The day after Christmas, the strains of Joy to the World were immediately replaced with qi ge long tong qiang tong qiang in the shopping malls. And if like me, you went to the mall today, you probably met god. Not God with the capital G, but 财神爷 – cai shen ye, the Chinese god of prosperity. Off went Santa’s hat, up went that black flowing beard.

Which set me thinking about how Jesus is sometimes seen as a god of prosperity too.

Some Christians say that our God is the god of health, wealth and prosperity. “To be loved by God is to be blessed, to experience unmerited favour,” they say, citing many verses from the Bible to back this up. Anything bad that happens is attributed to the devil, everything good to God. If someone is stricken with cancer and not healed, then it must be because of sin or a lack of faith. If you are suffering, there must be a good reason for it, but it’s not God’s fault.

In my own personal walk, I’ve often wondered why my journey with Christ has been so different from what the prosperity gospel purports. After 25 years of being a Christian, I’m still neither rich nor successful.

However, for many, that doesn’t satisfactorily answer the question why evil can still befall those who love him. God is all powerful, isn’t He? Isn’t He a loving God?

How is that health, wealth, prosperity version of the gospel able to provide a satisfying answer to the believer whose 11-year-old son just committed suicide by jumping off the block? Or the pregnant Christian whose unborn baby is found to have with deformities? Or the teenager who discovers she has leukemia? Or the 35-year-old man whose young wife passed on after just three years of marriage?

If you think these are farfetched, those are actual stories of people I know and love. “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” questioned Job in the Bible (Job 2:10).

Maybe you’re going through some difficulties right now. Perhaps right now, as you read this, you’re not in the mood for festivities. Perhaps you’re wondering why God is allowing you to go through your current pain. Can I offer you a word of encouragement? 

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

Your affliction may not seem light to you, but Paul – who faced affliction of all sorts, too – is just trying to give a sense of perspective. If you think your suffering is great, than imagine how much greater your glory in Christ will be on the other side of eternity.

In this world, maybe right now, you may not feel blessed, rich or successful, but rather hated, scorned and afflicted. But take heart – Jesus knows in this world you will have trouble, but He has overcome the world (John 16:33).

You, His child, are held securely in the palm of his hand. And even if you’re not feeling very blessed or prosperous, rejoice! Your suffering “produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts” (Romans 5:3-5).

If everything is sailing nicely for you, and you are enjoying the literal fat of the earth – feasting solely on bak kwa – then perhaps it’s time to examine our cultural thirst for money and success. While these are not evil in itself, it is the love and pursuit of these things that will draw us away from God. As it says in Matthew 6:24, “you cannot serve God and Mammon”.

Do we look to God our Father only for good things, like more money, a bigger house, a promotion? Being our heavenly Father, the Lord also disciplines those He loves for their good (Hebrews 12:6 and 12:10). This means that those who are truly His children will not only receive from His hand what the world would define as “good things”, but things which He deems are good for us. This includes discipline.

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)

In my own personal walk, I’ve often wondered why my journey with Christ has been so different from what the prosperity gospel purports. After 25 years of being a Christian, I’m still neither rich nor successful.

In fact, the longer I have been a Christian, the more I have experienced suffering, painful moulding and dying to self. When I have proudly proclaimed that I would never commit a certain sin, I have found myself falling into that very sin. When I have been at spiritual heights, the very next moment I have fallen to the depths of despair.

But at the end of each painful trial, I’ve learnt to run back to the one with the words of life. I’ve learnt to say: You are good, and your love endures. Thank you for allowing me to go through that, I still don’t understand, but thank you for perfecting me.

My understanding is that our God is not the god of prosperity, not in the 财神爷 understanding of prosperity – in fact there are so many verses warning against the love of money and how difficult it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of heaven. Rather, I’ve come to see our God is the Lord of wealth: As the Lord of the heavens and the earth, He owns everything, He gives and He takes away.

And so we put our hope in Him, the one who is all-powerful, all-caring. Who knows my every need and is able to meet them. I believe that sometimes He meets these needs by giving. And, sometimes, to train me up in godliness, He takes some things away.

For my own good.

Ang pows are great. Eternal riches are better. Here’s wishing you true prosperity this Chinese New Year and beyond.