A generation ago, propelled effectively by mass publishing and television, the word of faith movement swept the nation and the world. Though not new, the idea that man could bring about change in his physical environment and being by believing in and speaking God's Word rather than passively accepting every tragedy and assault as " at God's hand" and of His will struck a chord with a great number of believers;that His will might actually be for us to prosper and be in good health, but that it was our steadfast belief in that will as stated in His word, that would change our circumstances.
In college and graduate school, I had occasion to take anatomy courses and part of those courses was the "lab" and the practical exams. We would perform dissections and be required to demonstrate various muscles, arteries, veins and nerves in each dissection. At certain intervals throughout the semester, we would take practical exams in which, with clipboard and pen in hand, we would rotate through a number of stations where a dead shark or cat would be lying in a dissected state and with parts of its gross anatomy retracted, a single structure would be brought to the field of view and pinned, and that would be the structure to identify. In order to study and identify some parts of the anatomy, natural relationships and context would have to be "perverted" ; one can't see artery A unless muscle 1 is cut and pulled to the side. In order to study one aspect of the body, one must distort the whole body to a degree.
I often think this happens in Christian teaching. We are endeavoring in our walk to set aside worldly concepts of truth to embrace a whole beautiful symphonic truth which is God. So piece by piece, we pull out a partial truth, study it, meditate on it, and hopefully, consider its position in the whole. But staying focused on one theme to the exclusion of others, or constantly championing one message as the rest of truth is cut and retracted away can cause us to reside in untruth.
If we interviewed a large number of older Christians ( 50- 75 yrs of age) coming out of charismatic or non- denominational churches, we would find many who grew up on Kenneth Hagin, or those who have listened to or are partners with Kenneth Copeland, or Jesse Duplantis, or Creflo Dollar. As a member of that demographic, I have been profoundly influenced by Copeland's ministry and am grateful for their lives and teachings. But their teachings are part of God's truth and that they believe in and enjoy great prosperity is part of their message. It's easy to miss the totality of their surrender and obedience that took them to the worldwide status that they enjoy today. As a follower of their teachings it is possible to get hung up on the benefits and ignore the required discipline and self death!
But it's also possible for a ministry to stay focused on
" dancing with the one that brought you"; perhaps staying too long on the concept that sells the books and brings the crowds. Just sayin'
And the concept that has been dissected out while the rest of the truth has been cut and pulled to the side, is that you can enjoy the Garden of Eden that God Himself planted and placed man inside, changing the circumstances of disease and poverty that attack your life by believing and speaking God's word. If you've been around, and have thrilled to that notion, you probably have noticed that one of the tenets to that idea is the necessity of planting a seed into the ministry which helps them enjoy the Garden that continues to elude you! I'm sure there are millions of discouraged former devotees of these ministries around the world.
Again, I'm grateful for these ministries and we all have expenses. But we know that God's plan of redemption is progressive. He and mankind were separated and His is a plan of reunitification, that started from a dark beginning; introducing Himself to and befriending a heathen man who became a people, who became a nation, who gave forth a Messiah, who became a people who will become a Kingdom. In the same way we see ideas introduced early in the Old Testament, borrowing from concepts that were understood; animal sacrifice, anointing, laws, tabernacles but leading to previously unheard of and inconceivable ideas; a God who loved and sought communion with men and women who walked in His authority on earth in whom He actually dwelt in the person of the Holy Spirit. So it is not for us to get stuck on some of the strange Old Testament rituals that served to paint a picture of Jesus and what God envisioned for a people! Rather, we should appreciate the elegance with which God led us to the manifestation of His original intent; Jesus as Redeemer and Firstborn!
In the same way, I wonder if we've gotten stuck on Abraham's exceeding wealth or the magnificence of Solomon's kingdom and maybe missed the progression? The Old Testament shows God's desire and ability to bless an obedient and loving people with goodness. He endows them and their livestock with fertility, He blesses them with wealth and health. Again, he uses concepts that are familiar. But is He progressing to a greater truth?
I believe that God is bringing forth a glorious church without spot or wrinkle; He is making a bride for His Son. The bride will be comprised of many who have become more and more like Jesus. Jesus, by His own declaration, was one greater than Solomon, and Jesus gathered no wives, no Egyptian horses, built no buildings or residences for Himself, had no livestock, and whatever gold and silver He had was in the care of a man Jesus knew to be crooked. He says He was greater than Solomon ( He didn't say He was going to be greater, He said it was already a fact!), but by Old Testament standards, He was a chump! Jesus personally trained 12, 11 of which went on to ministries ordained by Jesus and neither the bible nor tradition boasts of their high station in this life!
