“For I know the plans I have for you,”declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Prosperity is an interesting concept, isn’t it? You may have read the above verse and wondered where the Lord’s prosperous plans are in your life. Perhaps reading it left behind, not a question, but an unwanted mental aftertaste. Maybe in the midst of watching those around you seemingly “prospering”, your honest inquiries have become an indictment of the One you love. If so, you are not alone.
Consider the perspective of our friend Asaph, revealed in Psalm 73…
Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked (Ps 73:1-3).
Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning (Ps 73:12-14).
“All in vain have I kept my heart clean,” Asaph prematurely summarizes. He had nearly stumbled. The cause and effect model he had constructed was not working. He had input clean hands and a clean heart but the output was not the ease and wealth he had expected. And what was the icing on the cake of his offense? The wicked and arrogant had walked away with the reward he believed was his own.
Surely, we are not unlike Asaph. These thoughts are not foreign to us. When our plans don't go the way we had hoped, how easy it is to see those people drawing crowds or those people going about their business with ease and think that all of our measly works have been in vain. The lens of our perspective is too small to evaluate our own life, let alone to make broader assessments about our life as compared to others’. Before you think, oooooooh no, not another ‘He gives and takes away’ lesson, give me a moment. Offensive as it is to us when we are buried under thoughts of our disenfranchisement, would you be willing to consider that perhaps what is awry actually has little or nothing to do with circumstance?
Look with me at what happened to our brother Asaph half way through this Psalm. His circumstance didn’t change. He didn’t get a promotion. He didn’t all of a sudden become the best song writer in the world. In fact, none of his problems went away, but there was a profound change in his heart. Asaph goes from being the most despairing of men in the first half of the Psalm, to the most “prosperous” man in the second half! What happened?
He changed his gaze.
“…I went into the sanctuary of God” (vs 17)
Asaph decided to step in to the presence of God and LOOK UP. He took his eyes off of men and put them on God. He took his gaze off of his circumstance and put it on the King, and something happened. Listen to the fruit of a totally different perspective after this encounter…
When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever (Ps 73:21-26).
Isn’t that crazy! Asaph’s definition of “prosperity” changed from gaining the things of the world to gaining the nearness of God! One moment he was poor, and the next the richest man on earth. And this IS the Christian life! We are sojourners here, no longer looking for things that will rust away, but daily fixing our eyes on the Treasure Who is Christ Jesus! It is why our martyred brother Polycarp could say under the flames of his death "I bless you Father for judging me worthy of this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ." It is why our martyred sister Perpetua could bless her jail guards before being fed to lions. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever,” cries Asaph! These are people who were convinced that His “steadfast love is better than LIFE (Ps 63:3)!
So whatever circumstance you find yourself in beloved, LOOK UP! Take some time to fix your gaze on God and all that He has done for you in Jesus. Consider the reality that God has sovereignly put you exactly where you are today for His glory and your good (Acts 17:26-27, Rom 8:28). Consider the fleetingness of your life in the span of eternity, and be reminded that you have found the Treasure in this life (Matt 13:24)! Because His love is truly better than life, your lips can praise Him today (Ps 63:3)!