The Challenges of Prosperity

Living Stones Series: First Published in All Around Old Bridge Publication – September 2017

By Pastor Lloyd Pulley

If you could have just one thing in life, what would it be?

To win a billion-dollar lottery jackpot? To have a new house? A luxury vehicle? A better job? Or perhaps, if given a choice, you would want good health or a loving relationship.

Just a few months ago, Money Magazine and SurveyMonkey surveyed nearly 4,500 Americans, and found that the majority of respondents opted to have a million dollars a year, for the rest of their lives, even over finding true love. Surveyors write, overall “money was the winner – especially among survey participants who were divorced and separated, as well as single women and men who were cohabiting with a partner.”

But what happens to people when they have it all – incredible wealth, good health, and valued relationships?

King David of the Bible, one of the greatest leaders in history, had risen from a shepherd boy to the most powerful, affluent ruler of his time. During his tumultuous rise to the throne, King David described his life’s singular passion with these words, in Psalm 27:4:

One thing I have desired of the Lord,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to inquire in His temple.

David believed in the Almighty God of the Bible and was called “a man after God’s own heart.” He thrived under difficulty. He sought God’s way and counsel in the most difficult circumstances. He inspired men to greatness. He behaved nobly and honored others, even when they did him wrong.

While David’s character shone most brightly in his darkest hours, he did not fare as well during times of great prosperity. Atop his throne, having risen to great power and wealth, a different sort of challenge brought him to his knees. While his army was fighting a pitched battle to protect their nation, David stayed behind for some rest and relaxation when, from his lofty balcony, he saw a beautiful woman named Bathsheba bathing. Despite the fact that she was a married woman, David had an affair with Bathsheba. Later, upon learning she was pregnant with his child, David tried to cover up the affair by ordering Bathsheba’s husband, a soldier, to the front lines so that he died in battle.

How had the mighty warrior David, this man after God’s own heart, fallen so far?

Very often our greatest challenges lie not in our trials, but in our successes. David had grown self-indulgent in his prosperity.

When things are going poorly, we often offer up desperate prayers such as, “God, please help me! I cannot do this on my own!”

But when all is well, when we have money in the bank and our relationships and careers are thriving, we are more apt think to ourselves, “Look at all I have accomplished!” Undue pride and self-sufficiency are often born of prosperity.

Consider the contrasting example of those who grew up in the 1920’s and 30’s. These men and women were deprived of food, shelter, and other basic necessities during the Great Depression. And yet, the same generation that grew up with nothing jumped into the battle of Word War II, fighting valiantly abroad and sacrificing for the war efforts here at home. Tom Brokaw dubbed these men and women the “Greatest Generation” because during times of great trial, they valued “personal responsibility, duty, honor and faith.”

Brokaw writes that during the Great Depression and the horrors of WWII, this generation paved the way for subsequent generations, like ours, “to accumulate great economic wealth, political muscle, and the freedom from foreign oppression to make whatever choices they like.” And yet, despite these great achievements, the Greatest Generation “made no demands of homage from those who followed and prospered economically, politically, and culturally because of its sacrifices.”

Consider it – what would any one of us do with a billion dollars? In our minds, we would behave most nobly and be of a great, generous spirit. Yet, it has been said that for every hundred persons who can endure adversity, there is scarcely one who can overcome prosperity.

David represents a commonality among all people. He was a shepherd boy AND a warrior king, a military strategist AND a poet. He experienced the great heights of wartime victory, as well as the lowest depths of human betrayal and sorrow. As such, King David is said to represent every man. We all stand to learn much from his successes and his failures, especially those born of self-indulgence during times of prosperity.

Perhaps true satisfaction comes, as it did for King David and the Greatest Generation, through turmoil and struggle, in standing up for justice and truth. Billy Graham said it best, “Comfort and prosperity have never enriched the world as much as adversity has.” Perhaps, rather than pursue human comforts as we fervently do, we ought to be willing to embrace difficulty and to stand up for the oppressed. From the fire of such adversity, true greatness is forged.

Aaron Salvato