During the Chinese New Year, the traditional greetings usually involve well-wishes of financial and material blessings. Both the old and young people exchange these blessings with joy in their hearts and a smile on their faces. Everybody likes blessings.
The ancient Israelites and modern Jews greet one another with the Hebrew word, shalom. In the bible, the word, shalom, is mostly translated as peace. However, its meaning encompasses spiritual, emotional and physical blessings. It also includes material blessings. So, when you say shalom in your greeting, you are essentially saying, “Be blessed in every area of your life!”
God wants to bless His people. He desires for us to be fruitful and multiply in every area of our lives. The book of Psalms begins with a psalm telling us the kind of people whom God would bless. God said the same things to the fledgling Israelite nation as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. We read these words in Deuteronomy 8:17-19.
For four hundred years, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. The next forty years were spent wandering in the desert wilderness. As they stood at the threshold of the Promised Land, they eagerly anticipated a new future where they could cultivate their lands, raise their livestock and run businesses. They look forward to a life of increase and prosperity. After all, God had promised them a land of milk and honey.
God always delivers on His promises. As God affirmed His promise that He would prosper them in their lives, and they would increase in wealth, God gave them two important reminders.
First, God reminded them to remember Him when they had become wealthy. To begin with, they must remember that He was the source of their blessings. It was Him who had given them the power – wisdom, abilities and skills - to produce wealth.
Throughout history, the Jewish people have made remarkable achievements in diverse fields despite persecution and not having their own homeland. There are disproportionately more Jewish Nobel prize winners than any other people since the awards began in 1901. This is no accident. It is a testimony of the blessings of God on His chosen people.
It is easy to forget God when we do well and become rich. In a parable, Jesus warned about the deceitfulness of wealth. It has the potential to distract us and choke our relationship with God. On another occasion, Jesus remarked that it was easier for a camel to go through the tiny hole of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. So, we must be very careful to remember God when we are blessed.
Do not succumb to the mistaken thinking that you prosper because you are so smart, and you have worked hard. Potentially, your life can unravel and collapse like a house of cards the moment God withdraws His favour. Remember Job. He lost everything overnight when God removed His hedge of protection over him.
The person who remembers God has a grateful heart. He would always give thanks to God in His prayers. Such a person expresses his gratefulness by his generosity toward God and the needy. Freely he has received from God and freely he gives.
Second, God reminded the Israelites not to go after other gods. While the Israelites bowed their knees to the gods of the surrounding peoples, for us, these gods may be anything that competes for our attention, time, and energy.
Wealth can be a blessing. It is better to have money than to be in lack. But, unfortunately, wealth can also be a curse. It opens possibilities that were previously unavailable. It buys luxury, pleasures and privileges that most people cannot afford. When life is good, our attention shifts and priorities change. When choices are many, we become distracted. More time for indulgences means less time for God. More time for pleasure means less time to serve.
A rich lifestyle can be intoxicating. When you experience more of it, you want more. Do not be caught in the trap of riches and stray away from God. God warns of serious consequences. So, be careful.
Essentially, God told the Israelites to keep their focus on Him always. They must not become distracted. It is the same with us. Always put God as the top priority in our lives. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Do not chase after things, which have no eternal value.
Always remember God and prioritise God above everything else.
We wish everyone a happy and prosperous Chinese New Year! May God open the windows of heaven and pour out His abundant blessings on everyone!
Pastors Leslie & Adeline Chua