Today at church we had Faraja Hamuli speak. She is the national leader of the women’s wing of our denomination in Tanzania and in the whole of Africa. She spoke on the woman at the well from John 4, “Give me this water.”
For keen students of African prosperity theologies like me, there were a number of familiar themes, but she articulated them more clearly and brilliantly than I think I have ever heard before.
Faraja started by talking about thirst and how in the passage the conversation moves from talking about physical thirst to spiritual thirst. She spoke of how even if you don’t feel thirsty, you need 2L of water per day. It can be hard to discipline yourself to drink when you do not feel thirsty, but after a while you will begin to feel thirsty and start desiring water. The same is true with spiritual thirst. Many people feel satisfied with their spiritual lives and do not want more; it requires discipline to seek after God and the more you do it, the more you will feel that desire grow. The example she gave of people who are satisfied is this: they’ve accepted Christ, are assured of heaven, try not to sin, and wait for the trumpets. Yet, she said, Jesus has more for you, if you would thirst for it.
The more that Jesus has to give is both spiritual and physical, according to Faraja. There is a relationship between the two that is integrated, undefined, and decidedly non-Platonic. When she spoke about healing, she spoke about it as twofold: spiritual and physical. When the spiritual world is ordered, most things in the physical world also fall into place. If God entrusts you with the gospel – his message of salvation, the greatest treasure on earth – the lesser treasure of physical blessings is nothing. But keep in mind that these physical blessings are indeed the lesser blessings.
She told the story of a woman she had been counselling whose mother had died. The mother had been an entrepreneur and had worked hard her whole life to build up wealth, then had died without enjoying it. Faraja’s point from this was twofold: let us enjoy the good things in life now as our portion, and let us remember that there is more to come and which ought to shape our lives now. Do not miss out on either.
Then came this paradigmatic statement: This is why we preach prosperity – biblical prosperity – because we can live successfully here, but will one day be in heaven. If you succeed here, also have the drive to succeed spiritually and beyond. So come out from the dark places, and ask Jesus for the water.
Much of the remaining part of the sermon clarified what she meant by biblical prosperity. For example:
- She talked about the difference between thirsting and being tormented. You can seek God for your needs and thank him for a car as a blessing, or you can always be looking for the better car, the bigger house, etc. Always looking for more and never being satisfied is the work of the devil twisting your heart.
- There is a perception that in order to be successful, you need to be mediocre spiritually. Many people choose not to pursue Christianity because they associate it with poverty; people who believe this do not know the Giver of all good things. God is the source of success, and success can only come from him. They need to meet and experience him.
- The goal of this prosperity is to extend it to others; we are filled with living water that we might become a source of it to others. People are spiritually dying, and we are called to bring them life as we are filled with the Holy Spirit and experience his fullness in our lives.
After the service I asked Faraja if she could tell me the difference between her ‘biblical prosperity’ and ‘unbiblical prosperity’. She said the latter was taking the promises of the Bible and blowing them out of proportion so that these promises are focused solely on life now and accumulation, missing the element of building God’s kingdom. I asked her about biblical figures such as Paul who had lives of suffering, and she said two things: first, Paul experienced times of plenty and of deprivation, so it is inaccurate to speak about him as only having a life of suffering; secondly, Paul was able to rejoice in all circumstances because the kingdom of God was his first priority (as it should be ours) and he knew that his trials had a purpose within that.
Faraja clearly had a sense of this being different from unbiblical prosperity, but that was not the focus of her teaching; her role as she sees it is to teach this biblical prosperity against perceptions in Tanzanian culture which hold people back from pursuing God.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.