When Prosperity Comes, Head to the Brook

A postcard of the brook Cherith from 1921
[Image credit: Picryl/Library of Congress

Have you, as a child of God, ever noticed that when a prosperous season comes to you, God will often send you away to a place of separation? It won’t necessarily be to an isolated shack in the middle of a desert or a forest; in fact, you may never even leave your own home. Instead, it will most likely be to a place where you are removed from regular contact, perhaps with close friends or relatives, or maybe those you work with. You would very likely have difficulty fulfilling even your daily needs through them anyway. You may try to seek assistance instead from someone else you know, or perhaps through some public service, only to be politely turned down. You will probably reach a point where your main source of sustenance seems to just disappear.

It is at this point that you will likely question God about your current circumstances, with the thought that something has gone seriously wrong here! Feelings of self-pity begin to spring up from sources previously unknown to you. Your thinking begins to be dominated by the mindset that “practically everyone else is doing well, so why can’t I do well too?” What you fail to realize is that this is just the place where God wants you to be! He doesn’t want you feeling sorry for yourself. In your time of desperation, His goal is for you to no longer be centered on self-reliance, but on developing and increasing your God-reliance.

We find Elijah, a prophet of God in the Old Testament, at a time when he was also separated from others and led into a position where he was forced to be dependent on God.

At that particular period, Israel had drifted away from God, and He brought a drought into the land through Elijah as a result. “…Elijah …said unto Ahab [the king], As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (1 Kings 17:1).

Even though the rains did stop and the dew no longer formed, the land did not immediately cease being prosperous. Yet God told Elijah, “Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there” (1 Kings 17:3, 4). Elijah knew that he had to remove himself from the presence of the king and his officials after publicly making the proclamation of no rain. But he could have discreetly stayed somewhere in the region for a while. After all, the land was still producing abundantly and the people still had plenty. Yet he “did according unto the word of the Lord: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan” (1 Kings 17:5) before the drought began to take its toll.

Notice that God sent him to a brook, not a river. This particular brook was a seasonal stream anyway, and it would not last.

“…it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land” (1 Kings 17:7). God surely could have led Elijah to the Jordan River, or some other large body of water. And even Elijah’s food was brought in by the birds, since there were no herds that could have continually sustained him grazing nearby. Once again, God had Elijah where He wanted him, just like He has you.

God wants His children, in flourishing times or in lean times, to be dependent on Him. Elijah’s assigned brook was feeble, but God could have kept it continually flowing, and He could have even provided additional birds to deliver more food. Elijah could have tried digging a well, or searching for work with a sheepherder or farmer. It would have been a very difficult journey, but the possibility existed for him to go to another region or country that had plenty to eat and drink. But to do so would only have separated him from the will of God.

It was God who placed Elijah into this situation, but it was not permanent, because God did not intend for him to stay there long. When the brook dried up later, Elijah was forced to move on. But even after it dried up and the birds ceased to provide for Elijah, God still made a way through a widow nearby. Not only was Elijah sustained then by her, but the woman and her son were also blessed to overflowing! If God had sent Elijah to a large river instead, he would have very likely taken God for granted, and would not have left the area.

During a season of prosperity, the child of God can stop being dependent on Him so easily.

But He wants us to look to Him, not on what He gives us, or on what the world provides. Even if your rain and dew do not stop, the brook will still cease to flow. The birds will also no longer supply your needs. This is not accidental—God has intended it to be this way. As your Heavenly Father, it is not His desire for you to be independent of Him and self-reliant. Follow Elijah’s example by looking to Him and depending on His faithfulness, and not by looking to others or the world around you for your sustenance.

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him” Lamentations (3:22-25).

“In Spite of It All, the Lord Stood With Me”

Man sitting alone in large area with dark background in sunlight

Paul the Apostle is considered to be one of the greatest men in the Bible. He was educated by highly distinguished teachers, and obtained the status of a very knowledgeable and outstanding religious leader among the Jewish people. He said of himself that “I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city  at the feet of Gamaliel [well-respected teacher and authority of the Jewish law], and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God…” (Acts 22:3).

