Adversity versus Prosperity

Whether or not you realize it, life is a perpetual struggle to maintain balance between various opposing forces. Over the next few days, we will examine some common extremes that threaten to pull us off balance. The first is the tug-of-war between adversity and prosperity.

When reflecting on the effects of adversity, the sages of Israel wrote,

If you are slack in the day of distress,
Your strength is limited. (24:10)

The term rendered “distress” is a word picture describing confinement or constriction, a place too small to inhabit comfortably. The expression “between a rock and a hard place” is fitting. This proverb counsels against our “becoming slack” or, more precisely, “idle, disheartened, dropped down, slumped.” If we do, we sacrifice strength that would normally help us escape. In other words, when we give in to our fears, we allow what we fear to become reality. And, according to Proverbs 24:5, “A wise man is strong; and a man of knowledge increases power.”

To put it bluntly, giving up is stupid!

When adversity pins us down, let survival be our primary goal. Don’t even entertain the idea of giving up. Instead, let adversity put our resiliency and creativity to the test. Adversity demands that we reach deep down into our inner character and gut out a solution. Very often, the Lord uses adversity to help us recognize a reservoir of inner strength.

We face a far more subtle test, however, when we encounter prosperity, the opposite of adversity. When things come easily, when there’s plenty of money, when everybody applauds, when all our ducks line up in a neat row, when the sky’s the limit, that’s the time to hang tough! Why? Because in times of prosperity, life can become subtly complicated. Integrity comes under attack. Humility is put to the test. Faith is challenged. Proverbs warns,

He who trusts in his riches will fall,
But the righteous will flourish like the green leaf. (11:28)

The word rendered “trusts” means “to feel secure, to have confidence, to depend upon.” When we’re suffering adversity, we naturally become introspective, carefully monitoring our motives and decisions to satisfy ourselves that we do not deserve our unpleasant circumstances. We tend to become less concerned about our behavior when life is going well, and if we’re not careful, we can begin to feel indestructible. Our prosperity feels like a shield from calamity. We might even mistake our wealth as proof of God’s affirmation and develop a sense of entitlement.

Wisdom tells us to focus not on our circumstances—adversity or prosperity—but to find balance in doing what is right. The “righteous” in 11:28 refers to those who consistently follow and apply God’s moral standards regardless of circumstances.

From Living the Proverbs by Charles R. Swindoll, copyright © 2012. Reprinted by permission of Worthy Inspired., an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

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