Watching the Wicked Prosper


Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
Therefore his people turn back to them,
and find no fault in them.
And they say, ‘How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?’
Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.
—Psalm 73:1-14 ESV

Last week was good. I commented to my wife that for the first time in an exceedingly long time, life felt normal. She smiled and the sky grew bluer. Today it was 73 degrees outside. The crocuses were shouting.

But a late afternoon bluster blew in gloom, and our souls were disquieted by more bad news. We’d had our week, however fleeting. Time for more tears.

Will it be another season of loss? One wet finger in the wind cannot tell me.

I don’t know why some prosper and some don’t. That person over there mints money with every breath, but that broken fellow propped up against a crumbling brownstone…wasn’t he there last year, too? His crime? He was a decent person who only tried to do what was right, but someone took advantage of his kindness. We comfort ourselves with the knowledge that at least he doesn’t have dogs licking his sores.

We in America love the rags to riches story. American Idol taps into this nation’s consciousness like an epidural. Celebrity is its own reward. We simply adore our celebrities. Look at how many were troubled by Brad and Jen’s split last year: All those homes! How will they ever divvy them up fairly?

On the other hand, the people who stay in rags or who find themselves moving in that direction, well, we don’t reserve as much affection for them. Houses on BoardwalkNone of them make it to the cover of the highest-circulating magazine in the country, People. Didn’t Jesus Himself say we would always have folks like that? They’re a dime a dozen, aren’t they?

A friend who was a missionary told of being dropped off in the middle of Africa, but his scheduled ride never materialized. After a day left stranded out in the bush, he started walking, only to eventually come to a village. In that village, he was welcomed by a Christian family. They put all the food they had in front of him, and even that wasn’t much. Just some goat intestines—not fully emptied. Those folks were destitute, but they welcomed this fellow believer with glad hearts. My friend said he was so blessed by that family that he would never forget them.

Here in America, though, we have a sense of entitlement that never quite goes away. We deserve to keep up with our neighbors, even if it’s killing us to do so. And when someone eventually tanks, when a family has their breadwinner taken out, we too often look the other way. It’s as if we’re watching a real-life monster movie. We’re at the head of the pack, but the crippled girl who prays for everyone nightly can’t keep up with the rest of the group. When a grue swallows her in the darkness, we dispel our own guilt with a simple “There but for the grace of God go I.”

It makes me wonder sometimes if we’re the wicked of Psalm 73. We don’t think about that enough here in this country. We don’t like to be distracted from the goal of a five bedroom home, a Hummer in the driveway, and a kid at Harvard.

Our not wanting the distraction doesn’t make the indigent go away, though.

When I hear Christians in this country talk about how easy it would be if they lost everything, I can’t help but wonder if they truly mean it. I’ve known godly friendships that have dissolved because one person was on the way up while the other was headed down. The tendency in a few churches is to assign blame to the downwardly mobile; those poor had their past sins come home to roost. Heads get shaken and words muttered—and then the room clears.

Misfortune seems to haunt some people. I’ve seen cases of families that kept on getting hit with one misery after another. One day they’re no longer in church. Perhaps their rusted-out hulk of a car didn’t fit in with the new SUVs in the church parking lot. Maybe one of the teens in the youth group made a disparaging remark one too many times about the out-of-fashion threads worn by the kids. Or a husband didn’t fit in with the men’s group consisting of CEOs, what with him being the night clerk at a convenience store and all. Not that any of those CEOs would offer him a job anyway.

So they slink away. Some drop out of church altogether. Others find a church parking lot filled with rusted-out cars just like theirs, and they’re happy—for a while.

We talk about being destitute for the Lord, but I don’t think we truly want to be. We hear some megachurch pastor give a sermon about how Mother Theresa died with only a pair of shoes and a couple habits to her name, and we may even get a tear or two welling in the old eyes, but we dab it away. Then we pack the family into our late model Toyota Sequoia and head out for an all-you-can-eat dinner and a movie—or two. We may aspire to be destitute, but only if we can look good and have fun doing it. Blessed are the poor in spirit. It’s the spirit of the thing, isn’t it?

Are we the wicked? All of us? Some of us?

I confess that I really don’t want to continue to be downwardly mobile. It’s more stressful than people imagine. I wonder why some people live a life of ease and luxury, while others work so hard and yet get so little for all their hard work. Doesn’t square with the American mantra, does it?

