Updated: Feb 5, 2021
If you have followed for me for any length of time, you are familiar with how strong I go against (the unfortunately now mainstream) doctrines of the prosperity gospel/name and claim theology. I write about it often and go pretty hard against it in The Complainer's Workbook. This past month though I was able to read through some more of the Old Testament and link some pieces together, which I had been examining separately. Instead of contradiction, I found compliment and a trajectory to completion.
All throughout the OT there are promises of fields bursting at the fences with grain and vines heavy with grapes. People who were meant to enjoy the best wine on full stomachs with light hearts, if only they followed God's instructions about how they could host His presence into their camps.
I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. Psalm 37:25
This doctrine of plentiful property has perplexed me so, as I watched red faced televangelists slinging jackets from the heat of preaching, reciting address where you could send your checks to participate in the bank of faith giving and blessings returned. Many people I respected in those spheres were using words and faith as a formula to be victorious over certain mountains that needed moving, essentially speaking beings and matter in and out of existence.
As I got older and dove into the Bible as a whole volume that hyperlinks back into itself, my faith began to shape differently according to the sketches of suffering in Jesus' teaching. I began to see tendons connecting Word of Faith movements with ancient religions such as Kabbalah and the recycling of those in more secularized New Age teachings of mind/mouth-manifestation. Those ideas have sparks of truth within them and are often backed by Genesis, but they make ourselves the author of our destiny, crediting our ability of manifestation to God's design and a hand's off challenge to us to step up and speak out form as He did (claiming money, for example).
Some who want to abuse Jesus' words even claim that they can find ways to prove that He was a master Kabbalaist because He spoke of abundance, but I don't see that. I see that He told the truth of a world at cosmic odds, and gave us encouragement to navigate it faithfully without giving up hope and obedience. He echos the beauty of promised land to His followers, only He frames it within the reality of divine and earthly wills battling into eternity.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:15
The tension is:
God made the whole world, the dirt we are made of and stand on, a blessing. The sunshine is a blessing. Plants and air are a blessing. We are organically placed in this environment of goodness that is a manifestation of His creativity and love. Even the unrighteous are often blessed with the fruits of the divine goodness of creation simply by being alive and receptive beings.
Our will, and the rebellion of lesser divine authorities (Satan and the fallen angels), constantly presses against the goodness God has weaved into the fabric of being.
In the Old Testament, the people did not have the Holy Spirit to reside with them or abide with them in a constant leading and comforting. The contract was outward, and for reasonable cause - the people needed material blessing and cursing to act as their gauge for whether or not the Lord could stay in their camps, temple, daily experience. A reading of Joshua and Judges shows the ebb and tide of blessing and curse, presence and withdraw, back and forth, as the people turned to idols or ignored God's instructions on how to relate to Him. The people did not have an internal indwelling - all the signs of relationship had to be external. His voice to the prophets, visions, blessings, curses - it was all comprehensible by community and outward means, until He willed that Jesus come and change that dynamic with His very own presence.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 15:10
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
2 Timothy 3:12
Jesus turns this cycle of with and without , outside in on a personal level. He offers His presence, and an abundance of His essential goodness - peace, joy, hope, love, faith - to manifest in us one by one, regardless of if the tide of earthly blessing high or low, as those things are based on our costly gift of global human will (our actions or lack of create the state of the world we live in on a large scale). He explains the reality of our state, that God wills good, that He blesses us with good, and that even though the wills of evil men and the impact of evil spirits are allowed to work out in our days currently because of the gift of free will (which is a way we image God), we will attain the full material abundance, inward and outward blessing within the Kingdom Come.
This really isn't contrary to Old Testament covenants, as there are examples of individuals who brought curse onto the whole community because of their sin. We suffer the same way today. But God has given us a foundation of grace to stand on through Jesus, no matter what rebellion is going on around us.
If we want to trace our impact back to Genesis in order to say that we can will providence with our words, let's go to John's gospel that says the Word became flesh. Jesus offered His flesh and His Spirit to us. In Him is God's "yes" to our prayers ( 2 Corinthians 1:20), and so to live in obedience to Him, the fulfilled promise, our "Yes", is a more powerful force than trying to wield the universe with our words of faith, even though we speak as image bearers of God. Jesus is the channel of blessing for us after His death and resurrection. All power and authority is given to Him (Daniel 7:14), therefore any power and authority we are gifted is through Him.
