Over the course of a number of weeks we have been looking at God's faithful provision for His people. What a neat and a generous God we have! Amen? We have looked at incredibly encouraging New Testament passages, like Mark 10 which promises that when we abandon our everything to the Lord He pours back 100-fold, now in this time, and even more in eternity. Passages like the Sermon on the Mount which calls us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you. Passages like 3 John 2 which says, Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health just as your soul prospers. God cares about our souls; He cares about our bodies; HE cares about our finances. We serve an awesome God who is not relegated to our devotions. We serve an awesome God who is interested in all of life and whose Lordship extends to all of life. And the New Testament is full of passages to that effect. But we started looking at Old Testament passages which form the foundation of these New Testament ones.
Last week we started looking at Deuteronomy 8, and we looked at the cause and effect relationship between both ethics and prosperity and maturity and prosperity. Now we need to keep in mind God's testings, like with Job. He frequently brings intergrity checks into our lives to expose where our heart is at. But the overall thrust of Scripture is to affirm that God loves to prosper His people and to provide for all that they need. The fact that the relationship between ethics and prosperity and maturity and prosperity is not often recognized does not make it any less true. There are mathematical truths that aren't intuitively obvious. Likewise, when you put a stick into the water it looks like the stick bends. But we ignore what our eyes are telling us and despite perceptions believe that physics hasn't changed. And we need to do the same with regard to the issue of God's laws governing prosperity. Somebody sent me an email this past week that I thought was kind of cute on the issue of perceptions. It said,
Four boys are in the schoolyard bragging about their fathers. Each thought their father was better than the others. And the issue came finally to finances. The first boy says,
"My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a poem, they give him $50."
The second boy says, "That's nothing. My dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a song, they give him $100."
The third boy says, ”My dad can beat that… he scribbles a few words that you can’t even read and he gets $200, he calls it a prescription.
The fourth boy says, "I got you all beat. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a sermon. And it takes ten people to collect all the money!"
…not all perspectives are totally accurate. And that's why we started the sermon last week by looking at how Jesus interprets these words, and how the apostles not only reaffirmed the promises of this chapter, but who said that these promises and curses were written for us, upon whom the ends of the ages had come.
III. How God resources us for prosperity (vv. 7-13)
God gives us resources, but doesn't do our dominion for us.
But I would like to pick up at Roman numeral III today which deals with how it is that God resources us for prosperity. Point A states that God gives us resources, but He doesn't do our dominion work for us. Verse 7 says For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land…. God gave them the land, but they still had to enter. You know what happened to the previous generation when they feared and refused to enter. They lost out. God gave them all kinds of resources, but they were responsible to exploit those resources. Now this point I think should be obvious to our congregation. Another way of stating it is that if we aren't planting, He won't multiply. God authorizes the prayer that says, "Prosper the work of our hands," but He does not authorize us to pray, "Lord, do the work for us. I'm tired." Now I'm not going to emphasize point A because its almost too obvious and I've talked about it plenty in the past.
God calls us to recognize opportunities as He sees them and to seize those opportunities
Looking with optimism
But what I might do well to talk about is point B - how to recognize opportunities and how to seize them. You know, we might not even recognize is that God has already provided us with resources that we many times are not taking advantage of. Point B says that God calls us to recognize opportunities as He sees them and to seize those opportunities. Maybe next week the Lord will open up an opportunity to advance His kingdom and we simply don't recognize it as an opportunity. In the area of evangelism, some of you may remember the retired missionary Jim Moss who was in Omaha for a few months. I spent a lot of time with him because I wanted to learn. But he saw divine appointments left and right to share the Gospel that I just totally missed. He recognized opportunities that God was plopping into our laps. In the area of economics, I had a friend who was a staff person at Covenant College who had a knack for seeing economic opportunities everywhere that I just totally missed. That's one of the things that makes for a good businessman - he recognizes an opportunity before others do. We can all recognize good opportunities in hindsight when someone else has made a killing on them. But God wants us to be evaluating, "What are the resources (both spiritual and temporal) that God has already strewn in my path that He wants me to take advantage of and how can I maximize those resources?" Al Ries and Jack Trout said, "Opportunities are hard to spot because they don't look like opportunities."
And I think that is true of the good land that the Lord gave to the Israelites. The Scripture described it as having arable land, forrests, wildernesses, deserts, a dead sea, rocks, etc. And God saw all of it as containing good resources. Verse 7 says, For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land… and he proceeds to describe that good land. Why don't we read that: …a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper.
