Being an Asian living in a cosmopolitan city, my extended family has many occasions to gather ‘once a year’. We meet for Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries; we even celebrate New Years’ twice. (We Chinese have our own lunar calendar.) And every occasion is ‘super important’ because we only meet ‘once a year’.

During these gatherings, the pragmatism of the Chinese comes very much to the fore. I don’t know about you, but it seems that to us Chinese; well, my extended family at least; prosperity and honor are really important commodities. Every time we meet, we will ask after each other’s state of prosperity and honor; well, mostly prosperity; and use the time to devise ways of becoming more prosperous.

But it is also at these times that we are made keenly aware of just how limited the power of prosperity really is. Family fortunes have been lost on the back of a bad decision or an unexpected long-term illness. And tides have turned so quickly that we barely recognize each other from one season to the next.

Yet, there will always be, I expect, a fixation on prosperity and honor; because the belief, erroneous as it may be, is still that prosperity and honor are the cures for any and all problems in your life. Is this true for you too?

And that got me thinking, are prosperity and honor really all they are made out to be? Are they really the omnipotent elixirs that solves all problems?

Don’t get me wrong. Money is important. Bills need to get paid. Food needs to be put on the table; and I’m not advocating for some hermit’s life, stuck out in the forest somewhere, cut off from civilization. Work is necessary and money is useful. But what if all that we are chasing after is but a means to an end?

Think about it. If you want money, get a job. If you want more money, get another job. And when you have ‘enough’ money, you get honor. So if you want more honor, get more money. That’s how the world works, doesn’t it?

That is why I find it strange that the writer of Proverbs says,

“He who pursues righteousness and kindness
finds life, prosperity and honor.” Proverbs 21:21 [CJB]

He who pursues righteousness and kindness, not a career in shipping or law, not an Ivy League MBA; righteousness and kindness. How strange?

Look, the writer of Proverbs was writing to Israel. These were Israel’s ‘codes of conduct’, truths to live by, apart from the law of Moses. And at the time, Israel’s economy was largely agrarian. They were no Greco-Roman senate run state. They were blue-collared, salt of the earth people, doing ‘earthy’ things like herding and farming. Prosperity to them would literally mean cultivating more land and increasing the herd size. They had no time, nor was their society predisposed to philosophical discourse. So why on earth did the author of Proverbs say such a thing?

Because beloved child of God, whether or not you believe in God, whether or not you believe that we are going to heaven after we have shuffled off this mortal coil, whether or not you believe in things spiritual and divine; the truth is this, prosperity and honor are merely means to an end. Pause for a moment and let it sink in.

I had a conversation with a friend one day and she was telling me how things in the country have gotten to such a state where gaining access to basic services like healthcare required one to have either special ‘connections’ with hospital administration or deep wallets; else, you were more than likely in for a long wait of months before you got your appointment to see the doctor. It seems the Hippocratic Oath has become the Hypocrites’ Oath.

So then, prosperity and honor, merely means to an end, aren’t they; means to get you the care you needed for your condition.

And healthcare is not the only sector that has gone down this path. Education very much belongs to those with means; means to provide a nurturing environment, one where help is present, and distractions are absent. In some cities, even law enforcement has fallen prey to this reality.

You know, if you think rationally about it, even if you think irrationally about it, of what utility is prosperity and honor, if not to be used? What’s the point of being a well-known celebrity or a multi-billionaire if it doesn’t get you the things that you need? So, prosperity and honor, means to an end.

Now, if prosperity and honor are means to an end, that means that they are not the pinnacle of our desire, and will not provide the ultimate satisfaction that we crave. There is something more.

Furthermore, if prosperity and honor are merely routes to that utopia, there must also be other routes to get there. After all, didn’t they say that all roads lead to Rome? And that, beloved, is why the writer of Proverbs says,

“He who pursues righteousness and kindness
finds life, prosperity and honor.” Proverbs 21:21 [CJB]

To be righteous, free from guilt, free from wrongdoing; and to be kind, well thought of by others, respected and loved by all around; aren’t those more lofty goals to aspire to than prosperity and honor?

Now, this is not an obscure philosophy. Jesus picked up on this and said,

“…seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

Indeed, “…first and most importantly seek (aim at, strive after) His kingdom and His righteousness [His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God], and all these things will be given to you also.” Matthew 6:33 [AMP]

First, let’s be pragmatic and see to what ‘all these things’ refer.

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on….” Matthew 6:25

Food and clothes. These are included.

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” Matthew 6:31

Food and clothes again. Why this fascination with food and clothes? Is God’s imagination so small that it is limited to only food and clothes? Are God’s resources so equally limited that He can only give food and clothes?

Well, pop quiz. What does modern man spend most of his prosperity on? Food and clothes. What does modern man most commonly use to show off his prosperity and honor? Food and clothes. So what are the most accessible and commonly used commodities that the modern man uses to distinguish his level of prosperity and honor from another? Yes, food and clothes.

Jesus could have spoken of luxury cars, precision timepieces, country club memberships or even the frequency of Botox injections. But when it came to addressing the cares of the common man, I’m so glad He decided to illustrate with food and clothes, don’t you? Because that shows that He is connected. He’s not in an ivory tower. He knows the ground. He actually has some sense of what matters to the Joe Smith who lives around the corner; unlike some politicians we know.

And what this does, or at least what it should do for you, is give Jesus some credibility when He says things like,

“…Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” Matthew 6:25

“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Matthew 6:26

“Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” Matthew 6:30

And here’s the real clincher;

“…For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” Matthew 6:32

Jesus is not talking about lowering tax rates and controlling national inflation. He’s not talking about sound fiscal and forward-looking foreign policy. He’s not even talking about living a pure and sinless life. He’s talking about food and clothes, and He says that our Father in heaven knows, yes He knows, we need ALL these things. Isn’t that a great comfort?

So what does He tell us to do to get ‘all these things’?

“Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” Matthew 6:33-34 [MSG]

What He’s essentially saying is this,

“What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving.” Matthew 6:31 [MSG]

Interesting, isn’t it? Don’t be so preoccupied with ‘getting’ so that we can respond to God’s giving, so that we can see when God gives, so that we will know that God will surely give in the future, so that we don’t need to worry.

I always tell my students that money is nothing more than a printed piece of paper. Really, that’s all it is, isn’t it? What makes money important is what it can do for you.

So would you really engage in things that hurt your health, for example, in the pursuit of money? Simply put, if you got sick over earning $100, and it cost you $1000 in doctor’s fees and medicine to put right your condition, would you consider that a worthwhile investment of your time?

Focus then on what is important. Spend your time and energies on what really matter. Then fill your mind and preoccupy your heart with seeking, aiming for and striving after “…His kingdom and His righteousness [His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God],…” Matthew 6:33 [AMP]

Remember always that Jesus said,

“I come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

And realize that because our Father loves you, surely, “…all these things will be given to you also.” Matthew 6:33 [AMP]

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