Is It Sinful to Pray for a Larger Income?

Audio Transcript

Today we talk about personal wealth. It’s rather interesting that at the beginning of the book of Job, Job is a wealthy man. At the end of the book of Job, Job is a wealthy man times two. So, is it right to expect God to intend to double the wealth of all his children? That’s a question prompted by Job and sent to us by a listener.

“Pastor John, hello! My name is Genesis. I’m 23 years old and live in the Philippines. I do not believe prosperity preachers, who claim God wants all Christians to be very wealthy. However, is it a sin to pray for God to give me enough money to enjoy a comfortable life? Or are we Christians meant to embrace and welcome only loss and suffering? Is there any place for praying for, and seeking out, greater degrees of material comfort? Is this only dangerous? Is there a safe way to pray that our modest net worth double over time? As I read Scripture, I see that God intended to double Job’s wealth in the end (Job 42:10–17). Was that only for Job, or does God welcome Christians to pray to this end today?”

I hear essentially three questions: (1) Is it right to pray that I have enough money to enjoy a comfortable life? (2) Is the Christian meant to embrace only loss and suffering? (3) Does God intend that the doubling of Job’s resources be a model for us to pray toward? Let me try to shed biblical light on each of those questions in reverse order.

Double Your Money?

First question: Does God intend that the doubling of Job’s resources be a model for us to pray toward? If God did it for Job, does he want to do it for us?

Now that’s the kind of question that we cannot answer in the same way for everybody. For example, I am absolutely certain it would be a sin for me to pray that my resources be doubled now, because as an American living a comfortable middle-class lifestyle, I am by global standards vastly more wealthy than billions of poor people around the world.

“The New Testament is relentless in pushing us toward simplicity and economy for the sake of kingdom advance.”

The burden on me in prayer should not be that I amass and lay up more treasures on earth, but that by giving and giving and giving away more and more, and investing more and more in other people, I lay up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19–20), and that I use what I have for the greatest good of others, and that I beware, beware, beware, because it is hard for the rich to get into heaven, Jesus said (Luke 18:24).

However, if somebody is making $1 a day, working as hard as he can to provide for his family, the doubling of $1 would be $2, and he would still be poor — only less poor. Who could fault him for wanting and praying to be able to provide better for his family by doubling his resources from $1 a day to $2 a day? So you see, the question cannot be answered the same for everyone.

‘Come and See’

But here’s a crucial principle to keep in mind when we are using Old Testament texts to justify pursuing wealth. Job was wealthy already. God doubled a wealthy man’s wealth. So, why not apply that to yourself, Piper?

And here’s the reason: God intended that the religion of the Old Testament, by and large, be a “come see” religion, stressing prosperity as a witness to the world about God’s faithfulness to Israel. The Queen of Sheba came from the ends of the earth, and her breath was taken away by the wealth and wisdom of Solomon (1 Kings 10:1–13). That’s a “come see” religion.

‘Go and Tell’

But God intends that the religion of the New Testament be a “go tell” — not a “come see,” a “go tell” — religion, stressing simplicity and sacrifice and generosity to accomplish the mission to reach all the nations of the world, and to show that our treasure is not in this world but in Christ in heaven. He is our “unsearchable riches” (Ephesians 3:8). When we read the New Testament, it is relentless in pushing us toward simplicity and economy for the sake of kingdom advance, away from luxury and affluence and finery.

I have in front of me right now 24 passages of Scripture pushing us in that direction. I can’t read them all. Let me just name a few.

  • Luke 6:20: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
  • Luke 6:24: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”
  • Luke 8:14: People “are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life.”
  • Matthew 6:19: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth.”
  • Luke 12:33: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags . . . in the heavens.”
  • Luke 14:33: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
  • Luke 18:24: “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
  • 2 Corinthians 6:10: We apostles are “as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

“The aim of the Christian is not to suffer, but to love and accept whatever suffering that he requires.”

And on and on and on. Texts like that just push and push on American and global Christians to move toward need, not comfort. Live simply. Live a wartime lifestyle.

So, my answer is no. No, Job should not be used as a justification for all of us to ask that our resources be doubled. It may be perfectly right for a poor person to want his resources to be doubled and to pray for it. I’m not criticizing that at all, but that would not be based on Job. No way. That’s going to be based on other texts.

Destined for Loss?

Second question: Is the Christian meant to embrace only loss and suffering? No.

  • We’re to pray for healing if we’re sick (James 5:16).
  • We’re to pray for joy if we’re discouraged (Romans 15:13).
  • We’re to pray for fruitfulness and effectiveness if our life is barren (Philippians 1:11; Colossians 1:10).
  • We’re to pray for relational peace if our life is conflicted in pain (Philippians 4:6–7).
  • We’re to pray for victory over life-destroying sins like drunkenness or drugs or fornication (Romans 6:12–14).

All of these are prayers, all of these are desires that we would overcome certain kinds of loss and suffering. In other words, loss and suffering are not in themselves something that God holds out as desirable. They may in fact be what God calls us to as a means to something else, like the advance of the gospel. But they are not to be desired or sought in and of themselves.

In 1 Timothy, Paul warns against those who taught Christians that the pleasures of food and marriage are evil. Here’s his response: They “forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:3).

Suffering and loss are God’s instruments for our sanctification. We don’t pick up the doctor’s scalpel and start cutting ourselves. We just obey the doctor and do what he says. And if we need surgery along the way, or even an amputation, we trust our doctor, and we glorify his wisdom and mercy in our suffering. The aim of the Christian is not to suffer, but to love and accept whatever suffering that he requires.

What Does Your Heart Say?

And finally, a third question: Is it right to pray that I have enough money to enjoy a comfortable life?

Again, that question can’t be answered the same for everybody. Some well-to-do people — I know them — want more and more and more and more things, because they think they can’t be comfortable unless they have two cars or two houses or ten shirts, whereas there are millions of people in the world for whom comfortable would mean, “Could I just have one shirt, enough food for my family, a roof over my head, some education for my kids, a little basic health care?”

The apostle Paul said, “We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:7–8). I think that was Paul’s way of saying it’s not wrong to want to have the basics of life, so that you can pursue meaningful work and fruitfulness in your life. It’s not wrong to want; it’s not wrong to pray for it.

All of this, it seems to me, is very much a matter of the heart. Does your heart say with the apostle Paul, “Christ is so precious to me that I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (see Philippians 4:11–13)? Or does your heart say, “I have to have more and more and more in order to be content”? Only God knows the true condition of your heart. That’s where the real battle is fought.

So, may God make it plain to all of us how much more of our resources we can put to use for his gospel-spreading purposes, and how much we may rightfully use for ourselves.

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