiah 65. It is notable that during times of revival, when the heavens are renewed, there quickly flows correction of systemic injustices (e.g. slavery was corrected by Wilberforce during the time of John Wesley) as well as a correction of social evils. National prosperity quickly follows.

Idolatry Creates Poverty

During the ceremony in which the Law of Moses was enacted God made it very clear that turning to idols and following wickedness would result in poverty and destitution:

(Deuteronomy 28:15-20 NKJV)  "But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: {16} "Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country. {17} "Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. {18} "Cursed shall be the fruit of your body and the produce of your land, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks. {19} "Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. {20} "The LORD will send on you cursing, confusion, and rebuke in all that you set your hand to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, because of the wickedness of your doings in which you have forsaken Me.

What sin could possibly bring such a devastating economic curse? Worshipping idols.

(Deuteronomy 7:25-26 NKJV)  "You shall burn the carved images of their gods with fire; you shall not covet the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, lest you be snared by it; for it is an abomination to the LORD your God. {26} "Nor shall you bring an abomination into your house, lest you be doomed to destruction like it. You shall utterly detest it and utterly abhor it, for it is an accursed thing.

Those nations that are most involved with idolatry, such as Haiti, the African nations and those that use voodoo and magic are also the very poorest nations on earth. Among Christian nations those that follow an idolatrous form of Catholicism that venerates statues and “Mary- Queen of Heaven” idols are the very poorest. Everywhere you turn idolatry brings a curse and creates poverty.

Those nations that rebel most against God do worst economically. The atheistic communist nations of Eastern Europe are now utterly bankrupt. The Islamic nations that persecute Christians are totally frustrated by the way their economies refuse to prosper. Since Indonesia started looking the other way when Christians were persecuted its currency has plunged in value. However the West is by no means exempt. We have generated a new form of idolatry that worships money and unless we repent of it we will be just as cursed as a voodoo practitioner in Haiti.

The Search for Luck/Fortune Creates An Irresponsible Mindset

Many people do their financial planning by buying a lottery ticket. They believe that if they win they will be rich and their problems will be over. But the statistics are now out and 90% of people who win the lottery are worse off five years later, the money is all gone and the bills are still coming in and they have become used to luxury and cannot go back to where they once were. I believe around 50% actually go bankrupt within five years of winning a large lottery payout! Why? Because a lottery win only gives a person money, it does no give a person the power to make wealth. As we saw earlier the power to make wealth comes from specific and focused wisdom and knowledge, applied diligently and responsibly towards a financial goal. Winning the lottery does not increase a person’s wisdom and knowledge or give them diligence and responsibility. It only rewards irresponsibility. It gives a temporary increase in capital without the means to use that capital wisely and well.

Many “folk religions” around the world resort to divination, sacrifices, magic charms and spirit-mediums in the search for “luck”. This can become brutal and bizarre. In a gruesome incident in Indonesia an American tourist was lured to a lonely location to partake in a “religious ceremony”. Instead of a garland around her neck there was a rope. She was strangled as a sacrifice to a local god so a spirit-medium could “prophesy” a lottery number. The number was, of course, a failure and the culprits were later arrested. However this illustrates the desperate and criminal lengths people will go to obtain “luck” and “fortune”. Poverty is inevitable if people think that the way to get rich is as complex and brutal as “find a tourist, strangle her as a sacrifice, then get the medium to prophesy and then win the lottery”. Real economic planning is defeated by this mentality. As a missionary I have lived in some places where the “luck” mindset was so prevalent that even the most basic economic planning was impossible. In one place I spent three months attempting to teach people just to ask “Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How” when planning church projects. I failed miserably. While they were Christians their cultural background was so imbued with a short-term “dreaming” and luck pursuing mindset that real planning was impossible.  People who have this kind of thinking will pray and pray and pray rather than think. Now I do believe in prayer; but God has also made us to be responsible and wise, to reign with Him and to exercise His dominion on earth. The “luck” mindset, which is allied to false religions and superstitions, destroys this ability to think, reign and rule and totally undermines the power to make wealth so that cultures addicted to pursuing luck and fortune will always be in poverty.

Religion Becomes An Escape From Reality And An Illusion, An “Opiate Of The Masses”

This is probably best seen in some of the ecstatic ceremonies of the Ancient Greek religions, the dances of the dervishes and in the peyote ceremonies of the American Indians or even in the use of drugs by the counter-cultural faiths of the modern city. It is also seen n some cults that produce altered states of consciousness or which use intense spiritual experiences as a way of not being involved with the world. Religion can create an alternative reality that is much more pleasant than the real world and this virtual reality can become “home” to many people. Unfortunately you cannot earn a living in the world of religious virtual reality. When a culture sends many of its young me off into monasteries for a few years of their life or retreats into mysticism and religious ceremonies or advocates trance states and the use of mind-altering substances then it is eroding the society’s ability to be fully productive. Europe during the Dark Ages and Tibet and similar societies today are desperately poor because their power to make wealth is being constantly diminished by an over-involvement in other-worldly religion.