He considered believers in Jesus Christ to be heretics and enemies of the Jews, and he was determined to try to exterminate them all in the name of God. But God turned all of that around by bringing Paul to the point where he, himself, became a believer in Christ. This forced him to reconsider all that he had been taught. He eventually came to the point where he could say, “…I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Philippians 3:8). As a result, instead of continuing to berate and eliminate the Christians, he began to humbly exhort and teach them and to preach Christ and Him crucified to them.

Paul became the author of almost one third of the New Testament. He encouraged both individual believers and churches, and set certain erroneous beliefs in the fellowships of the believers of that day straight. He also traveled extensively across the Mediterranean region, from Spain to Jerusalem, by land and by sea, preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ to Jews and non-Jews alike.

Throughout all of this, a great number of fellow believers in Christ assisted and encouraged him, both physically and spiritually, wherever he went. But in the end, when it came time for him to stand trial before the Roman emperor Nero, he said that “…no man stood with me, all men forsook me” (2 Timothy 4:16). Like Christ at His trial and crucifixion, not one person stood by his side. Imagine how disappointed and downcast he could have been at that point.

Thankfully, the story does not end there, as we read in the next verse: “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear…” (2 Timothy 4:17).

Paul had the greatest support of all—the Lord Himself. What a wonderful, reassuring thought, to know that Jesus is by our side giving us strength and encouragement, much more than any other person on this Earth could ever do.

While we may never be in a position as dire as what Paul encountered, how often do we wallow in self-pity and despair over circumstances and situations that are nowhere near the level of Paul’s? Proverbs describes the best characteristic of a real friend: “…there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). The friend most true is Jesus Christ Himself. Through thick and thin, He will be right there by our side, “…for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5). No matter how great or small the trial is that we are in, we can always rest assured that He is there with us, if we have put our trust in Him.

As we read through the New Testament, we find that God kept Paul in a position where he would not want to do anything else but look to Christ.

Even though he went from being beaten almost to death, then shackled in a prison cell, to being in the heart of an angry mob, to surviving a shipwreck, he never believed that God had abandoned him.

We as believers in Christ must remain continually in this same attitude. Our desire, our focus, and our faith must all be on Jesus Christ and the cross. Our best friends, closest relatives, and other loved ones may all forsake us at some crucial point in our life. Yet, as long as we pursue and obey Christ, and do not look to our self, He will always remain by our side and will never forsake us. In our most trying times, may we, as well, be able to say to others: “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me” (2 Timothy 4:17a).

Envy for the Wicked?

Envidia / Envy: Inequidad flickr photo by NeoGaboX shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

 “John’s been promoted again,” Maria sighed to herself. “This is the third time in six months. How does he get ahead like this?”

Then Sarah, the recently hired office assistant, raced into the room and leaned over into Maria’s cubicle, saying “Maria, Maria, guess what? Jessie just made me the assistant logistics coordinator!”

How?” exclaimed Maria, incredulous. “You’re twenty years old and have only been here three weeks!”

“Well…” Sarah paused, ”I kind of offhandedly mentioned to Jessie that my brother is a venture capitalist who’s been eagerly looking for some companies to invest in, and…” Sarah paused again. She moved away from the cubicle while looking back and forth quickly in each direction.

“And what?” Maria raised her voice. Sarah moved slightly and then leaned over on a different side of the cubicle.

“Well, I sort of hinted that he just might possibly invest in our company if things look favorable enough around here, and…” Sarah’s voice almost squealed, “a few days later, here I am in logistics!”

“But your brother works as a driver for a waste collection company; he doesn’t know a thing about investing,” Maria countered.

“I guess it’s all in what you say and how you say it,” Sarah responded with a sinister smirk. Then she strutted off with a slight skip in her step.

