Saturday, May 30, 2009

Divine Portrait of Prosperity: Psalm 128

God gives us a number of wonderful portraits of prosperity. Here is what it looks like in Psalm 128:

Blessed is every one who fears the LORD,
Who walks in His ways.
When you eat the labor of your hands,
You shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
In the very heart of your house,
Your children like olive plants
All around your table.

Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
Who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you out of Zion,
And may you see the good of Jerusalem
All the days of your life.
Yes, may you see your children’s children.
Years ago, when I was going through the Psalms of Ascent, writing a song for each one (I call them the “Pilgrims Psalms”), I struggled with this one — it seemed too good to be true. It portrayed happiness and prosperity as something God has for all His people, for all who fear Him and walk in His ways. But that clashed with the theology I had learned, the religious mindset I had been discipled in up to that time.

Growing up in church and going through Bible college, I was taught that God wanted us to have joy but not necessarily happiness. “God would rather you be holy than happy,” other Christians would later tell me. As if we can only be one or the other, or that holiness and happiness are like matter and antimatter and would annihilate each other if they ever came into contact.

Then there was the question of prosperity. “God doesn’t have prosperity for everyone,” I was advised. “You can’t expect that things will always work out for you.” Life for the Christian is “blood, sweat and tears, and hard, hard work,” I remember someone saying. Oh, joy!

But here was the psalm writer speaking unabashedly about having prosperity, being fruitful, enjoying the produce of our work — and being extremely happy! The Hebrew word for “blessed” in the first verse literally exclaims, “How happy!” or “What happiness!” It is the kind of happiness that comes from everything going well in your life. That is hard for some people to accept, but it is what Psalm 128 describes. The Message puts it this way:
All you who fear GOD, how blessed you are!
How happily you walk on his smooth straight road!
You worked hard and deserve all you’ve got coming.
Enjoy the blessing! Revel in the goodness!  (vv. 1-2)
The Contemporary English Version reads, “Your fields will produce, and you will be happy and all will go well” (v. 2).

So I made the decision to leave behind all those old voices that were still ringing in my head and go with what the Word of God now set plainly before my face. I wrote the song according to the psalm. No apologies, no regrets. Oh, some have tried to talk me out of this expectation, often “spiritualizing” the life out of this and similar Scriptures. But they are too late — I’ve already seen it in the Word and have been experiencing it in increasing measure in my life.

I hope you do, too. Even, or especially, in these difficult times.

The favor God has for His people extends even to happiness and prosperity, for all who live in awe of Him and walk in His ways. Set your expectation on this.