Is it wrong to pray for riches?

A prosperity gospel church sign in a converted theater in downtown Buenos Aires

Is it OK to pray for riches? Should I go to the church in my new Flores, Buenos Aires neighborhood that promises me financial prosperity in return for a donation?

Let me back up a bit. Jammie and I said goodbye to our friends in Bangkok and flew to Buenos Aires about a week and a half ago. By our second day in the city we had found and moved into a fun 2-bedroom apartment in Flores, the district that Pope Francis is from.

About five minutes’ walk from our apartment here in the Flores district of Buenos Aires is a church. This church happens to be all about cash. And praying to God for more of it. There are tons of these churches, strewn all over Buenos Aires and much of the world.

Prosperity Prayers inside one of the churches I visited last week...

We visited one of these “prosperity gospel” churches. Within 10 minutes of our sitting down, we had an envelope that said in no uncertain terms, “give to this ministry and you will be economically blessed.” They even had tick boxes so you could indicate exactly how you wanted to be blessed.

Prayer for the financial life...

The Prosperity Gospel
The message/product these churches sell is commonly called “prosperity theology”. Here’s the Wikipedia definition:
“Prosperity theology (sometimes referred to as the prosperity gospel or the health and wealth gospel) is a Christian religious doctrine that financial blessing is the will of God for Christians, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries will always increase one’s material wealth.”

Is there anything wrong with the prosperity gospel?
No matter where we travel in the world and no matter what the cultural mix, there is always a strong following for some form of “prosperity gospel” – whether it is the Christian variety defined above – or that of another faith where your material standing is a reflection of status with the gods based on this life’s behavior or something you did in a previous life…

Especially in economically starved times, people are really craving a supernatural remedy to their cash flow problems.  On the one hand, as someone of faith I feel anxiety about presenting God as an ATM machine, especially if the ATM only works with the help of a donation to a specific ministry.

However, I also believe that you can do a lot of good on this earth by representing spirituality as something that not only helps the soul but as a force for good that can also lead to success in this life.  I know on a personal level that my faith propelled me to my personal accomplishments.  I don’t see God as an ATM but I do believe that he wants to give and give abundantly.

Hold your fire.

As much as a lot of pastors I know shoot down the prosperity gospel, I actually agree with some of what the prosperity crowd espouses.  Instead of exploiting low income church attendees by telling them that God will be their Santa Claus if they donate to them, a lot of the megachurch pastors that are often tied to the prosperity gospel generation, are simply teaching practical Christianity – work hard, do good and bless others and you will be blessed yourself.

Jealous Pastors
Some of the strongest criticism of these churches seems to come from pastors of smaller churches that are struggling with attendance.  They can’t compete with a large, buzzing church so they turn to criticizing.

I have talked to a number of them and listened to them gripe.. a few weeks ago I was talking to a sour ex-pastor who called the prosperity gospel “B.S.”.  Helpful attitude there, Rev.  Sometimes I feel like these critics themselves could take a few lessons from the prosperity gospel crowd rather than harping on with their gloomy, supposedly expository gabble.

Some minsters commonly tied to the prosperity gospel movement, like Benny Hinn seem to court controversy at every turn. Others, like Joel Osteen, I am perfectly fine with.  “Honor God, think positively and live with an abundance mentality” is hardly an objectionable position to take.

What’s the alternative?

I have no quarrel with a balanced approach to faith. But seriously, would it hurt these gloomy evangelicals that blast the prosperity gospel crowd to lighten up? There is nothing wrong with acknowledging what is wrong about life and that there is darkness to contend with. It is absolutely right to condemn cash schemes where televangelists demand cash donations in return for a guarantee of God’s blessing. But realize that hope for the present is what a lot of people need right now.  You can do a lot of good by encouraging people to aim higher and seek more in this life.  As much as it sounds very Tony Robbins, there is something to be said for living life with an attitude of expectancy. There is something to be said for visualizing and having faith in a better future.  There is nothing wrong with this.  It is not just vain hope mongering, living life with an positive outlook actually works.

Gotta have faith…

Do we just not have enough faith? Maybe if you had enough faith things really would materialize. If we are tempted to get snarky the next time we hear a prosperity gospel sermon, maybe it is time to get practical and give it a try. Genuine, positive and practical faith can be the strongest driver of international do-gooding there is.

What do you think? If you are a person of faith reading this, do I deserve to be burned at the stake? If you are secular, do you think I am crazy? Or are we on to something here.  Feel free to disagree or love on me in the comments:)

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13 thoughts on “Is it wrong to pray for riches?”

  1. Whilst some of the prosperity gospel is exemplary, ultimately this is not a system Jesus modelled. In saying that, there were Jesus-followers who were rich (though not many). But the fundamental belief of Christianity is that our riches will be in eternity and that the riches of this life have their proper context when sacrificed for the sake of advancing the kingdom of God. It seems very nice that those who preach prosperity live themselves very lavish lifestyles and I belief they leverage the “love of money” to expand their church/following/offerings. It seems very self focused, instead of selfless. Jesus calls us to be self-less.

