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The problem with prosperity

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As we were celebrating Africa Day yesterday, it occurred to me that there seems to be a large number of church conferences happening at just about this time?

Opinion: Thembe Khumalo

Thembe Khumalo
Thembe Khumalo

It got me thinking about how the faithful will gather; some to praise and worship, others for fellowship, and still others to seek solutions to problems that torment them.

Of all these believers, some will fall victim to teachings that seem to have little to do with the Bible, or with the Jesus that followers of Christ try to emulate.

When you are seeking solutions to problems that overwhelm you and to life’s puzzles that seem unsolvable, you become vulnerable to ideas and beliefs that you might otherwise challenge.

A new iteration of the prosperity gospel has hit Africa hard.

So hard, in fact, that we have seen signs and wonders that are beyond logical comprehension.

And I don’t mean miracles.

I mean the things church leaders are able to get people to do for the promise of prosperity, health and generally a better life.

Please don’t misunderstand me — I like the idea of prosperity.

I even like the experience of prosperity. I like to be wealthy, healthy and to feel like I am thriving in every area of my life.

I even like to acknowledge that God is the source and enabler of my well-being. This is not a problem. The problem is the journey.

You see, I believe there is a fine line between trusting God to enable certain things in your life, and treating God like a bizarre sort of automated teller machine (ATM), where you put in your card, and out comes a blessing, without you having to exert any other effort at all.

The idea itself is a problem, as it absolves one of personal responsibility for life choices.

The other problem is the nature of the ATM card. You may have seen some of these headlines yourself: Prophet feeds snakes to congregation, Pastor makes his congregants eat grass, Pastor drives over followers as acts of faith, Pastor sprays Doom on congregants to heal them, Pastor “heals” woman’s vaginal pimples with his shoe, Pastor claims to have God’s direct phone number, Pastor went to heaven and took pics to prove it, Pastor performs instant weight loss miracle.

I do not doubt that these stories are an indication of the very real desperation that people in Africa are feeling.

The desperate search for a solution outside themselves and the fervent belief that God, whoever they perceive or understand him to be, can solve their problems if only they would just . . . give money, eat grass, pray more, serve the pastor, support the church etc.

Many Christians are familiar with Romans 8:28, which reads: “All things work together for good for those that love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.”

Using this scripture as a basis, many believers quickly hand over all the responsibility for all things working together for good, as if they have written a purchase order to another department in the building and then they go home and wait for God to deliver.

But my own belief about God (and you may well disagree with me!) is that he doesn’t tend to do for us what he has enabled us to do for ourselves.

That means we have to share at least part of the responsibility for making all things work together for good.
Are you wondering what that might look like?

Well, it looks like coherence. It looks like you and I deliberately making free-will choices that align with what we consider to be “all things working together for good”.

Take for instance, a simple goal like losing weight. We believe that God wants us to be healthy and to live long and prosper.

We recognise that in order for us to achieve good health, it may be necessary to lose some weight.

We pray for guidance and claim the blessing in Romans 8:28 for ourselves.

This is not enough. We have to then proceed to create cohesion around the goal we are trying to attain — to eat healthily, to exercise adequately, to improve the quality of our sleep.

We are responsible for developing the habits and beliefs that support the attainment of our goals. We are in fact the chief facilitators of making things work together for our good.

I don’t believe it will make a difference how many cash or kind offerings we make and in what amounts we make them.

What makes a difference is whether the choices we make in our daily lives are aligned to the goals we want to achieve and whether the way we spend our time is optimum for where we want to go.

It’s really not that mysterious if you think about it. When I was in college, I often found myself in that moment late in the night when an assignment was due the next day and I had a serious case of writers’ block.

I would wish that God would “reveal himself” by miraculously typing it all out for me while I slept.

This is sounds foolish, but it is not so different from thinking that if I put a higher amount in the offering, the work that I need to do to attain my goals will mysteriously be done for me.

It was then that I realised that God wasn’t going to do for me what he had enabled me to do for myself.

He had given me all the resources I needed (his divine power has given us everything we need) including stationery, reference materials and time.

It was my responsibility to put it all together and make it work coherently for my good, and in the pursuit of my ultimate goals.

The paradox of the prosperity gospel is that when you look at countries around the world, it is the most religious countries that are the poorest.

Might this be because we prefer to believe that God will fix our problems rather than actually getting on with making the necessary choices for our problems to be fixed?

Taking responsibility is not an attractive proposition when there is something to be done that you really don’t want to do.

But the sooner we get on with it, the faster we are likely to achieve real and lasting prosperity.

Thembe Khumalo is a brand-builder, storyteller and social entrepreneur. Find out more on www.thembekhumalo.com or follow her social media accounts @thembekhumalo

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