Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Prospering Christian

According to Psalm 1, the "blessed" man is the one who rejects the counsel of those who are opposed to God's Law, and rather delights himself in thinking about His commands day and night.

Of such a one, the Psalmist says confidently, "whatever he does shall prosper (Psalm 1:3)."

This sounds wonderful.  This sounds like the way things should be.  It appears that the image set before us is that of a Prospering Christian, obedient to the Lord and successful in life.  Sign me up.

But something about this bothers us. 

We secretly, but not vocally, wonder about the multitude of examples both in Scripture and in our own experience that seem to prove the exact opposite.

Whatever he does shall prosper?  Really?

Do Godly Christian men and women never experience any sort of failure or loss?  Of course they do.  To suggest otherwise would appear to be a denial of reality itself.  Faithful, God-fearing Christian men and women experience all sorts of disappointments every day:  loss of health, loss of relationships, loss of business, loss of jobs, loss of friends, loss of possessions, loss of respect. 

Whatever he does shall prosper?  Can that possibly be right?

To escape the conclusion that the Psalmist is exaggerating (or worse, simply wrong), two possible alternative interpretations may suggest themselves to our mind.

1)  Maybe the Psalmist simply means "spiritual" prosperity.  Surely the soul of the obedient believer prospers, even during adverse circumstances.  But something about that seems a bit dishonest with the text.  The Psalmist doesn't say "spiritually prosper" but rather seems to be much more inclusive with the words "whatever he does." 

2)  Maybe the Psalmist refers only to those who PERFECTLY keep God's law.  In that case, such perfect obedience might yield perfect prosperity.  Therefore our lack of "prospering" at times can be blamed on our imperfect obedience.  But if that is the case, then the text offers us no hope.  None of us are going to experience perfect conformity to God's law in this life.  Not even for a moment.  So what is the point of holding out a carrot of prosperity if we have no chance of ever taking a bite?  It would be pointless.

So what is the answer?  Can we honestly believe Psalm 1 and draw the same conclusion as the Psalmist that the Godly who delight in His commands always "prosper?" 

Yes.  I think so.

The answer to the problem is found, I believe, in the illustration which the Psalmist uses in verse 3.  He describes this Godly person as like "a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its SEASON.


The Psalmist compares the Godly to a fruit tree, with seasons of ripe fruit and, by extension, seasons with none.  That is how fruit trees generally work.  They have a SEASON.  The Psalmist is saying that the Prospering Christian is always like this.  He or she will have seasons of fruit.  Not always.  Not every day.  Maybe not every year.  As God has set the seasons for each fruit tree to bear fruit, so He has set the seasons for each Christian to see a measure of "prospering." 

The well-planted fruit tree, even when without fruit, is still a prospering tree.  It doesn't always look the same season by season.  But it is always prospering, and will have seasons of fruit.  No one would be so foolish as to cut down an otherwise healthy fruit tree in the off season, simply because it was bare.  Give it time, it will bear fruit again.  So, I believe, it is for the Christian.  There will be seasons of fruit.  Those seasons are in God's hands, not ours. 

And so the Psalmist is right.  The humble, faithful, God-fearing, Scripture-reading and meditating and obeying Christian will always prosper in whatever they do.  But the seasons of seeing that prosperity, like the fruit tree, are up to the Lord. 

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