Sunday, September 7, 2014

How the "Prosperity Gospel" damaged my relationship with God

I've not often spoke of this story, as there is great pain associated with that time of my life, but with some of the things that have been trending on social media lately, I felt the need to publicly share my story.
I was eighteen years old. I was still early in my walk of faith, but had a strong faith. In the previous couple years, I had become a "Jesus freak." I spent summers at youth camp, carried my Bible in my back pack and attended every single possible youth event at my small church. I was even part of a dance ministry. I was all in when it came to God. I wasn't perfect, but I had a heart that longed to know Him more.
When it came time to apply for colleges, most kids researched schools based on degree path, location, cost. Not me. I prayed. And prayed and prayed and prayed. I only submitted applications to 2 colleges. I was accepted by both. I prayed more and made my selection: Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Ok. When I received the call from them saying I had been accepted, I was told that my financial aid package and scholarships would cover 100% of my schooling. I selected my rooming and meal options and spent the summer working to be able to afford the move to my dorm.
I was excited. I was walking in faith and I was following God's path. Life was coming together better than planned. Though I didn't go to a church that preached prosperity, I had been exposed to the "gospel." I had been told I had to pray and believe before I could receive. I was told I had to stand boldly in God's word and DECLARE victory in my life before I could achieve it. I believed. I believed with all my might and I declared that victory. Life was good.
Then, as it has so often happened in my life, the bottom fell out. I was in Tulsa, with my mom, in the middle of my registration process, when I learned a large portion ($15,000+) of my financial aid package fell through. I was going to have to come up with AT LEAST $750 in the next 3 days to actually get to enroll. My parents couldn't help and I had just used all but $100 of my savings to make the trip to Tulsa. But I didn't accept defeat. I was walking in faith, after all, God would move this mountain. My mom had to go back to Texas and I stayed; I believed God would make a miracle happen. I prayed and prayed and claimed that victory.
The night my mom left, a famous prosperity preacher was going to be recording a sermon ORU and ORU students got free admission. I was stoked! I was going to go and be blessed. This was going to be my miracle.
I went. I listened to the sermon, I praised God with a genuine heart and I believed I was going to see a miracle. At the end of the night, the "preacher" began taking up an offering. He kept talking about how someone in this building tonight was needing to be blessed, someone needed a financial blessing and they were going to get it. We all needed to dig deep into our hearts (and wallets) and muster what we could to be a part of the blessing. I just knew he was talking about me. I claimed it right then that I would receive the financial blessing. And I opened my wallet and pulled out one of my last $20 bills and tossed it to the pile. I was acting in faith and God was going to reward me. I knew He would because that is what I was told.
When the offering was over, there was a ridiculously large pile of money on the stage. I was excited, because there might just be enough to pay for ALL of my tuition. They gathered the money into a pile, said a prayer and left. The only person who received any financial blessing was getting on his private jet and going to the next town.
I went back to my dorm room and cried. The next day, I called my dad and he and my step mom drove up to help me move out of my dorm. I was devastated.
I spent the following years wrestling with my heart,my faith, and my God. I was hurt and I was angry. I had believed. I did everything right. I even gave money I couldn't afford to give. I held up my end. But maybe I didn't. Maybe I could have prayed harder. Maybe God was punishing me for my sins. Maybe I should have given ALL my money, not just $20.
As you can guess, this thought pattern is not going to produce a healthy faith life. My walk in faith came to a slow crawl. I spent years being angry with God and doing some really dumb and unhealthy things because I was mad. I stopped going to church and rarely read my Bible or prayed. I failed to see the point. I dedicated my life and God turned His back on me.
And that is the problem with the Prosperity Gospel. It takes out the most important part of the actual gospel; it takes away a beautiful, life-giving miracle and replaces it with empty hopes that will leave you heart broken. Christ didn't die so I could declare victory over financial hardships, He died so I could declare victory over death. The miracle I was claiming was the wrong one.  But I was young in my faith and hadn't learned enough true biblical truth at time to know those "prosperity" scriptures weren't referring to my first world problems.
Because I had heard the preaching of false prophets and believed their lies, my relationship with God was damaged. The true gospel was not intended to damage our relationship with Christ, rather draw us nearer. I am still in recovery from those "lost" years. There is still anger and hurt and doubt I have to deal with. I still have to remind myself that not seeing the answer I want does not mean that I am not being a "good enough" Christian (what the heck does that even mean?)
My heart, my faith, and my life were deeply damaged by the "prosperity gospel." That is why I am so deeply grieved to see so many prosperity "preachers" being highly regarded. So many who are new in their faith hear these messages and damage will be done. These false prophets must be called out and their motives examined. The true Gospel is too beautiful a story to keep being perverted by the likes of self indulgent frauds.

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