Yet here we are in America complaining. Downwardly mobile here beats a life of eating goat intestines, right?. Try to convince the rich of that, though. Actually, try to convince anyone here of that.

How can I say I know the Lord when I am so ungrateful?

14 thoughts on “Watching the Wicked Prosper

  1. Anonymous

    Yes, we are the wicked. We are those who think we are rich, and are poor and destitute and clad only in rags, like the Laodiceans in Revelation. We think that everything can be solved in a 1/2-hour TV show, or maybe an hour or possibly two, and if it lasts longer than that we get bored.

    How can you say you love the Lord when you are so ungrateful? Isaiah 58 –

    6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
    to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
    to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?

    7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter�
    when you see the naked, to clothe him,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

    8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
    then your righteousness [a] will go before you,
    and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

    In what way could God be more clear?
    Your family is accustomed to a certain standard of living. You think it’s needful.

    It isn’t. What’s needful is an attitude of thankfulness to have even water to drink.

    When was the last time you offered water to those who were thirsty? Food to the hungry? Personally? When was the last time you gave as much to others as you give to yourself and your family?

    “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

    I mean, let’s take a legalistic attitude towards that verse: every time you spend a dollar on yourself, you need to spend a dollar on someone in need – or the commandment is violated. And if you don’t love your neighbor, how can you be loving God?

    God doesn’t need your money – the church wants you to think He does, but all the cattle in all the Earth are His – and He certainly doesn’t need your help. But if you don’t show that you’re willing to sacrifice *everything*, even your own wife and children, to follow Him, what good are you?

    Yes, that’s harsh. But isn’t that what Jesus said? “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters�yes, even his own life�he cannot be my disciple.”

    Even granting that the word hate is a word of comparison with how much we are to love Jesus, where does that leave our lives and our families?

    “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

    “I tell you, inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”

    “If anyone offers so much as a cup of cold water in my name to these my little ones, he shall in no wise lose his reward.”

    “You lack one thing yet: go, sell all you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven, and take up your cross and follow me.”

    And this is the legalistic view – if we take the spiritual view, where the letter of the law is eclipsed by the spirit of the law, how much more shall we do these things, and that from the heart?

  2. Ronni

    As I sit here and read this I just say, Amen. I am the person with the beater car with 270k on it… and rust, and with faded clothes, and I have the “poor you” looks memorized. When I was diagnosed with Cancer, nobody came to see me and I think part of it is they thought that maybe God was judging me (for what? as I had dedicated my life to God and had tried my hardest to be pure). I was told I had uterine cancer because I slept around (um, no, I didn’t). I find myself being the one that always seems to have a problem happening… and I realize… its war. I don’t know why it is happening all the time to me but the suprise has worn off. I refuse to be that family with the 200k house and 80k car… I’d rather wear rags and let my house be open to those around me than have so much wrapped up in that house and my possessions that I’d be scared to lose them. I know people who have alot of money, and they give very freely… incredibly so if you ask me. I also know people who make less than they pay in taxes in a year and give MUCH more than they do. Not in monetary value, but in many other ways.

    When it comes down to it… its never “fair” according to American standards… but then we are spoiled rotten anyhow. If anyone wants to argue that one with me, spend a week in Africa with Heidi Baker.

    And be ready to give it all at any time. I recently turned down the job of my dreams. It would have doubled our income. We could have had a nice car… nicer clothes… but it was not what God wanted.

    We need to make a choice… and be willing to stand and not care what anyone else thinks about our cars, clothes… etc…

  3. Deeper Roots

    You are going to have to be a lot more upbeat or I will have to find another blog to read each morning. One that keeps me comfortable and happy with myself. If I keep coming here I might actually look outside of these thick walls, which have taken so long to build around me.

    We have grown up in a world where we complain about the cable being fuzzy or see the SUV having to stay in the shop over night as a complete change in life style. Has our concept of endurance become getting through a day without a cell phone? Recently had a prayer request for a lawn sprinkling system on the fritz while another man in the room had slept in his car the night before. I admit the struggle to TRULY understand some of the basic concepts in the Bible like Kingdom and Lord in my self-absorbed society of one.

    Thank you so much for the thoughts and convictions you share with us.

  4. John Schroeder


    I have been in business for my self for 20 years and there have been times of immense blessing and times of wondering where the next meal would come from. Consider the miracle that I never missed a meal.

