Adversity or Prosperity: Both are Beside the Point.
Are you concerned you will turn away from the Lord in tragedy but confident you will grow if you have all your needs met? Do you fear adversity and hope for security? This kind of thinking is prevalent in many people, and is perpetuated by governments, businesses, and even churches. This thinking is flawed at the core, but since it is wrapped in logic it is easy to swallow. The logic says environment effects people, which is true enough. Cause and effect is a basic principle of the world. Therefore, the logic says people in a good environment will produce good fruit. But this logic is undermined by a theological reality concerning the heart of man. Will the human heart respond righteously if the environment is right? No, it will not.
Jesus taught this reality in a powerfully clear and undeniable parable in Matthew 7:17. You will know a tree by its fruit. The wonderful realty about apple trees is they always produce apples. Have you ever hoped the coming year would have a perfect climate and perfect precipitation so your tree (previously an apple tree) would produce something even bigger like watermelons? Of course not. Have you ever feared a year of drought would cause hedge balls to grow? Nope. Trees produce according to their kind despite the particulars of what a year may bring.
The problem is that experience, not Scripture, drives how people think about all of this. A friend of theirs will encounter a deep loss, become angry with the Lord, and before they know it the friend is gone. But why is this really happening? Is adversity the problem?
There are other experiences as well. What about the countless people who have had success and comfort, and then grown distant from God. They don’t pray, they don’t engage with the people of God for accountability, they don’t hunger for God’s word. Everything is great and they feel little need for God. So what is the problem now? Is prosperity the problem?
The problem is neither adversity nor prosperity. The problem is the heart of man. Adversity can reveal a heart laden with expectations for God and prosperity can reveal a heart laden with worldly love. When adversity takes things away it can expose idolatry, and when prosperity takes dependence on the Lord away it can expose pride.
The reality is that neither adversity nor prosperity is the danger. Spirit-filled Christians will grow through the purification of adversity and they will grow through the gifts of prosperity. As Paul said in Philippians 4:12–13 “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” And on the other hand, unbelievers and worldly Christians will grow cold and distant in the pain of adversity and the numbing influence of prosperity. The danger lurks within the human heart.
You will find testimony in Scripture and personal experiences in people’s lives showing how adversity both repelled people and grew people. Moses, Joshua, and Daniel followed God through hardship, while Mark and Demas left God in hardship. Jim and Elizabeth Elliot, Richard Wurmbrand, and Joni Erickson Tada all flourished in times of deep testing and loss, while you probably have acquaintances who hardened and left in times of loss. Why? Because grace was active in one and not in another. Some were satisfied merely with God’s presence, while others lost the love of their hearts and cursed God for it. The problem is not adversity, and the solution is not changing the situation.
You will also find testimony in Scripture and personal experience of how prosperity both turned people away from the Lord as well as those who sought him even more in their wealth. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Job, and Philemon were wealthy men who sought the Lord and used their resources for Him. Paul commanded those who were rich to be rich in good works and fix their hope in God (1 Tim. 6:17) and men through ages have done that, such as Spurgeon, R.G. Letourneau, and Randy Alcorn. On the other hand, you will find those in Scripture who forgot God in their prosperity. This happened to the Israelites in Canaan (Duet. 8:11-14), Solomon, and the church of Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22), and I am sure you know many people who are quite content in their secure jobs or wealth while having little dependence upon God.
What does this mean for us? It means our concern should not be the circumstances that are surrounding us or coming to us. God knows what needs to happen in our life and will providentially see to those details. Our concern is that we know the secret: that Christ is life and in him we can do all things as Paul said in Philippians 4:12-13. This should be our daily concern and pursuit. But if this is God’s work in us by grace, and grace is not something you can earn or force, how do we seek it? Scripture tells us. We humble ourselves before Him. “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6 We are to cry out to God as a child. Ask him to give you this day your daily bread. Confess your utter need for him, and hope wholeheartedly in his faithfulness to satisfy you with the glory of Christ whether in adversity or prosperity. God seeks to strongly support those who do this. 2 Chronicles 16:9 “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”