Today at church we went through Genesis 13:5-18. The background information behind this is as follows:
Abram and his nephew Lot are returning from Egypt, journeying back to the "place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai" (Gen. 13:3). Now both Abram and Lot were very rich in livestock, so rich in fact that the land they were in could not hold all of their possessions. Strife developed between their herdsmen so before real division and fighting began, Abram called for peace saying, "'Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers...Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left'" (vv. 8 & 9).
Lot ended up chosing for himself and his possessions the valley of the Jordan, which was rich with land and was "well watered everywhere" (v. 10), revealing that he chose the more fertile land. Unfortunately, this land was also near the city of Sodom, a city where the men "were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord" (v. 13).
Then the Lord makes a promise to Abram, telling him that all the land will be his and that his descendants will be as the dust of the earth, so that if the dust could be numbered, then so could his decendents (vv. 14-18).
Finally, further on in Genesis, we read that Lot paid a dear price for his choice, which he thought would bring much prosperity. In Genesis 19:1 we read that Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom, greeting two angels; it has been speculated that this indicates Lot had become a citizen of Sodom. Lot had gone from setting up his tent near the city to greeting the two angels at the gate of the evil city!
Today we were taught to beware of the danger in pursuing prosperity. This passage is a clear indicator of what could happen to anyone if selfish motives cloud proper judgment. Abram, seeking only peace, allowed Lot to choose wherever it was he wanted to go; Lot, knowing he had this choice, looked around to see which part of the vast land before him could make him prosper most, even if it meant placing himself and all he cared about in the clear presence of evil. We were warned not to take the most lucrative job offer or promotion simply because it means more money; we were encouraged to continue to rely on the provision of God, making sure that the things of this world do not hinder us from that relationship with Him or with those whom we love so much.
But I began to think more about the message we received in church, and I do not believe that prosperity is what is truly dangerous. Yes, the Bible does say that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10) and that as a result of pursuing it, many have wandered away from the faith. I do also adamantly agree that money can easily become the number one idol in our lives, replacing the everlasting, eternal God with treasures that rust and moth destroy.
If we really think about it, there is something much more dangerous that may or may not involve money--that is a lifestyle that finds its comfort in this world. This can be characterized in a lot of different ways, whether it be having possessions that make us comfortable, jobs that make us comfortable, living situations that make us comfortable, relationships that make us comfortable, or routines that make us comfortable. Regardless of what or who we find comfort in, if it is of this world, then it is far more dangerous than prosperity in this world.
Important to distinguish is the difference between having things that are comfortable and finding comfort in those things. I wrote about my leather jacket in a previous e-mail and how I believe it is okay to have something that is nice and comfortable if I am able to sacrifice it any point for the good of another and the glory of God. That is the difference between having something comfortable and finding comfort in it. It is the same for any other thing listed above; anything may be comfortable to us, but if we begin to find comfort in it, that is then a comfort of this world.
Another way to recognize a comfort of this world is to evaluate those various things that may be comfortable to us. I may have been in a job for 10 years and I am comfortable with it, but if I am no longer growing or learning or being challenged in that position, but am merely there because it is a job, then I have found comfort in the security of having a job. My life has grown stagnant in that area. I believe this is why many marriages fail; married couples allow being comfortable with one another develop into finding comfort in knowing that there is a spouse there for needs. Again, it must be clarified that this is not a situational comfort, like going to my spouse because I am sad and need to be comforted; instead, this is a perpetual comfort that takes my spouse for granted. In other words, instead of being happily married, they have become safely married. If a 20 year marriage is not growing, if they are not learning to love each other in new ways, if they are not being challenged to know each other deeper, the marriage will either last many years unhappily, or it will end unhappily.
These are just a few examples, but they focus on the underlying issue that can result from pursuing prosperity--that is comfort of this world. As Christians this is particularly dangerous because we are not meant for this world. Jesus asked, "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul (Mark 8:36)?" This question bears much weight when we really look at how much comfort we seek in the world on an everyday basis.