Blessed: Prosperity or Presence?
One of the most quoted scriptures is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” It is plastered all over pretty sunset pictures and inspirational posters. It is hung in our houses and on bumper stickers on our cars. It is tattooed on our bodies. It is recited by athletes as they step onto the court or field. But how often do we hear the verses right before it?
It’s human nature to want things to be easy. To want life to be painless. To want material things. In a material-driven culture that spews prosperity gospel, I think that it is easy to confuse these things with the blessings of the Lord. I am by no means saying that the Lord cannot, or does not, use material things, good health, or ease to bless us. I have richly benefited from the Lord blessing me with a nice truck, a wonderful place to call home, a job that I love, and some really nice horses. I am well aware that every good thing in my life comes from Christ. However, I recognize that if I lost all of that, I would still be equally blessed.
Paul says in Philippians 4:11-13 “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Let’s be real here, Paul penned these verses while he was in Rome on his way to be executed. He was on house arrest, physically chained to a guard twenty-four hours a day. He had nothing. He was not wealthy. His life definitely was not easy or painless. In fact, his life was coming to an end. Yet, demonstrated in these verses we see a contentment in Paul. A peace that surpasses understanding. I am certain that this peace and contentment is not because he had a comfortable lifestyle or materialistic possessions. Paul’s heart was submitted to the will of God, regardless of how little or how much he had,regardless of how hungry or how full he was. Paul’s life is a dramatic example of the vast difference between a life void of the Presence of the Lord, versus a life marked by the Presence of the Lord. Paul knew that he had the real blessing, therefore, he was enabled to be content in all things.
I find it important to pay special attention to the state of Paul’s heart: complete surrender; obedient unto death. He didn’t have to understand, yet he obeyed. There is no debate that our culture and generation is one of entitlement. The idea that our rights are the ultimate priority infests the minds of the majority of the population in America. It’s our right to have free education, to choose life or abortion, which gender we identify with. The truth that there is a standard higher than “our rights”, that there might be something or someone who is a higher authority than our “rights” is blatantly ignored, and even denied at times. I am well aware that I am not the first white conservative Christian to point this out. The point that I want to make, is that this very same attitude of entitlement spills over into American Christianity. We expect the blessings of God in our lives, yet we do not walk in obedience to his Word. We want God to hear our prayers, to magically fix our problems, and to spare us pain and difficulty, but we blatantly disobey his commands and devalue his word. We seem to think that our faith is about us; about a comfortable lifestyle full of happiness and ease, free of pain. Yet, there is no happiness, no blessing, and certainly no healing to our pain, apart from the Presence of Jesus Christ.
Psalm 16:11 says, “You will show me the path of life; in your Presence is the fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” So often we desire to be blessed by God in ways apart from the greatest blessing of all: the Presence of God. I wholeheartedly believe that the Presence of Christ in our lives directly correlates to our obedience to him and his word. When this submission and obedience takes root in our lives, we arrive at the realization that we are not saved to just sit around and enjoy good gifts from God. We don’t get to pursue more blessings in the name of Jesus. We are saved to be sent. We are blessed to be a blessing. In Philippians 1:12 Paul says, “But I want you to know, brethren that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the Gospel.” Paul knew that his ultimate blessing, the very presence of Christ in his life, was intended to be a blessing to others who were as lost as he once was. Paul was not just converted to Christ, he was commissioned by Christ. Through his obedience to this commission, the palace guard (Phil 1:13), and even members of Caesar’s household (Phil 4:22), were exposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We were not created to simply be blessed. We were not created to live lives of luxury, having everything that we desire. We were not saved by the blood of Christ to pursue the trivial things of this world. We are saved to be sent. We must be diligent to guard our minds and hearts from the lies of “name it and claim it” prosperity gospel. We don’t have to beg God for blessings, he has already blessed us. How are we stewarding the blessing of his presence that he has entrusted to us?