The Peril of Prosperity

There is a danger that we all face as Christians.  This danger is intensified when God tangibly displays His mercy in our lives.  The danger is that we might magnify the gift and forget the Giver.  As believers, there is great blessing in the gifts God gives us, but we must evaluate the real worth of such gifts.  The gift must draw us closer to the Giver.  We must magnify Ghannahod …make Him big.  The gift is a vehicle to do just that.

Hannah is an Old Testament example of just this (1 Samuel 1-2).  Hannah looked upon the gift of a son as an opportunity to magnify her God.  What can we learn from Hannah’s words recorded in 1 Samuel 2.1-10?

When we receive great gifts from God, it is because He is a great God.  There is none like Him (1 Samuel 2.2a-b).  There is no one as powerful as He is (2.2c).  There is no one who knows what He knows (3c).  There is no one who is just as He is (3d).  God is able to bring to bear a great reversal in our lives.  He gives great strength in our great weakness (4b).  The full are hungry (5a) and the hungry are fed (5b).  The barren woman has many children and the mother who has many children becomes feeble (5c-d).  The poor are made rich and the low are exalted (7-8).

God alone takes a life in judgment.  He kills but does not murder.  This is His sovereign prerogative (6).  He guards the feet of the saints or those set apart as His children (9).  But those who reject His King and Anointed One, the Lord Jesus Christ, are silent in eternal darkness.  By self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, or self-dependence, no man prevails.  Strength is found in Christ and in Him alone.  Don’t look at the gift but at the Giver.  Look to…

  1. God’s power and holiness brought to bear in the lives of those who trust in Him
  2. God’s wisdom and justice as comforts when inequity abounds
  3. God’s grace found in the benefits of prayer and His full revelation in the Scriptures

All benefits and blessings in this life point up the character of the God we claim to serve.  If these gifts from God become a means to an end, then we have practiced a very subtle form of idolatry.  We have vaunted up creation above the Creator.  If we do this as children of God, we may expect God to bring chastening instead of prosperity.

If you are like me, you’d rather have all of your needs met right away.  But it seems that we are inclined to stop trusting in God when this happens.  Prosperity is a place of peril for many in our country.  We fall into the delusion that our own hand has provided us with these things.

Our families must understand that suffering, difficult people and circumstances, and the crucible of a trial have the potential to be wonderful messengers declaring the glory of God.  Hannah’s great trial was a barren womb.  She pleaded for a child.  God gave her a baby boy.  She called him Samuel.  Samuel’s name means “asked of YHWH”.  When God grants her request, Hannah has the spiritual depth to magnify God and not the fact that she was no longer barren.

Who or what is magnified when God blesses you?  The answer to this question reveals how spiritual we truly are.

The Abundance of Everything

We certainly love God for who He is, but we also love God for what He gives.  It’s never advisable to think only in terms of the abstract in theology.  It may sound pious to say that we simply love God for who He is and not what He gives, but such piety will not stand in the face of Scripture.  We arPsalm 103.3e grateful daily for all of God’s benefits.  We serve Him with joy and gladness for the abundance of everything (Deuteronomy 28.47).

Who He Is

God is merciful, gracious, and steadfast.  The extension of God’s mercy teaches us that we deserve nothing but His wrath.  The extension of His grace indicates that He watches over us and delights in giving us good gifts we will never deserve.  His steadfastness helps us to realize that He will always be present and never neglect us.  The mercy, grace, and steadfastness of the LORD are realities which spur active service.

What He Gives

The response and worship of God’s children ought to be personal, committed, and continual.  David writes, “Bless the LORD, O my soul” (Psalm 103.1).  We owe a debt that we cannot possibly pay.  Even if we are struggling to make ends meet, we are better off.  The richest of men who know nothing of God’s gifts live is spiritual squalor.  This drives commitment to obey the LORD’s primary command:  Love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  He forgives, heals redeems, crowns, and satisfies.  Therefore we continually bless and praise Him.

Bless the LORD, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:

Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Psalm 103.1-5

We are reluctant to bless the LORD because it doesn’t feel genuine.  The reason this is true is that we fail to remind ourselves of His character and all His daily benefits.  There is no greater joy for the Christian to be genuinely and continually committed to his God.  Be thankful for who He is and what He gives.

How Great is the LORD’s Goodness!

“Oh, how great is Your goodness, which You have laid up for those who fear You, which You have prepared for those who trust in You in the presence of the sons of men! You shall hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the plots of man; You shall keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.” (Psalm 31:19–20)  

Godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come (1 Timothy 4.8). God saved us for the life to come but also for life which now is.  We often forget that. We forget especially when our sin drives us into the dirt.

Psalm 31 teaches us that we ought to plead for mercy when in trouble. We ought to tell the LORD when we are overwhelmed by grief  …when our lives have seemed to succumb to it.  But our strength fails due to our iniquity.  Grief over sin takes a terrible toll.  It’s good for us to remember that God’s strength never fails due to His compassion and mercy toward us (see 31.10).

There is no denying the fact that David’s struggles drove him to the LORD over and over again. He lived in the presence of God.  David didn’t read his Bible in the morning to forget about God the rest of the day.  He expressed himself plainly yet reverently to the LORD.  He learned the hard way so that we might follow in his steps — avoiding his negative example and emulating his positive example.

Our text begins with a glorious pronouncement concerning David’s attitude toward God:  How great is the goodness of the LORD to those who fear and believe!  There are three aspects which define God’s goodness in our text:

Preserved Goodness

Preserved in the sense that it is laid up for those who fear God.  It is held in store when needed.  Isaiah wrote, “Since the beginning of the world men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, nor has the eye seen any God besides You, who acts for the one who waits for Him” (Isa 64.4). Paul quotes this passage and adds, “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit” (1 Cor 2.10a).