Do you think the land had changed at all in the last 40 years? I don't think so. But this generation of Israelites had a different perspective than the previous generation. They had eyes of faith. They could see the land as God saw the land. The previous welfare generation didn't even want the land because they were the kind of people who saw the glass as half empty, and they focused on what was missing, and they thought that it would be impossible to overcome the obstacles of giants in the land. They were pessimists who could easily tell you why any project would not work. They focused on the risks rather than on the opportunities. In fact, they tended not to see opportunities. Instead they saw obstacles. Which means that they weren't seeing the resources as God saw the resources. The land hadn't changed at all. It was the people who had changed. I think it was Chuck Swindoll who said "We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations." "We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations." The ten spies 40 years before couldn't see great opportunties. All they could see was an impossible situation. It didn't matter that Joshua and Caleb gave them perspective on how good the land was (Joshua and Caleb said the same thing that Moses says here - but it didn't matter because) those Israelites didn't have the faith to see that this was God's provision. In contrast, this generation looked at the half glass of water and said, "Wow! This glass is half full." In otherwords they were optimists. They looked at life through the glasses of faith. I remember when the switch in my perspective came about was when I became a Calvinist and saw the "all things" of Romans 8:28. I would get a flat tire, and I remember thinking, "OK Lord, what is the divine appointment you have for me through this flat tire. I know you have a good purpose in this, and I'm just excited to see what it is." It was almost like every negative thing that happened to me was a Christmas package that I was waiting to open up to see what good thing the Lord was going to bring out of it. And in terms of prosperity, I cannot emphasize enough how important perspective is. There are churches that can never advance because the only thing that the bean counters are preoccupied with is counting up the risks and understanding why you can't do x,y,z. Whether you are talking about believing God to prosper the education of your children, or give you wisdom for leadership, or provide for your finances in this coming week, or any of the other areas of prosperity we have looked at in this series, we must be wildly optimistic about the truth of God's promises and be looking for opportunities with expectation.
Look for what others miss
A second part of recognizing opportunities as God sees them and then seizing those opportunities - is to look for what others have missed. Verse 9 mentions that part of the reason the land was good was because it was a land that had stones in it. Hah! Stones!!! Now no farmer likes stones in his land. And there are parts of Israel that are so full of stones that it would be enough to make a farmer want to cuss. But God wanted them to look at those stones and see what others missed. God placed them there for Israel's good. They weren't a part of His curse. They were part of the blessing of the good land that He had given. He didn't want them focusing on the fact that the cup was half empty and saying, "What a useless land!" Instead, He wanted them to be able to say, "Hey! This ain't good for farming, but it sure is good for mining. And nobody else can compete with our prices because we don't even have to dig." Look for what others miss.
The land was strategically laid out so that it forced division of labor. Verses 8-9 hint at that. They weren't like Ireland during the potatoe famine when everyone grew the same crop. God used a land which forced not only division of labor but speicialization. And even in terms of those rocks, in a very real sense, one person's garbage could become another man's treasure. A friend of mine in seminary told me about a business opportunity that their family engaged in. They lived in a middle class neighborhood and they knew that there were people who hated having to clean up after their dogs. They saw an opportunity and started a home business of Super Duper Pooper Scoopers that made a lot of money. There are many people who in the past have made tons of money because they bought houses that nobody else wanted. "Who'd want to buy a dilapidated home like that?" But they could see potential. They saw the house was basically sound and just needed a new roof and some cosmetic touches and fixed windows. But they got the houses for a super cheap price because nobody wanted them, they then fixed them up and a few months later made 20 or 30 thousand dollars of profit. They could see potential in the dilapidated buildings. They saw what everybody else missed.
When I think of a person who looked for what others missed, I think of George Washington Carver. He discovered 150 products that could be made from the sweet potato, and 300 products from the peanut. And we're talking about things like soaps and resins and paints, etc. And before the Senate Agriculture Committee he gave God the glory for providing the wisdom to exploit resources which we he said we have only exploited in a tiny measure. And he indicated that we need to look for what others miss, and that we need to ask God to give us the illumination to be able to recognize resources for what they are.
Look for which resources best match your God given abilities
So looking for opportunities as God sees them and seizing those opportunities requires first, an optimistic or a faith-filled perspective on life, secondly, an ability to see what others have missed, but thirdly now, a realistic appraisal of our abilities to labor in a given field. There is no way that one person could take advantage of every resource mentioned here if they were the only ones doing them.
This presupposes the goodness of division of labor (vv. 7-13)
So if we aren't called to do everything, that presupposes first that division of labor is a good thing. Some will specialize in the growing of wheat and barley of verse 8. Others will specialize in fruit orchards. Others may specialize in mining; others in making tools out of the iron and copper ores. Others will specialize in the carpentry required to build the beautiful buildings of verse 12, etc. This passage only hints at it, but the rest of the Pentateuch makes clear that God expected there to be ever increasing specialization and division of labor as the progress of dominion advanced. Labor is a scarce resource that needs to be leveraged and used more efficiently.
