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Believe It; Receive It

by Tim O'Hearn

They say that every myth has a kernel of truth in it. Somebody once existed that did something similar to what is done in the myth. It was on that basis that Heinrich Schliemann discovered the ancient cities of Troy. He followed clues from Homer, and started digging. And there it was, under several rebuildings.

If every myth has a kernel of truth in it, so does every heresy. No Bible believer would fall away from the truth if there wasn’t at least a little truth to lead them to do so. Each congregation has elders, so why not establish a single elder over congregations in an area; and thus we end up with one earthly “head” over all congregations. Israel had judges and other nations had kings; there really isn’t much difference, is there? Didn’t God say you could eat of the fruit of every tree in the garden? And so it goes.

“If you believe it, you will receive it.” This mantra of the prosperity gospel bears enough truth to be dangerous. Jesus did say, “Whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” (Matt 21:22) That sounds a lot like the teaching that God wants you to prosper, and all you have to do is ask. But is that what Jesus said? Not entirely.

Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.

The context of the passage is interesting. Jesus was hungry and had gone up to a fig tree that had leaves but no figs. He cursed the tree, and the next day it was dead. The disciples were surprised, and so he taught them as in this passage.

To carry the passage to its contextual conclusion, if you pray for harm to be done to someone, God will answer. So it is not just prosperity that comes, but vengeance. Since that flies in the face of what Paul said in Romans 12:9 (“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”), there must be limits on the “blab it and grab it” doctrine. God (or “the universe”) is not obligated to give you everything you ask for.

James had a different take on the prosperity gospel. He made two statements about it.

Ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. (Jas 4:2-3)

The first part sounds like what Jesus said in Matthew 21:22; however he modifies the conditions of that statement. You won’t receive if you don’t ask, but you won’t receive if you do ask for the wrong reason. If you are asking out of vengeance, obviously God has no obligation to respond. If you ask for prosperity (wealth, health, long life) for yourself, God has no obligation to respond because you are asking “that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” If truth be told, God is under no obligation to you under any circumstances.

But doesn’t God want me to be happy, as some preachers say? That may depend on a definition of happiness. Yes, God wants you to be happy in the way he defines happiness, not necessarily in the way you do. Happiness is submission and giving, not money in the bank. (Matt 5:1-12; Acts 20:35)

If you believe it, you’ll receive it. But only as long as you plan on using it to God’s glory.