Monday, September 20, 2010

The Great ATM in the Sky

Prayer is a wonderful thing.  As Christians, we can come to God anytime to lay our requests and cares before God.  Some, though, take those verses regarding prayer and misinterpret them to make God into a big ATM Machine in the sky.  Some twist those verses to their own end, manipulating their sheep into giving money for material reward.  I want to take today to show those errors.

Here is the first passage I want to address:
"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. " Matthew 6:33 NKJV
I have heard it taught that "seeking" means giving money in faith and "all these things" are riches and material blessings.  That is not the case at all.  In order to understand this verse, we only need to read it in its context:
"Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; nd yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." Matthew 6:25-33 NKJV
We can see clearly from the context, that Jesus was speaking of the necessities of life, not wealth.  He is saying for us not to forsake our relationship with God in order to worry about our daily needs.  He was saying that if you seek after God (relationship) and His righteousness (living in a way pleasing to God) then God will provide your daily needs.  It is a lie designed for profit to teach people to give money to expect material blessings.  Not that God can not bless materially, but that should never be our motivation. 

The next verse is:
"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. " Matthew 7:7-8 NKJV
Again the problem is taking a verse out of its context.  Here is the rest of the passage:
"Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." Matthew 7:9-12 NKJV
Notice again that Jesus here is speaking of necessities.  Jesus did not add to this verse "if his son asks for gold, will give give him silver?".   Even if you open up this verse to a more general meaning, it is not saying God is going to give you want you want, but He will give you what you need.  Furthermore, this verse is premised on already having a relationship with God.  If God is your Father and you truly surrendered to Him, your desires will not be for material temporal wealth but for eternal wealth and a deeper relationship with God.  Part of being a Christian, is surrendering our will to God's just as in the example of Jesus as He prayed before his crucifixion.  Our will lusts for things of the flesh, but our surrendered will seeks after God and the spiritual.  I am sorry to say, but there is no spiritual benefit to owning a Bentley. 

We can glean an even better meeting to this to a similar account in Luke's Gospel:
"So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!"  Luke 11:9-13 NKJV
Here we see the heart of God for us in prayer.  Jesus talks about staple foods such as bread, fish and eggs and about earthly fathers providing those needs for children who ask for them.  God then speaks of Himself in terms of proving the Holy Spirit for those who ask.  It may seem like Jesus was changing the subject, but He was not.  Refer back to Matthew chapter 6 and you will see that those things like bread, eggs, and fish will be provided as we seek after God.  God will provide those things for you as you seek after Him and part of seeking after Him is that desire to have the Holy Spirit lead and guide you as He resides in your heart.  In other words, we seek after God through the Holy Spirit who resides within us. 

Another verse often misinterpreted is this:
Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass.  Psalm 37:4-5 NKJV
Many like to focus on the promise and ignore or underemphasis the conditions.  There are 3 conditions listed here.  First is that we delight ourselves in the Lord.  If you delight yourself in the Lord, what else do you need?  If my delight is the Lord, the desire of my heart of more of Him.  You can not separate the two.  If God is your delight then He is your desire.  And what is greater than God?  Your heart's desire can not be in something less than you delight in.  Think about it, if my delight is in driving a decked out Ford F-350, then the desire of my heart is certainly not going to be a Smart Car.  Much as if my delight is in the Lord, the desire of my heart is not going to be mere toys here on Earth.  So if your delight is in the Lord, the desire of your heart will be in the Lord, and the Lord will certainly honor that.  The other conditions are trusting in the Lord and committing yourself to His ways.  If you trust in the Lord, you do not need material wealth.  If you commit to His ways, that means you are committed to His desires not the lusts of your own flesh. 