Maria began fretting to herself, “Why can’t I be rewarded like they are? I do what is right. I follow the rules, and yet, here I am in the same position for the past twelve years. Sarah brazenly lies, and then acts so innocent and cute. With John, I shudder to even consider the evil he performed to advance so quickly through all these positions.”

Meanwhile, Reba in accounting strolled by Maria’s cubicle, flaunting the latest outfit she had recently acquired. “And Reba,” Maria continued with disgust, “I just don’t see how she buys all these new outfits. She and her latest husband bragged about having already declared bankruptcy twice. Then she boasts of all of these credit cards and even the second home they recently purchased. I can’t even borrow five dollars without a backlash, it seems. Oh, how I envy them all!”

Maria is not alone in feeling this way. For centuries people have been struggling unsuccessfully with envy. But there was one man named Asaph who found the solution. He was a worship leader in the Temple for the Israelite people, a skilled musician who also wrote several of the psalms in the Bible. He was one who knew about the blessings and the mercy of God. He also knew that God is able to supply the needs of His people, and can bring them through any situation they encounter. In spite of all this, he became envious and downcast. It bothered him so much that he wrote about it in a psalm:

For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men. Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment. Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish. They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily. They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth. Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them. And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High? Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning. If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children. When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me (Psalm 73:3-16).

Asaph saw how the wicked and the foolish were prospering. It appeared to him that doing what is right and holy did not pay off. Everywhere he turned, he saw that the ungodly were successful in their endeavors. Yet they were also corrupt, oppressive, and full of pride. They held the position that, since they were so prosperous and well off, God must therefore approve of their acts. Surely He would have responded if anything they did was wrong. This was the reason Asaph became very downcast and distraught. He just could not understand why the righteous suffered while the ungodly prospered.

So Asaph “went into the sanctuary of God” (Psalm 73:17a). He did the right thing. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, he took his struggle and outcry to God.

He could have continued on in pain and agony over the prosperity of the ungodly. He could have moaned before God and anyone else who would listen about his struggles. He could have even gone to “professional help,” but he went before God instead, and “then understood I their end” (Psalm 73:17b).

God made it known to Asaph’s heart that He is fully aware of their evil and is not pleased with it. He showed just how their evil mortal lives could come to an end in an instant. Then Asaph began to realize that this life is all they have. In just a moment’s time, all of their prosperity, success, and scheming would be gone forever and of no benefit to them.

Asaph was grieved in his heart initially. The Spirit of God convicted him of his foolishness and his envy of the wicked. Then he said, “So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee” (Psalm 73:22). Asaph began to see that trusting God really is the only way. He realized indirectly that the means of the wicked would only let them down in the end, and there would be no eternal hope or happiness for them. He also began to see that God is to be his source of success and eternal life.

“Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee. But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works” (Psalm 73:24-28).

In the end, Asaph no longer envied the wicked. He came to realize that following the path they were travelling leads to judgment and destruction. Although he knew he would continue to have trials and tribulations, he could now truly say “God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever” (Psalm 73:26b). His heart was changed and his burdens were lifted because he took them before God instead of fretting over them himself. What a change in his countenance there must have been toward the end of this psalm!

For any child of God who wants to grow closer to Him, there will be tribulations. There will be struggles. There will be challenges that have to be overcome and there will be times when he will feel that the path the ungodly follow is much better than his own. Dear believer, do not envy the wicked. Do not allow Satan the latitude to make you feel like you should have never followed Jesus in the first place. The more you focus on the lives of the wicked, the more you will feel like Maria or Asaph. “A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones” (Proverbs 14:29).

When feelings like these come upon you, the best thing you can do is to go “into the sanctuary of God” like Asaph did.

Commit your concern to the Lord, and leave it there. Seek the Lord and allow Him to speak to you. Let His Spirit work in your heart and bring out your feelings and attitudes that hinder your relationship with Him. Don’t indulge yourself in self-pity over the prosperity of the wicked. “For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?” (Luke 9:25). The wicked have their only reward right now, but you have a much better reward coming that will last for all eternity!