The goodness of God has always been present for those who fear and believe.  This goodness has been unveiled in the Person and work of Christ in a way that would have been difficult for OT believers to comprehend. But even we cannot comprehend the goodness of God laid up or preserved for us.  We are staggered by it every day if we live close to Him. We take it for granted if we strike out on our own path. But His incomprehensible goodness is there.  We dig and unearth the treasure of His goodness daily as we fear and trust.

These treasures are the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph 3.8). We pray that we may be able to comprehend together what is the width, length, depth, and height of these riches. We pray that we might know the love of Christ which surpasses mere knowledge …that we might be filled with all the fullness of God stored up for us in His goodness (Eph 3.18-19).

The goodness of God cannot be exhausted. The more we meditate on His goodness, the more content we are. We cannot but marvel and cry out with David: “Oh, how great is Your goodness, which You have laid up for those who fear you …for those who trust in You!”

So, the first aspect of God’s goodness is that it is preserved for us.

Prepared Goodness

The goodness of God is prepared for those who trust in the LORD.  God has prepared His goodness for us in the presence of the sons of men – in the sight of all men.  God’s desire is that all men see His goodness working in and through us as His children.  This is replete throughout the Bible.

The Angel sent from God kept Israel in the way to bring them to the Promised Land God prepared (Ex 23.20).  David prepared for the building of the Temple for God, but God prepared David to fight for the land and the holy city.  He prepared Solomon to build the Temple (see 1 Kings; 2 Chronicles).  God prepared a gallows for Haman even though Haman prepared it for Mordecai (Esther 7.9).

God has prepared His throne for judgment (Ps 9.7), but His goodness for those who trust in Him (31.19).  Our God visits the earth and waters it.  He greatly enriches it.  This is prepared goodness from Him (Ps 65.8-9).  He prepares the light and the sun for us (74.15).  When God prepared the heavens, wisdom was there (Prov 8.27).  But judgment is prepared for those who scoff at His Word (19.29).  God prepared a great fish and a plant as unexpected ensigns of His goodness for Jonah (Jonah 2.17; 4.6).  Jonah was not too grateful for the fish; although, he should have been.  Jonah was very grateful for the plant until God prepared a worm to damage it and a vehement east wind to blow it away.  This simply means God defines His goodness; we don’t.  The goodness of the LORD may seem strange to us at times.  But God always prepares what is good for us.

Future positions of honor on the right and left hands of the Lord Jesus Christ are prepared by the Father (Mt 20.23).  The kingdom of God is prepared for us; it has been from the foundation of the world (Mt 25.34).  But He has also prepared everlasting fire for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25.41).  The salvation of God through His Messiah is prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel (Luke 2.30-32).

Indeed we cannot comprehend the things which God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Cor 2.10).  God has prepared us for immortality (2 Cor 5.5).  We are the workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God also prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Eph 2.10).  As vessels of honor, we are sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work (1 Tim 2.21).

God prepared an ark of salvation for Noah (Heb 11.7) and a continuing city in a heavenly country for those of us who are strangers and pilgrims among the sons of men (Heb 11.16).  Revelation tells the story of judgment prepared for the world which rejected God.  But ends with New Jerusalem prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev 21.2).

God’s unfolds His goodness in the sight of the sons of men.  Indeed, He is our rock of refuge and fortress of defense to save us (Ps 31.2) for His name’s sake.  The character and work of God always prevails.  God is always good.  He demonstrates this by preparing us to be lights in a dark world, salt in a decaying society, and His own epistles of Christ, known and read by all men.

The goodness of God is both preserved and prepared for those who fear and trust.

 Protective Goodness

The hymn writer penned these magnificent words:

O worship the King

All glorious above;

O gratefully sing

His power and his love:

Our Shield and Defender,

The Ancient of days,

Pavilioned in splendour,

And girded with praise.

God shall keep us secretly in a pavilion of splendor and free from the strife of tongues.  The protective goodness of God is specific here.  We are kept specifically from the strife of ungodly attacks through the tongue.  Some of the most painful things we endure come from the lips of those who try to bury us with their words.

Human nature finds it highly gratifying to circulate gossip about others.  It really is evidence of our sin-sickened souls.  Proud words promoting strife or division lead to all kinds of pain.  The tongue kindles a great sweeping fire.  It is a world of iniquity that never seems to be extinguished.  It sets on fire the course of nature (a difficult phrase that seems to mean human existence from beginning to end and in all circumstances) and finds the source for its flame in Hell.

The snares people lay for us are varied and God delivers us from them all.  Sometimes it’s a well-honed comment from a fiery tongue to get people to think a certain way about you.  Sometimes it is a purposeful plodding with the tongue to ruin your reputation – one deceptive comment at a time.  The net encircles you and you didn’t even know it was being drawn.  The LORD pulls us out; He is our strength (4).  He protects and pavilions us.

The wounds caused by words are some of the most grievous things we experience from friend and foe alike.  We also tend to dish it out as well.  We need to be kept secretly in the pavilion of God’s presence – not only to protect us but to deter us from being instruments of destruction ourselves.

Fear God and trust Him.  Fear His very near judgment.  Rely upon His always present mercy.  Experience how great His goodness truly is.  Don’t turn to useless idols.  Those who regard useless idols forsake their own allotment of mercy (Jonah 2.8).  David hated those who did so.  He trusted in the LORD (6).  David did not forsake the LORD’s mercy but was glad and rejoiced in the mercy of the LORD (7).  He did so because the LORD considered his trouble.  It overwhelmed him and pointed out just how weak He was and just how wonderful God always is.