While we serve God, not Mammon, that does not mean that we need to become impractical and useless. True Christianity is incarnated. Jesus was a carpenter, Peter a fisherman, Paul a tent-maker. True Christianity strengthens you to cope with the outside world and exercise God’s dominion in it. The true Christian need not be a monk or a mystic. The true Christian can be a high-school teacher, a farmer or an A-grade auto mechanic. The Protestantism of Luther and Calvin encouraged the sense of personal vocation, so that daily work was seen as a gift from God whereby you actualized His will in His world. Work, particularly working quietly with one’s hands is seen as a solid Christian virtue throughout the New Testament. In the epistles to the Thessalonians Paul exhorts them to lay aside idleness that came from being taken up with end times peculations and get down to providing for their daily needs in constructive ways. The apostle repeatedly takes pride in his won ability to work hard and provide for his won needs though he was entitled to ask for support from the churches. (2 Corinthians 8 &9). Thus the gospel does not provide an escape from reality of from the daily business of making a living. Rather the gospel connects us with God who strengthens us to take in life fully and completely.

The Spiritual World Of Primitive Religion Is Chaotic And In Need Of Appeasement Not Logical, Lawful And Predictable, It Thus Does Not Encourage Long-Term Planning.

Western science (including economics) has flowed from a view of the Universe that sees it as being superintended by a single eternal God who is constant in His ways and rational in His laws. Therefore the search for those laws is a sensible, rational and noble thing to do. Isaac Newton said of his discoveries and research “I am merely thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” In direct contrast to this predictable and rational view of things are those cultures that believe in a chaotic spirit-world of many gods, demons and spiritual entities. For them the universe appears to be full of the personal malignancy of hundreds of spiritual agents that must be appeased. Magic is the only possible “science” in such cultures. Without the concept of a basically rational universe planning and research have no sound basis.  Thus, up until very recently nearly all the world’s great scientists have been Christian or Jewish or shared the basic tenets of the Judaeo-Christian world-view such as belief in a singular, lawful and rational universe. Very few, if any great scientists, have been committed animists or polytheists even though hundreds of millions of people still believe in spirits and many gods.

The Chinese were way ahead of the West for thousands of years with a complex culture, good administration and inventions such as gunpowder. At that time though the main religions were a jumble of ghost stories and tales of demons and “fox ladies” as well as the worship of spirits and ancestors. There was a vague and inaccessible supreme deity called Tien or “Sky/Heaven” but the prevailing world-view was mainly animistic. Thus there was no basis for concept-based science seeking out universal “laws” and so China, despite its ingenuity, never went beyond a certain basic stage of discovering inventions rather than discovering deeper laws and principles.

In the world of economics a fascinating book by Peter L. Bernstein has come out called “Against the Gods” which sees risk management and economic activity as directly opposed to superstition and fatalism. He sees the powerful tools of risk management a rescuing us from the dominion of soothsayers and oracles and giving us “the notion that the future is more than the whim of the gods and that men and women are not passive before nature.” Bernstein is particularly scathing on the concepts of fate and original design, which he puts in capital letters and derides, seeing them as inhibiting serious thought about predicting the future. When the concepts of fate and original design are strong in the culture a mindset of helplessness and acquiescence to life is created that is inimical to developing a workable theory of risk and economic management. Bernstein’s polemic is at times a little unfair according to this reader but his point is well made. If a society believes that life is determined by when and how you were born and future events are solely determined by the will of Allah then responsible thinking about the future is largely stifled. This applies very much to the world of fundamentalist Islam, as we will see later in this book, and is perhaps a real contributing factor to why such nations live in profound poverty.

A Seeming Paradox

It is possible to be very, very confused by what I have just said. Firstly I have said that the spiritual dimension and the economic dimension of human life are inextricably linked and that things such as blessings, curses, and idols can greatly affect our prosperity. Secondly I have seemingly said that we are best off ignoring all that and taking a secular and unbelieving attitude tinged with the Protestant work ethic. (But I haven’t) Well I think I had better explain myself.

Firstly our allegiance is to be fixed on Jesus Christ and on a singular though Trinitarian Creator God who rules His universe in lawful and rational ways and who will give us strength and wisdom as we do our work. In Christ alone are great blessings and shelter from curses. In Christ alone the spiritual side of economic life is dealt with. Forsaking idols and primitive religion is not enough. Completely secular and atheistic nations do not prosper in the long run and Communism has fallen into ruin. Men and women need to move from trust in idols to faith in the living God and surrender to Him who controls all prosperity and embrace His Son Jesus Christ (Psalm 2).

When we grasp what Christ has done for us, and what the Bible says about life and work, we will be liberated from our counter-productive and superstitious mindsets. We will understand Christ’s victory over the supernatural powers during the cross, resurrection and ascension. We will understand that God will judge our work when Christ returns and that we are to do our work “as unto the Lord”. We will not gamble, believe in luck or let ourselves be ruled by irresponsible and greedy impulses. Rather we shall cultivate the godly and righteous power to make wealth through the diligent application of specific and focused wisdom and knowledge towards a worthy economic goal. Thus we will refuse to fear minor supernatural powers and will fear God alone.

The renewed mind is a mind freed from the dominion of greed, idolatry, superstition and the search for luck. It is a God-centered mind that is quickened, intelligent, thoughtful and responsible and which applies itself to creative work for the glory of God. We move into economic blessing not by appeasing a host of minor spiritual beings but by playing by the rules of Almighty God and by diligently applying the wisdom He grants us to our lives.

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