CHAPTER 1 - The Delusion of Prosperity

Have you ever been to New York City? If you have, you most likely know of a little suburb called Chinatown. Chinatown is a densely populated neighborhood that attracts many tourists with its Southeast Asian restaurants and shops. I remember my visit to Chinatown as a senior in high school; and I can assure you, it was an interesting experience.

I had heard word from others who had visited Chinatown that the venders were, shall I say, a bit on the “aggressive side.” So, I thought I’d have a little fun and maybe come out with a bargain. I walked into a shop with a group of friends when I heard a man say, “Psssst, come here!”

I saw no potential danger in a strange, dirty looking man ushering me into a small closet area behind the counter, so I hurried right over! Looking around in somewhat of a frantic pattern, he opened a drawer that was filled with all sorts of tiny items. He proceeded to tell me how very special I was being the only one in the store to see inside His “special” drawer.

He then told me something that I wasn’t expecting.

He held up a “name-brand” wrist watch, and with a cheesy grin, proceeded to tell me that it was worth around $4,000! “But, my man, I will sell this watch to you, and only you, for the insanely low price of $20!”

My reaction shocked us both. I burst into laughter and said, “If what you’re saying is true, then you are the worst salesman I have ever met!” I walked out of the store kind of feeling bad for being so harsh, but still chuckling on the inside.

You know our culture is much like that salesman. They try and try to sell us a cheap imitation of God’s rest, and we often buy right into it. The truth is that someone has lied to us. Someone has looked us square in the eye, and has told us that money will fix everything. The business world has told us that our self-worth hinges on how much money we make. Hollywood has told us that wealth is the essence of power and prestige. And Wall Street has ignited a rage of addiction to the drug of the dollar.

One Wall Street banker said this about the desire for more: “We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture…. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.” [1]

I would say to that Wall Street banker that his job has been successful. The culture has shifted. Most of us hardly realize what it means to actually need something in America. We are convinced by every fiber of our being that we need the newest iPhone/technology, social media, or fashion line or whatever[JH2] . And then as we scurry to grab the greatest Black-Friday deal ever, we wonder, “Why am I doing this?” We breathe in the emotional high of a credit card swipe as we mutter to ourselves, “I don’t really need this!”

The accumulation of stuff is a cultural that has polluted our minds into thinking we are “the more the merrier” even if we don’t have room for it. Storage units in America are a 38 billion dollar industry with 2.3 billion square feet of storage space. Someone figured that if we gave every American seven feet of storage unit space, we could literally house everyone in the United States. And if that’s not enough, we build buildings behind our homes, make space in our attic, fill our garage with everything but the car and lock it all away behind a privacy fence, just to one day give it to our children to eventually sell in a yard sale." [2]

We as God’s children have been convinced of the land of ER. Oh! You haven’t heard of it? This is land that has no geographical location. No topography or beautiful landscape. In fact, no one has ever been there before. Many wish to live there, maybe even just visit for a short time, but for some strange reason, there’s not a clear path that leads to this destination. Have you figured it out yet? It is where people wish to be smartER, bettER, fastER, strongER, get the point.

It’s a place that people strive for, but never hit the mark. It’s the bloody battlefield up the steps of a corporate ladder or political position. It’s a place that once “reached,” people look back and feel like it’s not at all what they wanted. This fire on the inside is fueled by a “more is better” mentality that has led men into a drunken stoop of “hoardom.”

The truth is, we have let our restless heart lead us on a chase for the world’s riches, and all the while Jesus is pleading: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” [the things of the world] (Matt. 6:24). This is the epitome of living a double life. We want wealth, health, and happiness; and we want it so badly that we will sacrifice our relationship with Jesus to get it.

My youth pastor used to often say, “If you sell out God for minimum wage now, you’ll sell Him out for a lot less later on in life.” I can testify that there are many young people that I grew up with that did not heed to his warning and gave their part-time job the first place in their lives. They boasted of their part-time wages, but unfortunately had the “part-time mentality” about Jesus too. I would meet them sometime after we were out of the youth group, and their countenance would scream that they weren’t happy. Sure, they had the job they wanted and got to finally be out from “under the thumb of the church,” but it was obvious the world didn’t deliver for them like they had hoped.

“A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8).

The love of prosperity is a blazing neon sign of a restless soul. “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” (1 Timothy 6:10). In my opinion, one of the greatest deterrents of someone trying to wholeheartedly follow Jesus is the relentless pursuit of the land of ER.

Now let me clear the air a little. This doesn’t mean that a Christian cannot be well off or have nice things. There is a skewed view in some Christian circles that you must either be poor with Jesus, or rich and worldly. I think there is a mistake on both sides. Just read some of the great Christian biographies—William Borden, D.L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, etc., and you’ll find that God allowed much wealth to pass through their fingers. The only difference was that their wealth did not have them, Jesus did.

When we have substituted the sufficiency of Jesus for the flashy new thing on the shelf, we have believed the lies of the culture and have fallen head-long into a cycle of restlessness.

Let’s look at some of the lies of our culture and debunk them with the truth of God’s Word.

You will miss out

The feeling of missing out is gut-wrenching for most people.

Friends are at a party, but you have to work.

Family is on a cruise, but you are sick at home.

Someone, somewhere, is having it better than you!

Feel like a loser yet?

This desire of going without is a monetized scheme of the business world. If they can get you to think you are missing out on something that everyone else has or is doing. Then they can get you to buy a book, two books, three books or whatever product they are selling. Just look at the titles in the financial categories on Kindle:

127 Secrets of a Millionare

The Mystery Behind Building Wealth

The Hidden Steps to Succeed at Everything

Okay, that last one was a bit of sarcasm, but you know what I’m saying. If someone can make you feel like you’re not socially acceptable until you are “in the know,” then they hold you and your wallet captive.

But what exactly are you really missing out on? I’ll tell you: the pain of sin, guilt from regrets, a divided family, unmet desires, shallow relationships. Do I need to go any further? Oh yes, my friend! When you choose to follow Jesus, you miss out on a lot of things, but I promise what you gain is beyond what you can comprehend.

Paul said it this way, “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” (Philippians 3:7-8).

I think it’s important to note that Paul still suffered as a follower of Jesus. What was the difference? Jesus. He literally gained all of Christ and that was enough for him. And he wasn’t always a poor beggar. Prior to salvation, Paul had wealth, a high position in the Sanhedrin, plenty of prestige—he was loaded. But when Christ came onto the scene of his life, all those things looked “strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

The problem we have with Paul’s perspective is that most of us are not willing to lose what we have to gain Christ. Why? Because, simply put, we believe Christ is not enough. The fear of missing out on what the world promises is much too hard of a pill to swallow.

It was the same for the prodigal. Do you remember? He left all and fled to a far country and “there wasted his substance on riotous living” (Luke 15:13). I believe the young man had his eyes set on the far country long before he ever left the father. I wonder what he missed at the father’s house while restlessly scrounging up the slop from the pig pin? I wonder what we have missed out on with our Father because we believed the lie of the far country that “the grass is always greener on the other side?” Are we really missing out?

More stuff equals more happiness

“Everyone is on a happiness quest,” my Sunday school teacher used to say. And how right he is. Everyone is looking to be happy, to feel the chills of a wholesome life, where problems are far away. But what if we are convinced our happiness comes with a price tag? What if we think in order to be happy we must have a certain amount of money coming in each paycheck or have a lot of real estate in our name.

According to the Nature