Many popular preachers today teach that God always wants us healthy, wealthy, successful, and powerful in this life. Their message implies, and sometimes explicitly states, that we only lack these blessings because we lack faith. In other words, God intends none of these problems for His beloved children, while the blame for our earthly troubles, trials, and sickness resides with us.
But, if we take earthly health, wealth, success, and power as the measure of God’s favor and blessing, we must conclude that Christ, the Apostles, the early church, and many of the godliest saints of history suffered from an extreme lack of faith. Christ lived in relative poverty and died a horrible and humiliating death. The Apostle Paul’s resume includes prison and a long list of hardships. Not only was he a failure by the world’s standards, he viewed his troubles as evidence of his genuine apostleship and faith as compared to the false “apostles” that opposed him:
Are they servants of Christ? (I speak as if insane) I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NAS).
Believers under the rule of ancient Rome sometimes lived underground in the catacombs to avoid persecution. Others were imprisoned, executed, or mauled and killed as spectacles in the arena. Faithful saints throughout history have suffered while their wicked persecutors enjoyed great health, wealth, success, and power. Many Christians today languish in prisons and work camps, are unfairly prosecuted, or murdered for their testimony. Do they suffer because they lack faith? Many suffer precisely because they have faith enough to proclaim Christ in the face of fierce opposition. And what should we say about the suffering heroes of the “Faith Hall of Fame” described in Hebrews 11? Were they failures? Were they faithless, even as God commends their faith and calls them men “of whom the world was not worthy”? (v. 38).
God also wants His children to be healthy, but His primary concern involves our spiritual health, and He often uses physical sickness and suffering to produce it. God uses our pain and problems to mold our character and eternally bless us: “we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4 NAS). “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17 NAS).
God also wants us to be wealthy with “the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3 ESV). Earthly wealth, however, can hinder and even destroy the spiritual riches God desires for us, “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” (1 Timothy 6:10-11). Our riches await us, for we have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4 NAS). Because earthly wealth can easily lead us astray, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:20-21 NAS).
Additionally, God gives us “overwhelming” success, even when persecuted, suffering, and killed for Christ’s sake: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:35-37 NAS, emphasis mine). Indeed, the greatest worldly success can be the greatest failure: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36 NAS). Eternity matters.
Lastly, God gives us power. But, when Paul begged God to remove the “thorn in the flesh” that God provided to keep him humble, God said no: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NAS), to which Paul replied,
“Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NAS).
Paul could say to Timothy, “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:7-8 NAS). In His otherworldly approach, “God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27 NAS), and that includes you and me.
In closing, “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 NAS). “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20-21 NAS). Until then, we trust, obey, and rejoice, with or without earthly health, wealth, success, and power, because the greatest blessings lie elsewhere. We can freely ask God for healing and blessings that we might be blessed and bless our family, the church, and those in need of Christ, but we do best pointing to our infinitely greater eternal blessings in Christ, for “we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NAS).
 See Psalm 73.
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© 2016 Craig Biehl, author of God the Reason, The Box, The Infinite Merit of Christ, and Reading Religious Affections
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