I believe God used concepts of blessing Old Testament people would understand, starting with the idyllic picture of the Garden of Eden and takes us to the more divinely focused vision of what I'll call the Inner Garden, and I'll just lay out the two little illustrations that the Holy Spirit brought to my mind. I'm writing this shortly after 3 people claimed the largest powerball jackpot in history! ( yes, I bought a ticket and no, I wasn't one of the three). It's kind of fun to imagine suddenly coming into enormous wealth like that as it is fun to read the extent of Solomon's largesse in 1 Kings 4 or read of his building the temple in its splendor in 1Kings 5 and 6. How dramatically different is the account of Jesus coming to Jerusalem with His disciples and satisfying their hunger by eating wheat out in the field? What? No fatted calf back at the house? No massive number of eggs for King Jesus and His household? If you or I had to pull over on our way to work to gather a few pecans, or sneak a couple of ears of corn from some dude's field to eat, we would be crying in despair, bemoaning our poverty and fighting off massive doubt as to Jehovah Jireh's ability or desire to provide for us! We would be speaking to our refrigerator, our pantry, yelling scriptures at our wallets and wondering what weakened our faith? I think we would be in a serious tailspin! But this is the same Jesus who used the example of the birds of the air who neither sowed nor reaped( labored) nor stored in barns( planned ahead, saved) and yet God fed them. We have large windows in our main sitting room that look out over a tree in which we hung a bird feeder which is filled sporadically. So we get to watch birds a lot. None of them are wasting away, and some of them are downright chunky. Jesus' faith in God's ability to provide for these unemployed, non- saving birds was not misplaced as evidenced by their full figures. They're not getting fat from my provision! There was an amazing degree of trust in Jesus that allowed Him to know there would be provision and a humility that empowered Him to accept that which was given Him as from His Father's hand and therefore good. The book of Phillipians, which Paul wrote while in prison, which will be my second biblical underpinning of the Inner Garden idea, tells us that Jesus, rather than grasping at His equality with God, gave it up and took on the form of a bondslave that He might fulfill His mission. ( ironically, but fittingly, the faith guys embrace the King James rendering that says Jesus didn't regard equality with God as robbery, which makes you have to ignore the next verse about Him taking on the form of a bondslave!)
Remember one of the things John told people when they were touched by his exhortation to repent was to be content with your pay! Paul said godliness with contentment was great gain. When you mix a very worldly ambition for more, with a faithless anxiety for tomorrow, with a dissected out message of faith, you miss an opportunity for growth towards the inner garden. Forgive me for invoking Bruce Lee in this teaching, but there was a great scene in Enter the Dragon, where he finds himself trapped in some tomb like room and after a couple of panicky moments searching for a means of escape, he concludes there is no escape at that particular moment, and he relaxes, sits cross legged on the floor and assumes a meditative state. That image has really stayed with me.
Trust is a great unsung part of faith: I don't understand, but I trust you Lord.
In Phillipians ( from the jail cell, Paul writes:
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, Phil3:7-8
And, he says to know Him, he must not only join in the power of His resurrection, but also fellowship with Him in suffering.
As he's concluding his letter from jail, Paul encourages his readers to
"Rejoice in the Lord always [delight, gladden yourselves in Him]; again I say, Rejoice!"
This is a higher attainment than Solomon's and I do not scoff at Solomon's attainment. He and his kingdom were a powerful witness to the power and glory of God but achievements like Solomon's are a powerful distraction to the flesh. Difficulties and struggle like the pressing of olives or grapes bring forth their richest offering. That we enjoy a heartpeace won at the expense of self and self will, indestructible no matter the circumstances supersedes the riches of the Solomonic empire!
But it's important to emphasize: there is no inherent evil in plenty and vitality and certainly no virtue in want and disease. Job enjoyed tremendous blessing until his unparalleled affliction. It was in the affliction, however, that he received revelation that set him apart from what were good men and good friends who couldn't receive that particular stage of truth's progression, and in that affliction that he received from God Himself, and through that affliction that he became a savior of sorts to his friends and to generations of believers! As Paul said and with which Job might agree, these are but light and momentary afflictions compared to the greater glory we'll share...!
BUT, the Lord didn't leave him destitute and diseased; materially, Job received a double blessing. There is nothing virtuous about poverty. There is benefit to periods of denial but there is neither justification nor redemption in it. Paul makes the great point that putting great hardship on the flesh through religious acts of harsh discipline or denial can actually puff up the flesh. In jail, Paul declares:
for I have learned how to be content (satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted) in whatever state I am.
I know how to be abased and live humbly in straitened circumstances, and I know also how to enjoy plenty and live in abundance. I have learned in any and all circumstances the secret of facing every situation, whether well-fed or going hungry, having a sufficiency and enough to spare or going without and being in want
Phil 4: 11-12
That is the fruit of a beautiful inner garden!
In Part 2 of this discussion, I'll describe several important aspects of the Garden and their benefits. Theo