The Unprosperity Gospel: Losing My Life to Find It

Yesterday I wrote a post based on Acts 20 about why I don’t quite agree with the idea of the “prosperity gospel” that’s popular among many Christians today (and made famous by pastors such as Joel Osteen). As I continued to think about that and work through the book of Acts this morning, these few verses stuck out to me:

After staying there for several days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In Jerusalem the Jews will bind the man who owns this belt, and they will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the local believers urged Paul not to go up to Jerusalem.
Paul replied, Why are you doing this? Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I’m ready not only to be arrested but even to die in Jerusalem for the sake of the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:10-13 CEB)

This is the “unprosperity gospel.” Paul is willing to give up everything, even his own life, for the sake of the name of Jesus. He’s not trying to get anything, but is instead willing to give everything. This is a tough pill to swallow in the “what have you done for me lately?” culture that we live in today. We want to know how having faith will benefit us. We look for churches based on the programs they offer for us. We want to know what we’re going to get in return for our time and our investment. Paul knew exactly what he was going to get: beaten and arrested and most likely killed. He wasn’t in the game to get, but to give everything, even his life, for the sake of the good news of Jesus.

Jesus himself talked about this in the gospels. In John 12, he said, “Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever.” In Luke 9, he said, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.” Jesus made statement after statement that sounded like this. Apparently, finding life in Jesus comes when we’re willing to lose our life, give it up, get over ourselves, and stop focusing on what we’re going to receive in response to our faith.

In response to this, I have to ask myself, “What am I willing to give?” Would I be willing to do anything and give up everything? Is my faith based on what I can get or what I’m willing to give? Am I willing to put following Christ above career and school and family and friends and success and recognition and acceptance and all of the things I crave in life? The weird thing is that according to Jesus, it’s my willingness to lose my life, not my pursuit to find it, that allows me to keep it forever.

This makes a lot of sense in light of the fact that I’m so very temporary: the desires and dreams and successes of Travis are finite and they will die with me when I die. But the desires and dreams of God are infinite, they will last forever. So, I have the choice of pursuing the temporary or contributing to the eternal. In order do the latter, I have to get over myself and be ready to do whatever it takes “for the sake of the name of the Lord Jesus.”

God, may I be willing to lay aside my own prosperity, wealth, fame, and success for your sake, your name, your dreams, your vision, and your goals for the world and for my life.

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