And finally, I will end with this verse:
"And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it." John 14:13-14 NKJV
Many people like to focus on the "anything" and diminish the "in My name."  We often end our prayers "In Jesus name" but pay little attention to that that means.  It is sort of just something we say before "Amen."  The fact is though is that statement means everything.  To ask for something in the name of Jesus implies that you are asking something in His nature or character.  A more specific reading of that verse would be "If you ask for anything in the nature of Jesus and in the name of Jesus, it will be given."  No, I am not adding to Scripture, just expounding on it.  "Anything" does not mean anything when you consider the qualifier "in Jesus Name."  I certainly can not ask God to turn someone who cuts me off on the highway into a monkey no matter how many times I say "In Jesus Name."  I can not ask for a security guard to be blinded for a moment so I can shoplift.  I can not ask for anything not in the character or nature of Jesus when I ask in the name of Jesus.  Is the character of Jesus to bless with material wealth?  Did Jesus give all his apostles real fancy horses?  Furthermore, to imply that this verse is a reference to material gain, please look at the preceding verse:
"Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father." John 14:12 NKJV
This verse is a reference to our ministry and asking God to accomplish great things through us.  The verse is about bringing people into the kingdom not bringing wealth into your wallet.  And why does God do all that we ask in the name of Jesus in our ministry?  "That the Father may be glorified."  Wealth glorifies man, people receiving the Gospel glorify God.  Changed lives glorify God.

People who use these verses as a means to justify the expectation that God will make them wealthy have the wrong heart.  They struggle in their faith and prayers and wonder when those blessings are coming, and do not take the time to really seek after God and His Word.  If they did they would know this:
Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. James 4:1-3 NKJV
You are praying as though your heart is unredeemed.  Read that passage carefully.  You first strive in the flesh for those material pleasures.  You have tried all you can do in the world to make yourself wealthy and now that you are in church, you look at some verses and decide to try prayer.  You pray and pray and pray and still you do not obtain riches.  Why? Because you are asking selfishly.  You are asking because your desires are the lust of the flesh.  God is not going to make you wealthy for your own sake.  God is not going to satisfy the desires of the dead man crucified with Christ when you accepted Him as Lord and Savior of your life.  Your means by which you seek after wealth may have changed, but that wealth being your heart's desire has not.  You have not truly or completely surrendered to God.  Here is what God says about wealth.
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. 1 Timothy 6:7-11 NKJV
This passage sums it all up.  Whatever wealth we accumulate here on Earth will stay here on Earth.  It is temporary and only turns your heart more towards Earth than it does to Heaven.  We are to be content with the provision God has promised us: food and clothing.  As for those who desire to be rich, they fall into temptation and even away from the faith.  The Bible is clear that if you sow to the flesh, you will reap the flesh, which is destruction and death.  If you sow to your fleshly desire for wealth, you will reap its rewards, which are harsh if you read the above passage.  It is a road that will lead to grief, sorrow, destruction, evil, perdition, and prevent you from giving your life to God or to abandoning the faith never tasting the eternal riches that are in Christ.  God says is right here "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil."  Therefore if money or wealth is the desire of your heart, your heart's desire is rooted in evil.  Ponder on that for a minute. 

Of course some may say that they want to be rich, but not for themselves.  They say that if only God made them rich, they can do so much for Him.  I do not think they realize what they are saying.  They are making conditions on God for how they can best serve Him.  If doing for God is truly on your heart, you would have that faith that God will provide those means to do it.  It is not about us asking God to bless us so we can bless others.  It is about us blessing others knowing that God will give the means to do so.  Remember the widows two mites and how Jesus said that she gave more than all of the wealthy.  God wants our hearts and surrendering ourselves to God and His will is how we do great things for God.  Those who want to be rich to serve God are deceiving themselves into thinking they are selfless.  They do not want to serve God according to God's will, they want to serve God according to their own will and live a more wealthy life while they are at it. 

Besides, why would you seek after the disposable toys here on earth for the sake of the eternal treasures in Heaven?  Why do you desire to be rich to fallen man when you can be rich to God?  Why fill yourself with the junk of the world when you can abide in the richness and glory of God?  You are only cheating yourself.  I urge you to surrender yourself to God and give up temporary pleasures for eternal joy. 
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV

2 comments:

  1. Being rich & getting a camel through the eye of a needle. Having so much probably makes it easy to take your eyes off Him.

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  2. So much for the 'prosperity gospel'!

    ReplyDelete