In uncertain economic times, our yearnings for true prosperity take on greater significance than they might otherwise during times of material abundance. But what is true prosperity? Is it something that can be enjoyed by only a select and “chosen” few? Or is real prosperity a spiritual blessing given to all who will obey divine law, completely independent of worldly economic circumstances?
The scriptures and the prophets are perfectly clear on the matter. Prosperity is the Lord’s expression of his love for his children. It is granted on condition of righteousness and according to what he knows to be best for us, both in what form the prosperity comes and also in the timing in which it is granted.
In tthe Book of Mormon, for example, there is a significant phrase repeated in some form at least 23 separate times. The first instance is found in 1 Nephi 2:20: “And inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments, ye shall prosper.” Variations of this promise are strategically repeated throughout the narrative, suggesting this message would have important value to Latter-day students of the Book of Mormon.
We are all familiar with the so-called “Nephite cycle” as documented in the Book of Mormon. Again and again we read examples of the Nephites becoming wealthy, followed almost immediately, it seems, by the creeping in of pride. The resulting hardening of spiritual arteries subsequently follows, leading to a loss of the Spirit and ultimately to wickedness, war and spiritual death. And yet there are exceptions. Two examples might suffice. In the first chapter of Alma we read of a group of Nephites who appear to withstand this corrosive pattern:
“And now, because of the steadiness of the church they began to be exceedingly rich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need — an abundance of flocks and herds, and fatlings of every kind, and also abundance of grain, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious things, and abundance of silk and fine-twined linen, and all manner of good homely cloth.
“And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need.
“And thus they did prosper and become far more wealthy than those who did not belong to their church.” (Alma 1:29-31).
Likewise near the end of the book of Alma we find an almost identical example:
“And the people of Nephi began to prosper again in the land, and began to multiply and to wax exceedingly strong again in the land. And they began to grow exceedingly rich.
“But notwithstanding their riches, or their strength, or their prosperity, they were not lifted up in the pride of their eyes; neither were they slow to remember the Lord their God; but they did humble themselves exceedingly before him.
“Yea, they did remember how great things the Lord had done for them, that he had delivered them from death, and from bonds, and from prisons, and from all manner of afflictions, and he had delivered them out of the hands of their enemies.
“And they did pray unto the Lord their God continually, insomuch that the Lord did bless them, according to his word, so that they did wax strong and prosper in the land.” (Alma 62:48-51).
How did they do it? How were these two disparate groups of ancient saints able to enjoy true prosperity while withstanding the seemingly inevitable fate that befell almost every other group in the Book of Mormon? These two accounts teach us at least the following:
They always recognized the source of their prosperity, e.g., “They were not slow to remember the Lord their God.” They did not set their hearts upon riches. They were “liberal” in their care for the poor and the needy, “having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need” (see Jacob 2:17-19). Perhaps most importantly, they remembered “how great things the Lord had done for them.” Constantly remembering the source of our blessings seems to be an essential element in retaining the Lord’s favor and thus qualifying ourselves to truly prosper. One additional insight may be worth noting. When we think of prosperity, our minds seem immediately drawn to the idea of financial prosperity. But is this the Lord’s definition of what it means to prosper? Speaking to Latter-day Saints during the daunting days of the Great Depression, President Heber J. Grant taught the following truth:
“The law of financial prosperity to the Latter-day Saints, under covenant with God, is to be an honest tithe payer, and not to rob the Lord in tithes and offerings. Prosperity comes to those who observe the law of tithing. When I say prosperity I am not thinking of it in terms of dollars and cents alone. … But what I count as real prosperity, as the one thing of all others that is of great value to every man and woman living, is the growth in a knowledge of God, and in a testimony, and in the power to live the gospel and to inspire our families to do the same. That is prosperity of the truest kind” (Gospel Standards, p. 58).
It is abundantly clear the Lord wants to bless His children. “And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine. But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low” (Doctrine & Covenants 104:15-16).
It is equally clear God’s view of true prosperity is very different from the world’s perspective. If we would enjoy the blessing of true, abiding prosperity, we must first and always turn to the Lord with “all our heart, might, mind and strength.” Then and only then can we be recipients of his “loving kindness,” both temporally and spiritually.
If we are focused on our own prosperity, then we are in spiritual danger. But if, instead, we are focused on loving the Lord, keeping his commandments and seeking to care for our neighbors, then our Heavenly Father will prosper us in the manner he sees fit. The test, as always, is in what we will do with what we are given.