Jesus is the WORD of God who created the foundations of the Earth; we are not told to manifest our own private realities with Him as little gods of little Edens, but to abide in Him along with the community of the Kingdom of believers. (John 1) To abide in Him is to accept His abundance in Spirit. That abundance is outside of the old covenant, a deposit of the Kingdom to come today within us, and can't be disturbed by the sinfulness of humanity, as earthly many blessings topple in response to evil will.
Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; Hebrews 12:28
...the Kingdom of God is within you. Luke 17:18
God's blessing manifests both inward and outward. Where the outward blessing was dependent upon works, the gift of inward blessing which is both a foretaste and present state of God's Kingdom being fulfilled is upon us now based on faith. So even though the covenant blessings may still seem to rise and fall according to the choices of humanity, the blessing of Jesus' presence is promised to satisfy us and saturate us so that even in an earthly prison, our mind and soul is never captive.
Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13
We can keep our hands and up and open to vines heavy with sweet nourishment as God sends and sustains them. More satisfyingly, we can keep our heart open to the flowing grace of Living Water and Bread of Life daily. (Note what I write later in this article about forgiveness and examine how it relates to daily bread in the Lord's Prayer).
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6:31
But what about faith the size of a mustard seed? This is a teaching I am learning to re-frame away from "great faith = answered prayer" as I have so popularly seen it taught, to read it inside the context of what else Jesus says about mustard seeds, it's particular placing in the conversation had between Jesus and the disciples, and what hyper-links he was making to the Old Testament that the listeners would have picked up on.
Some things to consider are:
Just after the teaching about forgiving each other infinitely, the disciples ask for "more faith" to equip them to dispense such forgiveness. Jesus tells them faith the grain of a mustard seed can move mountains (Luke 17).
In another account of the same story in Mark 11, " 22 Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 For truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, he will have whatever he says. 24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you will receive them, and you will have them. 25 And when you stand praying, forgive if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven may also forgive you your sins. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your sins.”
It seems to me that the understanding from these passages is that Kingdom of God, the presence of God's "yes" within Christ Jesus cannot powerfully or fruitfully reside in a heart that does not forgive. Even though it is true that prayers are all answered in the "yes" of Jesus, it was not primarily about having personal prayers answered in proportion to how much we expected God to deliver for specific requests.
Bibleref.com (search Mark 11:24) explains it well : "A short time before, a rich young man had asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17–22). The old way—the temple way—was to obey the Law, and to atone by sacrifices. With Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, such ceremony is no longer needed. Belief, meaning humble trusting faith—the kind reflected in an attitude of forgiveness towards others (Mark 11:25)—is all we need to come before God....
Jesus is not endorsing the modern Word of Faith movement. Nor is He suggesting that God operates as a cosmic vending machine, doling out wishes. Believing that God will answer our prayer is not a spell that we place on God so He must give us what we want. The context of the promise of prayer is God's ordained ministry, if we ask with the right intentions (James 4:1–3) and within God's will (1 John 5:14–15). The Bible promises "if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him" (James 1:5). If we pray for wisdom first, and ask in God's will, we will receive what we ask for. If we ask without wisdom, we won't ask according to His will, and have no reason to expect such a request to be granted."
Digging further into the Old Testament stories that the disciples would have been aware of, I see parallels in the building of the temple and Jesus mention of mountains.
6 So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.
7 “What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’”
8 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 9 “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.
It is probable that when Jesus spoke of mountains and mustard seeds, the disciples' memories traced back to that passage about the temple, and to Jesus words from Matthew 13:31:
He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.
Instead of understanding Jesus' words about faith moving mountains to be about absolute earthly manipulation through a mindset of belief, it's more likely they drew better understandings of how forgiveness, faith, how our "yes" is marvelously already in Christ as He builds his Kingdom within us. They would consider how sowing tiny seeds in obedience to God working within their own hearts would be physically manifested in the future as all prophecy is fulfilled.
I am so in awe of God! In His great love and mercy, He gives even sinners a taste of His goodness through the blessings of being on the Earth. In His great grace, He opens a channel for us to reach Him, to ask the King of the Universe for anything and be heard and honored in those requests by the very person of Himself. We have a foretaste and an abundance in our spiritual senses of what we will one day see completed, golden brick by brick with our actual eyes in glory!
17 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him who thirsts come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. Revelations 22:17
Abide with us, Jesus.
Come Lord Jesus, come.