Some people hunger to get back to the days of the frontier when everyone had to be a generalist to survive and very little specialization went on. Now I do think that it is good to be a generalist, at least in knowing something in every area. But many people are so driven by self-sufficiency that they want to become hermits and get away from the complexities of modern life. But it is very hard to prosper without division of labor. On the other hand, specialization makes us more and more interdependant. There are trade offs. But God in verse 18 wants us to recognize that there are God-given powers which we posssess that can enable us to prosper. And you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant… Notice that there is a relationship between God empowering us to prosper and the covenant being established. Don't think that because we are supposed to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness that God doesn't care about the things we need. God just doesn't want those things to displace Him. We are to seek Him, and all these things will be added to us. But that's going down rabbit trail - that prosperity is part and parcel of the covenant.
But back to our point, we need to maximize the resource of our own labor and skills if we are to prosper rather than trying to do everything that everyone else is doing. Even in the church this is true and leads to body life. But the term body life is so misunderstood that I thought I would describe exactly the same thing in economic terms, and it might give you a little bit different perspective. When there is no division of labor in the church, the church suffers. But when a free market climate of exchange of services and ideas is encouraged, the church thrives. I think many times churches are run more like the Soviet Union than like a Free Market. But no central planning agency has sufficient knowledge to micromanage a huge economy efficiently. And so they have to stay small. I think the true analogy of body life is not the elders telling the body everything it needs to do to function, but a free market economy. And I hope we can provide both the structure and freedoms that can enable ministry to multiply. But that means the individual units taking initiative, facing risk, getting up again after failures, etc.
This presupposes a freemarket (where people could sinfully claim to have done it themselves - v. 17)
But, subpoint b, freemarkets are places where it is easy for people to sin. There is always a downside to every positive. In verse 17 they sinfully claim that they have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. Verse 17 warns them not to say in you heart, "My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.' We'll focus on that more next week. The only point I want to make here is that this temptation could not arise in a controlled economy, and so it is just another indication of a free market system that is needed for widespread prosperity.
This presupposes that creative abilities are an important part of dominon prosperity (vv. 17-18)
Point c: this presupposes that creative abilities are an important part of dominion prosperity. And we will maybe look at issues of creativity in another part of Deuteronomy. But creativity thrives in a free market system and is hindered in a controlled economy.
But God calls us to remember that He can give the abilities and He can take them away; He can prosper their use and He can curse their use (v. 18)
But what Moses emphasizes here is point d: that God gives the abilities and God can take them away. God prospers our abilities and He can curse their use. He can make us efficient or He can make everything we plant wither and die. We are dependent upon Him. Now God mysteriously does allow people who don't deserve it to prosper for a time. And this chapter talks about this forgetting of God in several verses. But that will eventually catch up with them.
God delights in giving compounded growth over time (vv. 1,13)
But I want to end with point C: that God delights in giving His people compounded growth over time. It's not simply addition that God talks about, but multiplication. We talked last week about the incredible blessing of multiplying a population in a true freemarket economy. Verse 13 says, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied. This is an excellent proof text against Aristotle's theory of money which Thomas Aquinas picked up. Many people think that only humans and beasts can multiply. They are opposed to gaining interest on money, on rent or on the use of anything because they claim that only living things can multiply. But that is a naïve approach to wealth because it totally misses out on the issues of labor and creativity in the use of resources. It's true that there is only so much land in the world to go around, but the use of the land has become more and more efficiently used over time. Very little of Hong Kong's land can be used as farmland, but it's value has increased rather than decreased. Why? Because their free market approach to life has so prospered the people that living in Hong Kong real estate is worth it. They have multiplied the effective use of land on that 400 square mile country. (Well, I guess its no longer independent.)
In America, land that had various minerals was abandoned by mining companies 100 years ago because with old technology it cost more to extract the ore than it was worth. But with the multiplied increases of technological advances, this ore can now be cheaply extracted. That is a multiplication of the use of that land. Technology may get to the place where it is cost effective to reprocess garbage for various purposes. Take Deuteronomy literally, God can cause a society to multiply in literally everything it has. Just think of the use of sand or silicon. It blows the mind what such a supposedly worthless resource can produce. It's not just glass. It's computer chips, resins, lubricants, insulators. I just did a two minute search on the web and found about a thousand uses for silica. God has enabled a multiplying of the use of that basic element.
