I can remember driving up the coast of Lake Huron on a rainy Saturday morning one summer, and I can remember being a little disappointed at the fact that the lake, typically a deep beautiful blue, was a tumultuous gray that seemingly hid below the clouds. As I stood staring out across it on a roadside pull-off I realized something to a greater degree than I had while I was driving––the view wasn’t spectacular, at all.
In true point of fact, the clouds obstructed me from seeing far into the distance and entirely stopped the water from reflecting the blue sky towering above and totally out of sight. Any suspicion I had while driving that “I might not be able to see much” was confirmed. There wasn’t a lot of color and there wasn’t a lot to stare at, so I didn’t, and kept driving.
On that particular weekend, as well as the days prior, I had been spending time in Psalm 1. I had been pondering and thinking through a statement in the latter half verse three that, in all honesty, seemed difficult to understand. The second half of Psalm 1:3 says this, “In all he does he prospers”. The Psalmist says something here that just seems so incredibly wrong and untrue when we look at it from a merely topical, worldly perspective.
Do Christians truly prosper in everything they do? If we take that word, prosper, to mean material wealth, physical health, financial success, and a lack of heartache, we’d have to simply deny such a statement as the Psalmist’s here. Furthermore, in Psalm 44 we find God’s people declaring, “For your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” Likewise, we can turn to the eleventh chapter of Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth and find a life history totally devoid of anything we, as 21st century Americans, imagine as “prospering”.
“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.”
(2 Corinthians 11:24-28)
Many other examples could be cited, such as the Christians in Hebrews 10:32-33, the Christians of the early church who were martyred, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a stalwart of the faith, who sat in a Nazi concentration camp for months before finally suffering the same fate as the Christians of the early church just weeks before the end of World War II.
So how is it, then, that Psalm 1 is even remotely true? How can it possibly be that in everything he, a true believer in Christ, does he prospers, when we have countless examples of true Christians being unfairly treated, persecuted, suffering, and killed for following Christ? What is more, you yourself can testify that a friend or relative, a true believer, has had cancer, been in a car accident, has had an unsuccessful business venture, or lost his job, and has, on many occasions, been entirely unprosperous.
Either Psalm 1 is wrong and untrue, or that word, prosper, means something quite different than what we might think it means. In fact, The only possible option, unless we deny biblical inerrancy and infallibility and surrender any claim that the Bible is absolute truth, is to face the fact that “prospering” biblically, the prospering spoken of in Psalm 1, isn’t what we think it means, not at all.
So if our view, our definition, of “prospering” is inaccurate and lacking what is the true definition? Or, in other words, what does it actually mean to prosper, what does “In all he does he prospers” really mean?
To understand true prosperity, biblical prosperity, our gaze must be shifted toward eternity, at least partly. In James 4:14 we find life described as “less than a vapor that appears and then vanishes”, and in Job chapter seven as “But a breath”. We ought to take note of verses such as these and be reminded that this life, the present circumstances, aren’t all there is, not at all.
So far I’ve seemingly only dug my lot deeper. Whether or not this life is short or long doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the statement in Psalm 1:3. Because he clearly doesn’t say, “In most of what he does he prospers.” or, “in the large extreme or large majority of what he does he prospers.” but clearly, concisely, all inclusively, states, “In all he does he prospers.” Not most of it, not “all in comparison to eternity”, but “all”. Yet the presence of eternity in the mindset of the reader here is key, and we are going to get there.
Paul, in his letter to the early church in Rome, writes some of the most encouraging and hope-filling words to the heart, the very core of one’s being, of a believer in Christ.
Romans 8:32-39 says this, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Paul, a man who had no need to think of any difficulties and sufferings but his own to create a manifold list, states that in all these things, “unprosperous things” we are more than conquerors. We haven’t just “made it through” as it were, or “just barely survived with nothing left” following these trials. No, we have more than conquered through Christ. We will be given “all things” through Christ Jesus, we will prosper through, in, Christ.
I think 2 Corinthians chapter four helps to clarify what Paul is getting at here. In verses 16-18 Paul says this, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self (man) is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 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.”
The afflictions encountered, sufferings had, persecutions endured, aren’t just survived or for naught, they are doing something. They are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”, they are “not in vain” (2 Corinthians 15:58), and in them we are more than conquerors, in them we prosper. In all things he, the true Christian, prospers, because in all things he has more than conquered (Romans 8:37), is being rewarded for all his suffering (2 Corinthians 4:17), is being rewarded for his good (Ephesians 6:8, Luke 14:13-14), and has all things working together for his good––being conformed to the image of Christ through it all (Romans 8:28).
Realizing the “eternal weight of glory”, the “momentary affliction” and reminding ourselves of Romans 8:1 (For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us) are absolutely essential in keeping our minds fixed on true, biblical prosperity.
An eternal mindset is key not to brush off, survive, and get through trials that are worthless present sufferings (no such thing exists for the Christian), but to remember in all things, in every moment in this life, through Christ we are prospering.
Pastor John Piper in his Look at the Book podcast on Psalm 1:3 addresses largely the same question additionally mentioning Psalm 119:67-75, which states, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes”. We prosper, we triumph in all things, because God has triumphed in all things, Christ has overcome the world, the very universe (John 16:33).
We clearly find across scripture that this “prospering” is not material wealth, physical health, financial success, or a lack of heartache––far from it––but an eternal reward. Psalm 16:11 speaks to the riches, the prosperity of knowing Christ, “You make known to me that path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” What a beautifully prosperous picture congruent with other statements found in scripture such as Paul’s words in Philippians 3:8 (Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…). Truly, “In all he does he prospers”.
I don’t think lakes in general have a whole lot to do with Psalm 1 and Lake Huron probably has a lot less to do with it, but I couldn’t help but think, as I drove along the drab looking lake that Saturday, of a couple of things.
One, it’s so easy to “not see anything spectacular” and keep “driving”, or in other words, to see a passage, a verse, a book, in scripture as hardly worth looking at in depth, boring, or hard to understand and simply avoid it. Think about that second half of Psalm 1:3, “In all he does he prospers”. That is an absolutely incredible, life changing, and paradigm shifting understanding to have. To know, to understand and grasp truly the fact that nothing is in vain, you will graciously be given all things, and be rewarded for your good and your suffering, all because of what Christ has accomplished on the cross is worth countless hours of studying God’s word and time spent in prayer.
So I urge you to look and to dig and to pray, not to just topically read each time or simply move on when something is obscured or glazed over for any number of reasons.
Two, I find my view of prospering often defaulting to something along the lines of what I saw that Saturday––the sand, the grass, some trees, a bit of water stretching out in front, and a whole bunch of clouds––the things right in front of me, the things I could see at the time, nothing beyond. The Psalmist makes such an amazing and enormous statement and I often forget. I see it, the promise of prosperity in all things, in some areas frequently, but fail to visualize them at all in others. I encourage you then, to make it your prayer, as it is often mine, for God to cause you, through the work of the Holy Spirit, and through his word, to treasure, to hold close, to remember every day, the beautifully motivating, perseverance-generating, hope-filling, and God glorifying realities of scripture, of the promise of “In all he does he prospers”.