In the same week I was told two things that at first seemed unrelated, but were really about our expectations of God.
The first one was “You know God really wants you to prosper.”
The person saying it was well-meaning, but he was talking about making money and was trying to be encouraging to tell me that I should be better off financially than I am. I didn’t know how to respond.
The second was about someone else, but told to me. It was about a man who was very angry with God because his children had moved away and he had gotten ill. He prayed and prayed that his kids would move back and that his health would be restored, but wasn’t getting the answers he wanted in either area. He thought he deserved better; he’d been told that if he trusted God he would prosper and to him that meant he should be healthy and his kids should be around. The person telling me this story asked how he should respond to his friend.
What follows is my attempt to deal with both situations.
What does it mean to prosper according to the Bible?
Sadly, situations like this are very common. They have been from the time Job was written when his friends falsely accused him of sinning because in their thinking the only reason for a person to undergo the trials he was experiencing was because of sin.
It never occurred to them that God considered Job a very godly man and that he was honoring him before the hosts of heaven with the trials he was given. Clearly, humanity has problem with what it means to prosper in God’ eyes.
I realized that I didn’t really know what this meant either, so I did a word study on what it means “to prosper.”
When I started the study I was suffering through yet another series of migraines and work was a combination of many hours of hard work and very little income to show for it. In the midst of that pain, the person I quoted earlier who told me I was supposed to prosper, when to tell me told me that every Christian was supposed to prosper and there was something spiritually wrong with me if I was suffering financially and with my health. He went on to quote the following verse as proof:
Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. 3 John 1:2
If only that were true I thought. I was tired of the migraines and I don’t like financial challenges that were caused by circumstances beyond my control.
I wanted to understand what this verse really meant, because I want to please God. I thought maybe if I really understood the verse better, I’d know what to do to please God and make everything better, so with prayers for wisdom, I looked up “prosper” in Strong’s Concordance.
Understanding the meaning of the word did help me tremendously, but not in the way I expected.
The biblical meaning of “prosper”
The Greek word used here is the word: euodoō
It is a compound word, made up of two words. Below is each word and following, a definition of each:
hodos: a way, a road, a journey
Combined you could say that the word, “prosper” means: to have a good journey
After reading that, peace flooded my soul. The simple meaning of the word made so much sense; it answered many of the questions I had about prosperity.
It also made sense when I looked at the life of Paul and especially of the the Apostle John who wrote the book this verse is in. I’d always wondered how could the carefree life and the current cultural meaning of the term “prosper” apply to these two men? Paul had a life-long illness that was never taken away. He was persecuted throughout his ministry, beaten, stoned, imprisoned and after a life of constant challenges, he was martyred. John saw many he loved die for the sake of the gospel; he was also persecuted, boiled in hot oil, somehow survived and died in exile. I did not understand how current ideas of a pain free life could fit into the definition of “prosper,” for these men.
The real meaning made so much sense because, yes, they suffered, but they had a good journey. The writings they left for us affirmed that again and again:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Romans 8:18
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:
“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:36-38
Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:13-18
A life of difficulties, trials, self-sacrifice—Paul and John knew that is what the Christian life is about and resting in that they were prospering; having a good journey because they knew they were doing what was pleasing to their Lord.
What makes a good journey?
Expectations define whether or not we have a good journey.
What makes a good journey? This is where applications gets complex because different people all have different expectations. On any trip, there are some who think roughing it inside a tent with no plumbing or running water makes a great journey and for others the exact same setting would be cruel and unusual punishment (I confess I’m one of them).
It’s all a matter of expectations. For the Christian, for a disciple of Jesus, our expectations should be formed by Him and His word. A verse often quoted in difficult situations, might be helpful here:
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Rom. 8:28
First of all, notice, Paul does not say that all things are good. What he says is that good can come out of them.
But second, good doesn’t come out of difficulties for everyone, but those who love God and who are called by him.
Following are my applications from this
Pain is not good. A migraine is not a good thing. But while having them I can still have a good journey, because when pain puts me in a dark room with ear-plugs on and a cold rag on my forehead all I can do is be still and pray. I simply chat with Lord some and then pray passionately about things I’m too busy to pray about (so I wrongly assume) on a daily basis.
In addition to the migraines I got another nasty and lingering virus/bronchial and sinus infection. This website probably would not have gotten relaunched without it. I can do more than when I have a migraine, but I’m still in bed mostly. Yet I have a wonderful little computer stand and laptop and I can work away on the website. I ache too much; cough too much; and generally feel too rotten to do much else. But I got done what I’ve wanted to and what I knew the Lord wanted me to get done for months.
On a more recent health challenge, several years ago, as happens with getting older, I needed a hip replacement because my hip joint collasped on itself, I couldn’t walk at all, I had to use a walker or wheelchair, I was bent at a 45 angle to pull myself along. It’s too complicated to go into detail, but it was quite severe (the worst he’d ever seen according to my orthopedic surgeon). Just before I was to go into surgery on it, Covid hit and elective surgeries were cancelled. Almost a year later when I was able to get the surgery done, I almost died in the hospital. They don’t know why, but I suddenly passed out, they called a code on my and I vaguely remember being aware of a scene playing out with people frantically working on me, like in the movies. I was totally at peace, but the Lord decided it wasn’t time for me to go home. After days of tests and in the cardiac care unit, they couldn’t figure out what went wrong and sent me home. The surgery on the hip did fine, but when I tried to stand up the pain was almost unbearable. I was able to sit and work at the computer (as I’m doing now) but walking was a challenge. Fast forward to the next year and another hip replaced and following it as the pain continued a diagnosis of “your entire body mechanics are messed up” has led to months of physical therapy and continued challenges. The physical therapy ends next week. I’m not sure what will happen after that. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to walk or garden or do the physical work I used to do without significant pain. And oh, I can’t take any pain medication strong than over-the-counter medication (and no alcohol) as my heart can’t handle anything stronger.
Yet, I can sit at my desk and work on online ministries. What a glorious time it is to be alive and do what we can with technology. I pray I can do all He wants me to do, share all He has for me to share before in His will and way, He calls me home.
I thought back to the man who was disappointed in God and his kids. I have no idea what the situation was with his kids, but I do know God can use any situation. How sad he didn’t ask, “How can Jesus be glorified in this?” “How can I serve and be a witness to him, though I am ill and alone?” He could have perhaps done great things in little ways for God instead of allowing anger and resentment to made a very sad situation worse.
For the person who told me I should be prospering. I realize he just didn’t understand.
Yes, my outward status may not look great financially and challenges abound, but I serve a good God. I am assured of His love for me and trust in his plan for my life. I am prospering in God’s way.
I am having a good journey.