Next week I will, Lord willing, finish this chapter by looking at some of the concrete ways that we are tempted to forget God when we prosper, and how to avoid that. How to increase the threhshold of prosperity that God can bless you with. But let me end today by quickly recapping each of these points and giving further application.
If you look at the top of the overhead again at Roman numeral III, I want each of you to believe that God's purpose for your life is to resource you to be the most effective that you can be to advance His kingdom. He may take away for a period of time like He did with Job if His purposes are better served with that. But HE has promised to supply all of your needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus. So if we are struggling, we should at least ask ourselves these questions:
**Point A **- Am I doing everything with the resources that God has given to me that I should be doing? If I am being lazy, I cannot expect to be blessed; or if I am being diligent, but I am not really being wise or taking dominion in the areas that God wants me to, God may not bless. So evaluate your resources and commit yourself to taking dominion with them to the best of your ability.
Point B simply calls us to open our eyes and seek to look at life as God does. Am I seizing opportunities when they come, or do I let them go by. When we see other people prosper because they seized an opportunity we say, "Oh! I could have done that." But it's more than recognizing what can be done with hindsight. We need to seize the opportunity. But obviously that requires adjustments in how we look at life.
Subpoint 1 - do I look at the glass as being half empty? I used to, but we can change. Look for opportunities with the optimism of faith. Don't be thinking that God is holding out on you. Have faith that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you, and that He delights to strengthen you. Some of you may be losing jobs. Think of that as God freeing you up for something better. The Bible is full of promises of God's bounteous, generous, above-and-beyond-what-we-could-ask-or-think type of provisions in our lives. Look with optimism.
Subpoint 2 - do you look where the herd is running to and get in on the tail of the rush, or are you looking where others are not looking? That's the problem with many investors. They are always getting in after they have seen the incredible profits of others because now they think it is safe to do so. That is the least safe time, really. Look for what others miss. See stones as blessings that can be turned into gold, not as curses that keep you from farming. Learn to turn lemons into lemon aid. Look for what others miss rather than running after the herd.
Subpoint 3 - Don't do what others are doing well. Look for the resources God is providing that match your God given abilities. And your abilities may be diverse enough that you could be doing something totally different next year than you are doing this year. But be sure that it is something that is right for you.
Point C - Look for opportunities to multiply your labor. Don't just think in terms of hourly jobs. Think outside the box. Is there a more productive use of your labors? It may be something God wants you to do. Now God often calls us to do things that seem like a waste, and we can trust God to multiply us anyway. Look for ways to multiply the use of your house. You know, in the vast majority of countries in the world, the people would be amazed that the only things we do with our houses is sleep and eat in them. You've probably known the proverbial foreigner who owns a home and every morning you count ten families leaving that 2000 square foot house, and you wonder where they are all sleeping. I'm not saying go crazy like that. But surely there are multiple ways that our houses can be used for ministry, for financial increase, for training, for hospitality, etc. Multiply your house. Multiply the effective use of your money. The principles we learned in sales resistance is an important part of that. Effective budgeting. People that I have taken through financial budgeting have been amazed at the amount of money that can be eked out of monthly expenses with just minor adjustments to lifestyle. I have saved some people $150-200 a month with minimal adjustments. But this has to be balanced with multiplying the effectiveness of your time. Budgeting your time is essential by way of a schedule if you are not to waste this precious and scarce resource.
Now obviously we can work at it, but only God can prosper it. And so above everything else, when God does mutliply not only your herds and flocks, but your silver and gold and all that you have, do not forget to depend upon God. Serve Him with all that you have and depend upon Him with all that you have. And may He receive the glory, and may you be prospered and blessed. Amen.
I. Ways we forget God when prospering (vv.
A. We think prosperity has no relationship to ethics (v. 11
Look at pages 120 and following in my Deuteronomy notes.
A. Pride grips our hearts (v. 14)
B. God sufficiency is replaced by self-sufficiency (v. 17)
C. Idolatry & polytheism increases (v. 19)
D. We lose fear of God's sanctions (vv. 19-20)
"It announces the covenantal pattern for economic growth: grace, subordination, law, sanctions, and inheritance. It lists the unmerited gifts that God gave to Israel, from their deliverance out of bondage to the raw materials of the Promised Land. This is all grace. Twice it calls upon the Israelites to remember God’s grace (vv. 2, 18). This is a call to subordination.
Four times it reminds them to keep God’s commandments (vv. 1, 2, 6, 11). It speaks of the positive sanction of economic growth (v. 13) and the negative sanction of expulsion from the land (vv. 19, 20). Yet the entire chapter deals with the inheritance: the land of Israel. To maintain this inheritance, the Israelites had to obey God’s Bible-revealed law. In other words, their maintenance of the inheritance was ethically conditional." (page 180)