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KOEDYKER: Some thoughts on prosperity, wealth and Steve Jobs

• Apr 11, 2018 at 2:00 PM

The other day I was watching my grandsons playing in the indoor pool at the hotel where we were staying over spring break. All of a sudden I heard a mother call out to her daughter who was also playing in the pool, “Prosperity! Prosperity! Be careful! You’re going to hurt yourself!”

I am not sure what the little girl was doing that put herself in danger. What interested me was that this little girl’s name was Prosperity. That was a new one for me! Prosperity…why would anyone name their child Prosperity? I’m sure there must be a reason. Maybe it was a hope. Maybe it just sounded “pretty.” I don’t know. It never entered my mind that that would be a good name for our little girl.

Certainly, Prosperity is an interesting choice. And it got me thinking. I suppose we all hope for prosperity in our lives and the lives of our children – at least to a certain extent anyway. We surely would not name a child the opposite of prosperity, namely, poverty. But sometimes I wonder if prosperity is a great goal to have – for yourself or your children.

In our society we automatically associate prosperity with money, and lots of it. No, money isn’t everything. But as George Bailey says in the classic movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” to his guardian angel who is straight from Heaven and without any money, “It comes in pretty handy down here, bub!” Indeed it does!

There is a well-known verse in the Bible that seems to imply that prosperity is something that God wants to give us. And unfortunately, the so-called “prosperity gospel preachers” have latched on to it as a proof text for “legitimizing” the desire for Christians to accumulate wealth and riches. The verse goes like this: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11)

The problem with that is that the Hebrew word translated “prosper” does not really imply financial prosperity. What it is trying to convey is peace, completeness, safety, health and blessings. I like that much better. So, if that is behind why Prosperity’s parents named her that, I’m all for it.

But as we all know, money, wealth and riches are the driving force in the lives of many a human being. Not so for the Bible, however. In fact, God warns about the pitfalls of being a slave to money. “The love of money is the root of all evil,” says the apostle Paul to the young evangelist, Timothy. (I Timothy 6:10.) In the end of this verse he also points out that loving money can lead to “many sorrows.”

Jesus warns that it is impossible to serve two masters – “You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13) Our Lord has much better advice: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where you treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

Then there are those rather haunting twin questions of Jesus that go even further: “What good will it be for a man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

Those penetrating thoughts of Jesus brought to my mind the last words of Steve Jobs, one of the most financially successful businessmen in America during our time. The following are some of the significant lines in his last testament:

“I have come to the pinnacle of success in business. In the eyes of others, my life has been the symbol of success. However, apart from my work, I have little joy. Finally, my wealth is simply a fact to which I am accustomed… Only now do I understand that once you accumulate enough money for the rest of your life, you have to pursue objectives that are not related to wealth… No, stop pursuing wealth, it can only make a person into a twisted being, just like me. God has made us one way, we can feel the love in the heart of each of us, and not illusions built by fame or money, like I made in my life; I cannot take them with me.”

We have all heard that before, haven’t we? “You can’t take it with you.” God made us for much more than material things and the accumulation of earthly wealth. He made us for himself – to honor and glorify him with all of our being – now in this life – and even more so in the life to come. We have an eternal purpose. It all starts now and will be culminated someday when God takes us to be with him forever and ever.

Prosperity may be a cute name for a cute little girl, but it doesn’t cut it when it comes to real living. Even Steve Jobs came to see that, albeit late in life. “I can only take with me,” Jobs said, “the memories that were strengthened by love. This is the true wealth that will follow you, will accompany you; he will give you strength and light to go ahead.”

I couldn’t agree more.

— By the Rev. John Koedyker, Tribune community columnist and pastor of Congregational Care at First Reformed Church of Grand Haven

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