Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit. – Psalm 51:10-12
The other day, filling in six or seven minutes while waiting for my show to come on, I listened to a TV preacher deliver a series of applause lines to a huge auditorium full with attentive, head-nodding, note-taking people.
It was one more version of the all-too-familiar Prosperity Gospel, a slick manipulative theology tailored to align with the equally flawed secular message that is hammered into consumers constantly and drives our economy:
- Advertising claims: “If you want to be happy then you need to buy more stuff. People who buy our stuff are happier, healthier, more beautiful, more fulfilled, and have more friends, etc…”
- Prosperity preachers claim: “If you want to be happy and blessed, then God will provide you with material wealth as a sign of his favor. Just believe in the right way, and “sow seeds of faith” by putting money in this offering plate. Personal wealth is a measure of spiritual faithfulness.”
There is a lot wrong with this way of thinking – of course – and it’s easy to see right through it, especially as the only people who seem to get wealthy in prosperity churches are the preachers. It’s a deception because possessions never have made people satisfied and happy and they never will; Jesus came to show us another way.
It’s A Cultural Sickness:
But even though it is patently false the prosperity message gains traction because it builds on the groundwork laid by the way “the path to happiness” has been sold to Americans, 24-7, from the moment we were born.
All prosperity preachers are doing is putting a religious spin on a scam that has shaped our values, our priorities, and our commerce for generations. If most Americans don’t already believe the lies about what brings happiness and contentment then why are all their credit cards maxed out?
If most Americans don’t already believe the lies about what brings happiness and contentment then why are all their credit cards maxed out?
Anyway, what annoyed me the most about this particular preacher was the way he cherry-picked Bible verses – usually out of context – to back up his claim that everyone listening to his message was there by special divine appointment. He insisted God had arranged for each one of them to be in the audience because God wants to open the floodgates of heaven and pour material bounty on them – if only they believe.
If the floodgates of heaven are not opened, and if we are not literally swimming in “God’s favor” (preferential, tip-the-scales, special treatment), then we only have ourselves to blame because we have failed as believers.
We’re All Guilty!
But then I have to admit that I do exactly the same thing with scripture so much of the time! I have something I want to say, or my writing leads me in a certain direction, and then I go looking for Bible-verses to support my ideas.
“But what’s wrong with that?” you may well ask. Well, I think the answer is that we all tend to slip into the habit of reading scripture the wrong way – it’s the difference between what’s known as exegesis and eisegesis.
- Exegesis is the process of drawing out the meaning from a text in accordance with the context and discoverable meaning of its author.
- Eisegesis occurs when a reader imposes his or her interpretation into and onto the text.
In other words, do I allow God to teach me through the scriptures, or do I try to leverage the authority of God’s word to back up my own point of view?
So this is my prayer, and also my commitment: “Lord God, speak to me through your word, open my heart to hearing your voice rather than superimposing my own. ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.'”
Then, if we keep looking at things from God’s perspective, I believe we are less likely to fall into the trap of trying to use God rather than allowing God to use us – DEREK