I don’t know how many times I have heard this statement— God has a plan for your life. And whilst it is a true statement, it is always offered with such confidence, joy and absolute belief that this plan will include worldly prosperity, success, health and wealth. It must be one of the most misused quotes flung around Charismatic circles.
Every time there is grief, suffering, or uncertainty, someone assures me that God has a plan for my life. In fact I cannot count how many times I have had Jeremiah 29:11 quoted to me, ‘“For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”’ But is this a promise to me? And what kind of prosperity is the Lord promising? What kind of future? This needs to be put into context.
Firstly, who is God giving this promise to? Not me; not to any individual. The word ‘you’ in this passage of Scripture refers to ‘many’ not to an individual. God gave this promise to Judah right in the middle of His judgement against them, pronouncing seventy years of captivity in the hands of the Babylonians. The judgement was made against them because they wouldn’t heed God’s warnings, ‘because they did not pay attention to my words, declares the Lord, that I persistently sent to you by my servants the prophets, but you would not listen, declares the Lord’ Jeremiah 29:14 . But God promises them that not all was lost. He promises to restore them, ‘“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you.”’ In its correct context, it’s clear to see that this promise is not for us at all. It is a promise for Israel, from their loving and just Father.
Now in regard to worldly prosperity, nowhere in the New Testament are believers promised worldly prosperity. Nowhere are we promised an easy, indulgent, successful life. In fact, as believers, we are promised the reverse.
Acts 4:1-3 ‘And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.
Matthew 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
2 Timothy 3:12 ‘Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’.
Hebrews 11:32-38 ‘And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson,Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth’.
2 Corinithians 12:10 ‘For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong’.
Philippians 3:8 ‘Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.’
Acts 5:40 ‘and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go’.
Luke 9:23-25 ‘And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?’
Philippians 3:10 ‘that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;’
Matthew 7:14 ‘For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few’.
Suffering is part of our walk with Christ. We are not promised prosperity as believers, we are promised suffering and hardship. Some of the apostles, who spent their lives serving the Lord and preaching His word were rewarded with agonising deaths. Matthew was martyred in Ethiopia, killed by a sword. Mark died in Egypt after being dragged by horses through the streets. Luke was hanged in Greece. One was boiled in oil. Peter was crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to die in the same way that Jesus Christ had. James was thrown over a hundred feet down from the Temple, and upon surviving the fall, he was beaten to death and had his brains smashed out. Countless Christians through the ages have experienced gruesome and cruel deaths, all because of their love, faith and obedience in Christ.
Martyrs Mirror reports that under Nero’s rule in Rome, Christians were persecuted and killed. They died in horrific ways. They write:
‘Touching the manner in which the Christians were tortured and killed at the time of Nero, A. Mellinus gives the following account from Tacitus and other Roman writers: namely, that four extremely cruel and unnatural kinds of torture were employed against the Christians
Firstly, that they dressed them in the skins of tame and wild beasts, that they might be torn to pieces by dogs or other wild animals.
Secondly, that they, according to the example of their Saviour, were fastened alive on crosses, and that in many different ways.
Thirdly, that the innocent Christians were burned and smoked by the Romans, with torches
Fourthly, that these miserable, accused Christian martyrs were used as candles, torches, or lanterns, to see by them at night.
Of those who were burned, some were tied or nailed to stakes, and held still by a hook driven through the throat, so that they could not move the head when the pitch, wax, tallow, and other inflammable substances were poured boiling over their heads, and set on fire, so that all the unctious matter of the human body flowing down made long, wide furrows in the sand of the theatre. And thus human beings were lighted as torches, and burned as lights for the wicked Romans at night.
Juvenal and Martial, both Roman poets, and Tertullian, state this in a different manner, namely, that the Romans wrapped them in a painful or burning mantle, which they, wound around their hands and feet, in order to melt the very marrow in their bones.
Furthermore, it is stated by A. Mellinus (from the aforementioned authors), concerning those mantles, that they were made of paper or linen, and, having been thickly coated with oil, pitch, wax, rosin, tallow, and sulphur, were wrapped around their whole body, and then set on fire.
For this spectacle Nero gave the use of his gardens, and appeared himself among the people in the garb of a charioteer, taking an active part in the Circusian games; himself standing in the circus, and, as charioteer, guiding a chariot.
These proceedings, according to the testimony of Tacitus, although it had the appearance that the Christians were punished as malefactors who had deserved the extremest penalty, nevertheless moved the people to compassion; for they understood well enough that the -Christians were not exterminated for the good of the common weal, but simply to gratify the cruelty of one man, Nero.’ http://www.homecomers.org/mirror/martyrs011.htm
So we hear all of this and we still think that we are not deserving of the same death? We think that God should just bless us and bless us, with health, wealth and worldly prosperity. The apostles and the Roman Christians were Christians just like us. God didn’t spare them excruciating deaths so why should we be spared and why should we instead be blessed with promises given to Israel? Is it because we are so self-righteous and so self-obsessed that we think we are better than those other Christians? The Scriptures are just so clear about the suffering that is due to us as followers of Christ. Carrying your cross daily is not just a symbolic thing; it’s a real, bloody, and ugly battle that we are in, and bearing our cross is meant to be hard work.
I think that the apostles and the Roman Christians knew that God had a plan for their lives, and that the plan was to prosper them. But they also recognised that true prosperity is eternity with Christ. The apostles didn’t mistake God’s plans for their prosperity to mean a new chariot, or a bigger house. They knew firsthand what following Jesus would cost, and they knew the price they’d pay was their lives. We are no different, and we don’t deserve anything more than what they were given. If you are a Christian and you are chasing worldly prosperity, I implore you to stop and read your Bible. I implore you to search the Scriptures and see what is really there. Go through the New Testament and write down every promise we are given, and then you will see that worldly prosperity is not included. But you are promised suffering and trials and at the very end of it all, you will be prospered in heaven. It doesn’t get better than that.