    I do not condemn your ingratitude, it is a strong temptation. I would; however, urge you to focus on what you do have

    This I know for sure. The first 10 years of my business I was single, the second 10 I am married. My wife is a blessing that makes the money insignificant.

    YOu may think I am being too flip about this – I am not meaning to be. My point is gratitude comes with practice – it comes with focusing in the right place – it is a discipline.

    Don’t worry about why you are not grateful – focus on being grateful – it’s a practice not a feeling.

  5. It’s hard to be living in Ohio at this time. I was reading in the major newspaper in the city near us that Ohio’s unemployment rate is 7 percentage points higher than the national average right now. Many of the families we know are watching good jobs leave the state and have been forced to put both spouses to work, no matter what the Church is telling us. Or they’re taking out loans to fight the downward mobility, going into debt to keep treading water.

    There are some personal things I would love to share here, but the Internet is not a private place. Confessions here have a way of backfiring. Let’s just say that my wife and I keep wondering why we’re constantly being assaulted in the one area of our lives that we’ve prayed over a hundred times as much as any other. At some point you think it will get better, but then you’re crying again. Then you feel guilty because a family of Christians in Kenya is eating goat intestines for their one meal of the day. Finding the balance between hope and greed is unbelievably hard in this country.

    Sure, you could chase all over the country if you must, but at some point you have to be able to settle some place, if for no other reason than for the blessing of extended fellowship with a certain set of believers. Don’t people need that? Is every Christian called to live a nomadic existence? If so, we’re not seeing much of that here in this country. You’re not hearing that preached, even at the most Christ-centric churches.

  6. Larry Who

    Your words grabbed me. I could write and say that you will soon do great things for the kingdom of God because of His calling on your life. I could say that what you are experiencing is the purifying work of God’s furnace.

    But actually, what I really should be doing is weeping for you and your family. Because no matter what, bad times hurt.

    So, brother, if there is anything that I can do for you, let me know.

  7. Grace and peace to you Dan. I know exactly what you’re talking about. I’m so blessed, I’ve got a wife, two wonderful kids, a home, and friends and I still want just a little bit more. I think God has been putting me in situations to show me how blessed I am regardless of what I don’t have. Sure, my house is old but its a house.

    In our blessing we’ve done what God warned Israel to watch out for: we’ve forgotten God or at least lost our perspective.

    As I said, grace to you brother. You’re in my prayers this morning.

  8. Jennifer

    Dan, I don�t know what you�re going through personally, but I can empathize so much with your heart. So I will shut up and sit shiva with you, and pray.

  9. Ronni

    Dan, you know I’m fairly local to you… and I see what is happening around here… especially with one certain employer here… and it is heart breaking… but I have some theories that I’m not going to discuss here. I will pray tho, and if you need some networking, email me.

    May God pour out his blessings on you and your family in all aways. May you be so overwhelmed with His blessings you can’t stand.

    I’ll hold you up in prayer man. When the winds get bad, I ask those around me to hold me up so I can stand. Then I just stand.

  10. Dan,

    I have experienced the downwardly mobile lifestyle for several years now and it never gets easier.

    this quote:
    At some point you think it will get better, but then you’re crying again. Then you feel guilty because a family of Christians in Kenya is eating goat intestines for their one meal of the day. Finding the balance between hope and greed is unbelievably hard in this country.
    really sums it up for me. We cry out daily for breakthrough. I fast, declare, believe, seek prayer partners and see nothing happen. I have a friend that sold his house for a $500,000 after 3 years and they absolutely did not need the money. In fact they were able to pay off their new boat with the money.

    However, you are able to write in a way that most cannot. I have giftings that many cry out for and do not see. I don’t think that makes you wicked for not writing for me and wicked for not doing what I do for you.

    I do think that it grieves the Father that He sees his children not behaving like siblings. I would be aghast if my son sees my daughter in poverty and decides to buy a third house while she is homeless. This is what we have but I have found peace in knowing that in the end, I will be in heaven. That is among the only things that I am absolutely sure of and I rest in it.

  11. Lyn

    Good stuff, Dan! Hard, but good…maybe God lets us experience these times to open up our mouths and speak His Word to the situation…not enough people are SAYING this, we are so accustomed to the Name it/claim it (blab it/grab it) mentality, that we subconsciously have accepted that as faith.

    Carl said: “I would be aghast if my son sees my daughter in poverty and decides to buy a third house while she is homeless”

    As any father would…as I’m sure our Father is! I think this hits the nail on the head!

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