THE BURDEN OF PROSPERITY
French Archbishop François Fénelon (1651-1725) saw how people who went through times of having very little food, clothing, shelter, and safety, went on a binge of hoarding those things once they became prosperous. It was their way of calming their anxiety of going without such necessities again. But some did so to increase their social status and gain respect in the community. So, the good Archbishop had some words of caution for them.
He told them that gold chains were chains, nevertheless, like iron. And while those who wear them are objects of envy, they are worthy of compassion. Their captivity is no better than someone jailed with no charges against them. The only real comfort is that only God can deprive them of liberty, and this is the same comfort by which an innocent prisoner is able to survive. Therefore, they have more than the person who is an illusion of splendor, giving them no real advantage but exposing them to the risk of being dazzled and deceived.
But, after all, the comfort of knowing that we are God’s by His choice is quite inexhaustible. As long as we have that, nothing else will matter. It transforms the iron chains, says Fénelon, not necessarily to gold – since we agree that golden chains are still chains – but into freedom and happiness.
So, what is good about being so envious of exercising our free will? It sets us free only to follow our unruly inclinations even in lawful things, indulge our pride, and presume we are free to do so and carry out our will, which is the worst thing that can happen to us. It is better when God cuts off our intentions, so we can follow His will. But those bound by their greedy passions are equally as miserable as the others are blessed.
You see, those who are so bound cannot please themselves. They do what God would have them do from morning to night, not what they want. That makes it a lot better! Since God has bound them, so to speak, hand and foot by His will, He never leaves them to themselves for one moment. He is jealous of that tyrannous “I” that wants everything its way. God’s Spirit leads them from one sacrifice to another, from one trouble to another, and trains them to fulfill His noblest plans amidst commonplace annoyances, frivolous society, and trivialities of which they feel ashamed. He urges the faithful soul till it scarcely has time to draw breath: No sooner has one interruption ceased than God sends another to continue His work in them.
The soul would like to be free to think about God from its perspective. But, all the while, it is far more closely united to Him by yielding to the cross He has them carry than by indulging their glowing, tender emotions. This soul would like to be more its owner than surrendered to God! It forgets that one never belongs to God so little as when “self” asserts such a claim. By the “self” allowing the freedom to pretend it can unite to God, it puts a wider gulf between Him and us, which is only superficial. There is a venom in “self” that does not exist in common amusement.
Of course, we should use all available moments to pause and secure certain hours and refresh our body and mind by reflection. As to the rest of the day, however, the stream carries us away despite ourselves; we must yield without regret. Thus, we learn to find God amid the stream of distractions, since it is not a self-chosen path.
Some He enlightens by guiding them through hardships. In others, He seems to lead by blessing them with prosperity. But, on the other hand, He makes their situation challenging by using those very things outsiders imagine to be the perfect way to enjoy life! And so, He carries on two good works in them – He teaches them by experience and causes them to die to “self” by the very things that foster evil and wickedness in many people.
They are like King Midas, whose hands turned whatever he touched into gold, bringing him nothing but misery. But you can turn your worldly prosperity into a blessing by leaving everything to God, not even seeking to find Him except where and when He chooses to reveal Himself to you.
Therefore, you must not wait for freedom and retirement to learn to let go. The prospect of such a time is very visionary – it may never come. We must all be ready, should it please God, to die while carrying our cross. If He foresees our retirement plans, we are not our own, and He will require of us only what it is in our power to give. The Israelites by the waters of Babylon longed tor Jerusalem, yet how many were there among them who never saw their beloved country again but ended their lives in Babylon! How great would their delusion have been if they had postponed service to God until they could once more sec their native land! It may be that our inheritance will be like that of those Israelites.
Sometimes we may think we are missing God, but it is “self” we really miss. The most trying side of this exciting life of self-sacrifice is that we are never free to do what “self” wants to do. The lingering spirit of “self” would like a quieter state of things to enjoy its intellectual pursuits and gifts. The “self” would like to show all its good qualities in the company of a chosen few who would feed its self-satisfaction. Or, perhaps, the spirit of “self” makes us wish to enjoy the comforts of religion in peace, just at the time when God wills to send nothing but troubles and trials to mold us to His will.
The Bible often speaks of what it means to surrender ourselves to God’s will. Jesus told His followers that if any wanted to be His follower, they must stop thinking about themselves and what they want. They must be willing to carry the cross that is given to them in order to follow Him. When His disciples asked Jesus if He was hungry, He told them, “My food is to do what the One who sent me wants me to do. My food is to finish the work that He gave me to do.”
When the Apostle James was asked what to do when the world’s temptations become stronger and stronger, he told them to give themselves more and more to God. Stand against the devil, and he will run away from them.
And later the Apostle Paul had this to say, it is God who is working in you. He helps you want to do what pleases Him, and gives you the power to do it. And in another letter, Paul has this message, God is strong, and He wants you strong. So, take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use, so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no weekend war that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.
 Fénelon, François: Paraclete Giants, The Complete Fénelon, Translated and Edited by Robert J. Edmonson, Paraclete Press, Brewster, Massachusetts, 2008, pp. 36-38; Vocabulary and grammar redacted by Dr. Robert R Seyda
 Matthew 16:24
 John 4:24
 James 4:7
 Philippians 2:13
 Ephesians 6:10-18 – The Message