July 28, 1994

What Is Prosperity, Anyway?

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When I look up the word “prosperity” in the dictionary I find it defined as a state of being prosperous. Well, that’s not very helpful. What does prosperous mean? The Latin meaning behind the word “prosperous” defines it a little bit better: “doing well.
So, if I’m prosperous then I’m doing well. But the question still remains – doing well in what? Work? Family? My health? Is prosperity something that can be segmented and walled off? Can we be prosperous in one area, while floundering in another? Or, does the very idea of prosperity require a complete and integrated view of our lives?
If we dig a bit further, we find that prosperity is an all-encompassing concept. Look at Jeremiah 29:7 in the Old Testament. In this scripture God is instructing the Israelites on how to live as exiles in Babylon. He tells them:

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

What is God telling the Israelites to pray for as exiles? The Hebrew word for prosperity here is shalom, and it means “peace, soundness, or completeness.” The idea of shalom is a far way off from our modern ideas of prosperity. Though shalom can also mean welfare relating to happiness and fortune, it is never a welfare without wholeness. The history of Israel after all was littered with kings who had plenty of “stuff” but little shalom. My buddy Jim certainly found wealth, but it was welfare or prosperity, without wholeness or completeness. No shalom. No true prosperity.

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