The Promise of Prosperity

adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 5 March 2010
Then answered I them, and said unto them, The God of heaven, He will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build: but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem” (Nehemiah 2:20)
Ezra and Nehemiah are both post-exilic historical books describing the history of God’s people after they returned from the Babylonian exile.
An easy way to distinguish the two books is to remember that the book of Ezra is about the rebuilding of the Temple although Ezra himself arrived in Jerusalem about 58 years after the Temple was completed. On the other hand, the book of Nehemiah is about the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, which Nehemiah personally oversaw.
The events in the book of Nehemiah happened about 70 years after the Temple was rebuilt. Nehemiah was the cupbearer of the Persian king Artaxerxes. When he heard about how the walls of Jerusalem were still in ruin and how the people were being persecuted by their neighbours, he was deeply concerned. He applied leave from the king and received his blessings to return to Jerusalem to help the people rebuild the wall.
One of the first things that Nehemiah did when he got to Jerusalem was to inspect the wall and to plan a strategy for its rebuilding. Then he called for the leaders of the people and told them his plan. When the leaders heard that the Lord’s hand was upon them and the king was favorable towards them, they were enthused. “Let us rise up and build!” they exclaimed.
But there were some foreign interests who were not so pleased. Particularly vocal were three men, namely: Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite and Geshem the Arabian. These, when they heard of the plan laughed at the Jews and mocked and ridiculed them: “What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king” they sneered. (Neh 2:19).
We are not told why they were so opposed to the plan, but we can guess that they had vested interests in a weak Jerusalem without walls. Without the wall, they could come in and out of the city and do whatever they wanted without being accountable to anyone. Without the wall, they were free to do business in the city on the Sabbath. Without the wall, they could bully the Jews with impunity.
Now, they were probably prominent businessmen with connection with the leaders in the city. But Nehemiah was neither intimidated nor concerned.
He said to them the words of our text: 
The God of heaven, He will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build: but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem.  
These words carry a beautiful promise, don’t they? “The God of heaven, He will prosper us.” Nehemiah is, of course, expressing his confidence in the Lord rather than making a promise. But he makes this statement, no doubt, on the basis of the Lord’s promises such as in Joshua 1:8, where the Lord promised Joshua that if he were obedient to His Word, He would make his way prosperous and give him success.
Well, the Lord helping us, we want to consider briefly this promise of prosperity. Let’s do so in four propositions.
1. This Promise Applies only to God’s People
The God of heaven, He will prosper us” says Nehemiah. Take note of the word ‘us’. Nehemiah was telling Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem that the promise did not apply to them. Though God is the God of heaven, He does not promise any blessing for those who are His enemies. His promises are only for those who are His people by union with His Son. As Paul puts it— 
“All the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (2Cor 1:20).
 As such we must never give anyone the assurance that God will prosper him if we have no assurance that he is a true child of God. All things, we must remember, work together for good only to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
But such as are united to Christ by grace through faith, may expect to enjoy all the blessings of God that flows through our justification. “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom 8:32). So the first thing to remember is that this promise of prosperity applies only to God’s people.
2. This Promise Must be Prayed For
Although our heavenly Father knows the needs of His children, and will give us all that we need even without our asking (Mt 6:32), it is clear that He is pleased when we go to Him to seek His blessing.
This is the case, not only for our daily bread for which our Lord teaches us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” It is also the case when we desire success in any particular endeavour.
Nehemiah did not simply assume that the LORD would give him prosperity. He prayed that the Lord would prosper his endeavor. Look at his prayer in Chapter 1, verse 11—
O Lord, I beseech thee, let now Yhine ear be attentive to the prayer of Yhy servant, and to the prayer of Thy servants, who desire to fear Thy name: and prosper, I pray Thee, Thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.
Nehemiah was asking for success in his leave-application! But, no doubt, he would have prayed for success in his effort to rebuild the wall.
And so we must learn the same attitude: never to take for granted that the Lord will give us success. Yes, we must believe that whatever God gives His elect would ultimately and finally be for his good. However, God has made us creatures with desire and passion who can, not only distinguish between what is success and what is failure, but actually enjoy success!
And it pleases the Father to hear us when we come to Him to express the desires of our hearts. An analogy to this pleasure would be the joy that a father has when he hears the requests of his beloved son or daughter and he knows that he can fulfil the request and would be happy to fulfil it.
So beloved brethren and children, if you desire success in any endeavor, remember to pray; but remember also that to submit to the will of the Father because He always knows best what is good for you. 
3. This Promise Involves both Spiritual & Temporal Success
I used to think that the prosperity that God promises is only spiritual. But I soon realise that that is a gnostic idea of dichotomising what is spiritual from what is physical. The fact is: God made us creatures of time and space who are both spiritual and bodily. So when Nehemiah talks about God granting success, he was not only thinking about the spiritual good that would come out of the experience how ever the project turned out. Rather, he was thinking about how the project would be led in the way of success.
He was thinking about how the people would have occasions to thank God for prospering their attempt to rebuild the wall!
And so too we may pray and trust in the promises of the Father to prosper us.
And so, is it right to pray for someone’s physical health and prosperity? Well, I believe so, though I must add that it is even more needful to pray for the person that he may be sustained through the trial and derive much eternal good from it.
In the apostle John’s third epistle, he told Gaius, 3 John 1:2:
“Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.”
Notice that he is not only talking about spiritual prosperity, but about health and temporal well-being in this life.
Now, be careful not to take this verse and say that health and wealth is the lot of every Christian, or that if someone is poor or in ill health that it must be because of sin.
No, no; in the first place, prosperity does not always equal wealth. You can be prosperous without being very rich. For example, if your calling is to be a teacher, then prosperity would be success as a teacher. And if your present calling is to be a student, then your prosperity is to be a good student, not a failure.
In the second place, God does often bless His children through the chastisement of illnesses and poverty. Think of Job.
So we must not fall into the health and wealth mentality and begin to be overwhelmed by guilt if we are not wealthy and healthy.
On the other hand, we must not become nonchalant and think that so long as we know the Bible and theology, it does not matter how we live or what comes our way. So we become impervious to success and failure; and actually show no interest in success. If we do so, would we not bear forth a bad testimony before the world!
No, no; beloved brethren and youth, we must learn to seek prosperity or success both spiritual and temporal for the glory of the Lord.
But finally, I should add that… 
4. This Promise Accompanies the Faithfulness of God’s People
We can’t see this from our text, but the principle is highlighted in a number of other passages in the Scripture.  
  • Psalm 1:3—[The righteous man] shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
  • Psalm 122:6—Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.
  • Proverbs 28:13—He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.
 Now, these assertions make sense do they not? The Lord Jesus says: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt 6:33). The Psalmist says: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps 66:18). Solomon says: “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination” (Prov 28:9).
If we are not walking faithfully in the Lord, we may pray for success, and the Lord will not give it to us.
No, no, your success is not necessarily commensurate with how closely you walk with the Lord—otherwise none of us can expect anything from the Lord for we all fall short of the glory of God. Remember that God deals with us on the basis of our union with Christ in justification, not on the basis of our works.
Nevertheless, the Lord reveals to us that He is especially pleased to bless His children who are seeking after Him.
So beloved brethren and children, seek to walk in the way of the Lord and seek success in prayer. The Lord will hear your cries, because He has promised to do so. This promise accompanies the faithfulness of God’s people.
The God of heaven, He will prosper us!” May this be our testimony individually and corporately! May the Lord grant us that we will be able to say this with confidence in all our endeavors as we seek to walk with the Lord gratefully before His face. Amen. Ω