I can think of only one time when I have walked out of a church meeting. That too was about twenty five years ago. I’m sure if I think hard enough the name of the preacher will come to me. There wasn’t an excessive amount of expletives that time, and no one was suggesting we get into groups and rob banks. We were called to take out our purses or wallets from handbags and back pockets and laugh at them. Yes, you read correctly – laugh at them! It escapes me now what the purpose was, but I remember the congregation doing exactly that and my husband-to-be taking me by the arm, and taking the arm of my then best friend and dragging us out of the building, muttering and shaking his head. I think there might have been a few expletives coming out of his mouth.
Part of the problem was the sheep-like manner in which everyone did what the preacher said. People, perhaps, had been so wound up to an emotional state through the worship that they would have done anything they were asked. There was no pulling back a little to ask whether what they were being asked to do was a good thing.
I’m desperately trying to remember what the laughing at our purses and wallets was all about. Could it have been about laughing at poverty? Or encouraging us to be generous in our giving? Certainly we can battle with ourselves about how much we think we can afford to give or not. This could have been one of those extreme moments.
There was a moment this morning in church when I considered walking out. We had a visiting speaker fresh from Bible College. He was invited to speak about what he had learned at Bible College.
He preached a clear prosperity gospel message in among other things he talked about.
His starting point was Joshua 1:8 “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
Prosperity was spelled out in terms of increased finances and success in the work place. He saw no need for people to be ill or to suffer because obedience meant good health and well-being. Jesus didn’t make anyone ill, did he? His unmerited favour towards you means that God loves you, wants to bless you and to prosper you. Your part is to take the seeds given you, plant them, wait for an unspecified time and then collect the harvest. He went on to say that to ask for just enough for our needs was selfish praying. We should be asking for more than enough, not to buy the big car to park in the driveway, but to be blessed to be able to bless others. He talked about his own experience of moving from one success to another through his own obedience and faith.
It was just my second visit to this church. I liked my first visit very much. Had my second visit been my first visit it’s unlikely I would be going back. The prosperity gospel does not sit easy with my spirit.
I don’t need to look at the state of my bank balance to know whether I am blessed or prosperous – I look deeper, at the peace and the joy in my heart and the assurance of God’s presence in every facet of my life. If the bank balance is not healthy I don’t assume that God has stopped blessing me – the peace and the joy in my heart are still there and I still know His presence. Without the struggles in our lives there would be no need for God’s comfort and then how would we be able to comfort others with the comfort we have been given? The widow did not wait for abundance before she gave her widow's mite.
He’s moved on to somewhat safer ground, perhaps. Time was running out so he threw out a gem or two.
As he was talking about seeds I had a picture. It wasn’t a dramatic thing. The picture was of my coffee table at home. I have a number of piles of things on the coffee table – a pile of magazines, a pile of books I’m reading and a pile of Bibles, daily study guides and printed sheets of song lyrics and how-to guides for personal prayer retreats. It’s where I have my quiet times.
In this brief picture I saw the coffee table and all the piles of stuff but scattered over the table were seeds – lots of seeds.
“Why are there seeds all over my table?” I asked.
“Ah, why indeed?” said God. “You have a remarkable ability to collect seeds every quiet time. You dig out truth and revelation. You fill pages in your journal with the stuff. BUT you don’t plant the seeds anywhere. You just leave them on the table. The fruit that you ache to see in your life – if you just planted the seeds…there would be an abundance of fruit!”
Hmmm…point taken, Lord.
Something the speaker said that resonated – the ground doesn’t differentiate between seeds. It doesn’t reject a daffodil and embrace a tulip. Plant the seed and it should grow. The ground doesn’t decide. It’s up to us to be discerning about the seeds we plant. We just need to know what good seed looks like. And the bad seeds before we plant them.