In his article “Beware the Scarcity Gospel,” Andy Jones writes,
Is it possible that some of us, having rightly rejected the prosperity gospel, have subtly succumbed to another insidious belief? I call it the scarcity gospel—the assumption that we should expect God to do little through our churches or in our lifetime.
We don’t expect to see people come to faith in surprising numbers through our churches. We don’t expect to see a surprising work of God’s Spirit sweep through our churches and strengthen the faith of congregants. We don’t expect to see the gospel advance in places and among people where the church is underrepresented. We expect little. And that may be what we actually experience during our lifetime (James 4:2b).
We aren’t promised the church will advance or progress exponentially. Yet we should expect God to do more than we can ask or think (Eph. 3:20), while entrusting him with the final result.
The term “scarcity gospel,” though catchy, could be mistaken as the opposite of the prosperity gospel (the teaching that God will bless with material abundance and good health those who obey Him and lay claim to His promises). It really isn’t, as the truth is not halfway between the two. Both false perspectives betray the same false Christ-absent focus, just in a different way.
Instead of blind optimism, low expectations of God reveal a blind pessimism about the power of God’s work. We sometimes raise our expectations to insist upon—even demand—complete divine healing or the perfect mate or job or church or children. And other times, we lower our expectations closer to those of atheists than of believers. We forget that He is able “to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).
We can’t raise the bar of faith too high as long as the object of our faith is God, who always knows better than we do. He sometimes does His greatest work when He doesn’t answer our prayers the way we would like them answered, and instead shapes our character, Christlikeness, and faith, and tenderizes our hearts toward hurting believers and unbelievers. If we have eyes to see, we will realize this miracle is far greater than the miracles we sometime want to see but don’t.
Corrie Ten Boom wrote, “The wonderful thing about praying is that you leave a world of not being able to do something, and enter God’s realm where everything is possible. He specializes in the impossible. Nothing is too great for His almighty power. Nothing is too small for His love.”
We should see God at work both in the prayers He answers affirmatively and in the prayers He answers differently than we asked. He works behind the scenes, and one day, even if not in this life, we will see His hidden purposes for our suffering. “Who is like you, O Yahweh, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11).
Last New Year’s Eve, we planned to do what we have done nearly every year: spend the evening with two other couples, some of our dearest friends. We usually talk about our families, our church, God’s Word, and theological questions, and we watch football and comedy routines and tell stories—sometimes the same stories. Occasionally details change and those stories get funnier. Above all, we talk about Jesus. We laugh and cry together, as close friends do.
My wife, Nanci, had expected to feel up to going but couldn’t. We were all disappointed, but we believed God was at work. We chose to trust in His sovereign love and purposes, knowing He will not fail us or forsake us. We refused to lay claim to the prosperity gospel or wallow in low expectations. By God’s grace, we fixed our eyes on Jesus and made Him the object of our faith.
Then the next day, New Year’s, one of those friends, Michele, went for a walk after dark. She collapsed and died on a sidewalk two blocks from their house. Her body was found by a neighbor.
Two and a half months later, Nanci went to be with Jesus.
I shared at Michele’s memorial service that we should not deny death’s reality or minimize our sorrow and grief and suffering and shock. But we also must not minimize the love, power, sovereign wisdom, and promises of the God who is infinitely greater than death and will one day swallow up death forever (Isaiah 25:8). Death will not have the last word. Life will. Suffering will not have the last word. Happiness will. Sin will not have the last word. Righteousness will. Satan will not have the last word. God will.
If the object of our faith is a genie God who grants us our wishes, or a handcuffed or impoverished God who no longer does the miraculous, then our faith is not in the true God revealed in Scripture. The solution to both blind optimism and blind pessimism is the same: to learn to see God at work wherever we suppose He isn’t—such as in the events of the last two years.
In many ways, believers have largely failed the test of our recent adversity, including politics and COVID, but may we not resign ourselves to ongoing failure. Let us instead call upon the infinite power of God to transform us into the humble, loving, unified servants Jesus commanded and expected us to be in John 13 and 17 and countless other passages. Our high calling of love and unity is not impossible: “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
We should raise the bar of trust in our omnipotent miracle-working God, and lower the bar of trust in what we think all the answers to our prayers should look like. Missionary William Carey set an excellent example: “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” All the while, may we realize that God is God and leave the results to Him. Let’s thank Him for empowering us to be who He has called us to be: people of grace, truth, faith, and hope, with eyes open to the power, presence, and sovereign love of our King.
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, emphasis added).