Does the Bible Promise Health, Wealth, and Happiness?

Oprah Winfrey recently interviewed Joel Osteen on her new OWN show, Oprah’s Next Chapter. The following is an excerpt from Winfrey and Osteen’s discussion regarding the “prosperity doctrine” that many criticize Osteen for preaching and promoting. Take a look:

Oprah:  Some of the criticism is that you’re preaching prosperity. I was reading some of the critics, and I was thinking, “Why would anybody criticize you for preaching prosperity?” Because what kind of God wants you to be poor and miserable?
Osteen:  That’s the way I feel as well. I mean, I don’t know who would say that you’re not supposed to, you know, leave your children better than you were before. And plus, Oprah, prospering is not just, you know, material things. It’s peace in your mind, and health in your body and things like that. And so, there’s a belief that you’re supposed to suffer more, and to be poor, and to show your humility. I just don’t see the Bible that way. I see that God came, that Jesus died, so that we might live an abundant life and to be a blessing to others. I can’t be a big blessing to people if I’m poor and depressed and broke and I don’t feel good about myself.

Oprah:  If you’re poor, broke, and depressed, is that because you’re not praying enough, or [because] you’re not in alignment [with God]?  
Osteen:  No, I think it’s a mixture of things. I don’t think it’s just not praying enough, because there’s a lot of great people who just haven’t broken through in that area and I think that, you know, there are forces trying to hold us all down.  A lot of people haven’t been trained and they haven’t been inspired that, hey, you know what, you’re in the projects, but you don’t have to stay there. God’s got a plan for your life, and you believe, and you pray, and you do everything you can …

According to Joel Osteen, “Jesus died so that we might live an abundant life and that we might be a blessing to others.” He makes an apparent reference here to John 10:10, where Jesus says, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (NKJV).  But what is Jesus actually saying here? Does His definition of abundant life equate to earthly health, wealth and prosperity?

In John 16:33, Jesus Himself says, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” In reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, we find that His was certainly not a life of wealth and comfort. Jesus grew up as a carpenter—a working man—until He began his earthly ministry at the age of 30. In His own words, He never had so much as a bed to call His own (Matthew 8:20). In today’s terms, Jesus may have been considered a hippie; an itinerant teacher who travelled with a group of misfits, living off of the benevolence of others. His earthly life consisted of persecution, suffering, betrayal and ultimately death by crucifixion. Isaiah 53:3, prophesying of Jesus, tells us, “He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” And this biblical example of the humble, suffering servant doesn’t begin and end with Jesus Himself. In 2 Timothy 3:2, the Apostle Paul tells Timothy to, “Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”  In referring to suffering here, Paul is not talking about mere mental or emotional troubles. Elsewhere in scripture, Paul recounts being beaten, whipped, stoned, shipwrecked, jailed, and more; all as a part of his desire to follow Jesus and to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-27). According to these verses, Paul certainly experienced being poor, depressed, broke, and not feeling good about himself. Yet, Paul wrote much of the New Testament, and his life and writings have been used by God to be a blessing to others for thousands of years.

In his recently released book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything, Pastor Tullian Tchvidjian has this to say about suffering and the Christian life: “The one thing the Bible promises us regarding this life in this world is that it will be hard, that we’ll face endless trials and temptations and tribulations. Nowhere does the Bible promise that we’ll have our best life now—nowhere. In fact, Paul tells young Timothy, ‘Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’ (2 Tim. 3:12).”

Contrary to the belief of many today, Christianity is not a self-improvement plan in which we pray really hard, do good deeds and get health, wealth and prosperity from God in return. Christianity is God, by His grace, extending the gift of forgiveness and eternal life to undeserving sinners; sinners who receive the abundance of the Lord’s grace, mercy and empowering Holy Spirit in full at the very moment of conversion.
Abundance is absolutely a part of the Christian life, but biblical abundance has little to do with financial prosperity or perfect physical health. Think of our Christian brothers and sisters in 80 percent of the world that live on less than $10.00 per day; many of whom are stricken with disease due to lack of clean water and sanitation. Have they not been, in Osteen’s words, “trained” or “inspired” enough to overcome? Are they missing out on God’s best because they may never have the opportunity to become financially rich or physically healthy? Certainly not. Truth is, God is concerned with the health of the hearts and souls of His people, not with the health of their checking accounts.

Osteen’s right.  God came to give us abundant life and to enable us to be a blessing to others. We have an incredible, abundant, hell-free eternal life awaiting us in heaven, and we have the opportunity to share the blessing of that eternal life with others by introducing them to Jesus. Here on earth, abundance means peace, joy and comfort in the midst of our troubles, not lack of troubles or the presence of financial wealth. That doctrine, one of false prosperity, is found nowhere in the pages of the Bible.

If you’re broke, sick or struggling with depression, God doesn’t love you less than anyone else. You don’t need to pray more and try harder in order to get God’s blessings. If you have come to saving faith in Christ, you are a child of God, with full access to all of the spiritual wealth of His kingdom. No matter what your physical circumstances, you can praise God and trust that He is in control of your life. He sees exactly where you are, He knows exactly what you’re going through, and He has promised to make all things work together for your good (Romans 8:28). As a matter of fact, we can count our struggles, ailments and trials as blessings because they remind each of us how greatly we need God. This is why Paul is able to say in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

To watch a clip of the Osteen/Oprah interview, click here.

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