    1. Thanks Tony! Good thoughts there… I see what your are saying. And if the teaching is self-focused primarily, I too have an issue with that… the best prosperity preachers don’t seem to be that narrow though… more “live to be a blessing and you will be blessed”…hard to object with that…

  2. Bjorn,

    The act itself is not wrong. As with many ambiguous actions it is dependent on the motive. If you truly believe something and your motive is pure in sharing that with others then it is not wrong for you. This can be taken to extremes, however, and we see evidence of such in the form of Islamic terrorists. They may truly believe they are doing the work of Allah and are doing his will to kill infidels. To me, that is wrong. And as a society we must punish people for their actions not their motives. But when that person sits before God, could you not imagine a scenario where God sadly shakes his head and says “you totally misunderstood Me but you followed Me with all of your heart and that is how I will judge you”. Many Christians will counter with something like “well, if they had the ability to know better” or “the truth was presented to them and they rejected it”. I say “Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks at the heart”.
    Back to the original question: This type of preaching/theology is neither always right or always wrong. The bible is (shock!) inconsistent on this subject. Contrast Matthew 19:21 “If you want to be perfect, go, sell all that you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven” with 1 Chronicles 4:10 The Prayer of Jabez “Jabez cried out to the God of Israel ‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.’ And God granted his request.”
    Furthermore, what is different between praying for riches vs. praying for safety or health or healing or wisdom etc? Are these not all selfish prayers?
    In the end, it all comes back to motive.

    1. Kevin, thanks for weighing in on this one. I hear what you are saying. I think that, as you said, (if I read between the lines), Christian teaching is big enough to include prayers for financial strength. As long as the motive is “first seek the kingdom”. The idea of completely missing the boat on what God asks of us is always a troubling prospect but here again I think that if we seek earnestly we will find the right path…

  3. The problem I see with the prosperity gospel is that it presupposes a direct relationship between ones spirituality and/or prayers with one’s prosperity; when in fact, there may be no such relationship whatsoever. God’s calling and plan for our individual lives, I believe, are individualized and unique to each person.

    God blesses us in spite of our personal choices or condition (good or bad, prosperous or financially marginal, wise or foolish). He sends the rain on saint and sinner alike,–and promises that all things work together for good…

    The biggest issue I have with the prosperity gospel is that it defines the “good news” in financial and material results, rather than in our relationship to God and our fellow human beings.

    Just my two cents…

    1. Thanks Bill, very insightful. I think I agree that putting such strict parameters on the “good news” is narrow. But surely the definition can include financial and material results?

  4. WOW …. You know .. I pretty much believe in Karma. That being said, I also believe that what ever a person puts out in life, good OR bad, they get back ten fold. I personally know that when I’ve done bad things, bad things have happened to me .. TEN FOLD! Not kidding! I also KNOW, that when I have done good, oh my gosh, I have been blessed 10 fold PLUS …. If it is riches you desire … good luck with that and maybe hard work OR luck will you get you there! …. I believe in following your ‘gut’ .. do what you think is RIGHT … just saying … Sarah

  5. Ummm he…to the no!

    You’re saying don’t use God as an ATM machine? And don’t have the quid pro quo relationship with the big guy? This sounds like blasphemy! LOL

    Why the heck else do we pray other than to get free stuff, cash and buy sports teams? Oh wait, that’s why we play the Lotto.

    Where was I ? Oh yeah, is it it ok to pray for riches? So, I’ll take 2 shots at answering this question.

    Is it ok to pray for riches? YEah, it’s probably ok but like I wrote on a post recently, instead of treating God like an atm, pray for strength, for gratitude, for humility, hope, etc. All these are internal things which can enrich your life. If your life’s enriched and you’re living a better life, I believe your material life will improve.

    Pray to be a better and happier person and the riches will come. You know what – that may actually be the real riches, Bjorn. What is the price of happiness, contentment, having peace of mind??

    And the second question you didn’t ask but I’ll answer is how do you get rich without God or prayers? Well, a friend of mine recently wrote about the blue dollar and how to capitalize off the Argentinian dollar. There’s apparently big money in that market. but i digress.

    LEt me get serious (joke) and talk about the law of attraction. No, not think of money and let money appear. it’s more like feel good, invite abundance into your life, be happy, give love and you will be wealthy. It may not come in the form of bags of cash but once again in the form of happiness, abundance, love, contentment, peace of mind.

    Now, can I get an Amen? And can you pass those tithing plates my way? How cool is it church’s hand out baskets of money to attendees? I picked up $85 bucks last week. I noticed when I’m in the back pews, I get a huge collection of $$

    1. Hahahaha! Between the Argentine blue dollar and your offering basket trick I think I’ve got myself a pretty solid revenue stream here in Buenos Aires:) I totally agree that the most important currencies we have access to are not just cash. For me, time has got to be in the top five currencies of life..

      Very Solomon of you to stress first seeking the inner qualities..

  6. I understand that the currency Christians should ask God for is godly character traits (Galatians 5:22), and while God promises to supply all our material needs (Matthew 6:31),these don’t always include material prosperity. Churches that are focussing on making people think that, for an offering, they can get wealthy are exploiting people’s ignorance and desperation, and they’re preventing people from getting what’s of true value and what God really wants to give us: faith, trust and a character like Jesus. That’s my point of view anyway.

    1. I hear what you are saying Marlise and I’m all for fighting exploitation… on the flip side I am also interested in a few key churches that stress deliberately seeking God’s blessing in your life – not just in the material sense… I could do with more of that kind of an emphasis…

      See you this weekend!!

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