Does following God always lead to prosperity?
It depends on how we define prosperity. It would be a great task to develop a whole biblical theology on what “prosperity” or “flourishing” looks like (in fact, we wrote about it from one angle in this blog HERE). But for today, let’s consider a narrative from a famous person in biblical history—Joseph.
Many people are familiar with is Joseph. But just in case you need a refresher, check out THIS video. If the amount of ink hints at a character’s importance, then Joseph is really important. He has 13 chapters devoted to his story (Genesis 37-50)! Joseph’s story is the epitome of being mistreated unfairly. Have you ever felt like life was not fair? Then this is your guy! His own brothers wanted him dead but saw selling him into slavery as a way of getting rid of him while also lining their pockets with a few extra dollars. Perhaps even more frustrating, every time Joseph seems to get some momentum in rebuilding his life, he is unfairly treated again, making his situation even worse! But within the framework of the story, a line is strategically repeated. What is it?
“The Lord was with Joseph.” Could anything else be more encouraging?
2 The LORD was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master.3 When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did. (Genesis 39:2-3, NIV)
21 the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there.23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did. (Genesis 39:21-23, NIV)
Read the above passages closely. Take special note of the way the Lord’s presence (being “with him”) leads to some sort of prosperity. The surprising thing about both of these instances—the prospering occurs just after Joseph is the victim of unjust treatment.
The Hebrew word behind “he prospered” (Genesis 39:2) is the same one behind “gave him success” in the next verse. The verb’s stem has causative force, with God being the one who is “causing” the prospering to take place. Its most literal meaning has to do with “cutting through” or “forcefully entering” a premise. It would be like seeing many trees, thorns, and bushes in front of you, but making a path through it all—slashing your way to the other side! Beyond the verb’s literal meaning it came to take on the figurative idea of “prospering” or “succeeding.” But maybe these are not such opposite ideas after all!
What if God is an expert in making a way to thrive even when we see a dead end? What if the obstacles are just one opportunity for God to show His hand in your life?
Joseph’s story shows us the connection between the Lord’s presence and the prosperity that follows. But the shocking thing is that the prosperity is hardly what Joseph imagined it would be.
God does not have to work within our ideals to accomplish something impactful.
Like the “blessed” man described in Psalm 1:1-3, everything we do can “prosper” if we live according to the Lord’s instruction, guided by His presence—but be prepared for your expectations of prospering to be modified. After all, everything God does is ultimately for the grand purpose of revealing Himself and rescuing the world (Romans 8:18-28). In fact, that’s exactly how Joseph’s narrative arc concludes. Because Joseph was obedient and steadfast—because He trusted the story and the God behind it all—many people were saved through his leadership at Pharaoh’s right hand. Hence the climactic conclusion to the story:
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20, NIV)
In light of this, know these 2 things:
1) Like Joseph, God will never leave you, that’s a promise (Hebrews 13:5).
He is always with us! But sometimes we live in such a way that ignores Him. Posture yourself to be ever-more aware of God’s constant presence. It is a blessing to walk in the awareness of God’s presence.
2) God’s ability to prosper you will always be according to His purpose.
Be faithful and steadfast even when you cannot see the way forward. Remember, that is what the Hebrew verb for prospering means, in effect, to cut a path through when it may not look like there is one.