John 8:31-32 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
If you’ve driven along most any country road in the Southern U.S. or have seen pictures of such, you’ve probably seen at least one good crop of kudzu. Bright, shiny, lush, big dark-green leaves and vines covering over large portions of ground reaching for more and more sunlight. All looks healthy, life-giving, and purposeful in the abundance of greenness.
Kudzu was introduced to the United States for soil erosion control and cattle food. However, it is neither. Worse yet, since kudzu is an imported plant from Southeast Asia, kudzu’s behavior here in the Southern U.S. is typical of many invasive species introduced from somewhere else. It grows out of control because there is nothing in place in the ecosystem to keep it under control. Kudzu takes over nearly everything in its path – be it buildings, telephone poles, trees, or anything that doesn’t move on its own. Worse yet, kudzu will choke the life out of whatever it has overgrown in its ability to quickly grow in every direction simultaneously. Over time, those trees, poles, or buildings will collapse under the weight of or the decay from kudzu, not-so-fondly described as “the vine that ate the South”.
Believe it or not, kudzu reminds me of the insidiousness of the prosperity gospel in our churches, our faith, and our lives today as Christians.
“Name it and claim it.” “This is yours if you just believe it is.” “All you have to do for health, wealth, and happiness is to pray harder, believe deeper, and give more.” “Believe and you will be healed.” “Give more and you will be wealthy.” “Girl, you can do hard things.” All these and other mantras of the prosperity gospel were introduced as an effective means of combatting doubt from eroding the faith of Christians struggling with a less-than ideal circumstances in their daily lives. Preachers, teachers, church-goers, and ants alike had high hopes that claiming these beliefs would cause a deep and wide joy to flow up from fountains within. They hoped that these beliefs would give them the ability to not only climb that rubber tree plant but to own it and the farm from which it came, all the while singing completely in tune with the music. And thus, the appeal of these beliefs grew like kudzu in the hearts and lives of many desperately looking for hope.
Prosperity gospel sayings seem all shiny, green, and life-giving in their abundance on the surface. They seem strong enough to climb anything that isn’t moving from in front of me and to do what fervent prayer hasn’t accomplished. They sound like they can quickly and easily grow a faith to cover the ground of a life left bare and empty from loss, grief, and pain. But when these sayings are compared with solid Scriptural truths such as John 15:1-8, James 5:16-18, and Psalm chapter 46, they burn up faster than kudzu leaves treated with a heavy dose of fresh Roundup herbicide at midday in July. Better yet, they don’t have a tap root to grow back from unlike the deep-rooted truths of Romans 8:38-39 and Psalm chapter 121. And don’t even get me started on the so much more of the so many more passages of grace, hope, joy, faith, and courage on every page of the Bible written for us by God Himself!
“Control is a drug and we are all hooked.”1 Unfortunately, I know that principle especially well. And that principle is most apparent when the life I’ve planned for, prayed for, and hoped for, isn’t. It’s easy to sing about high hopes with a deep and wide joy when all is shiny and green. It’s altogether different to keep believing when life-circumstances seem silent or dying in hope, year after year. Even more than the Soil Conservation Service wanted kudzu as the answer for soil erosion control, I wish the kudzu-beliefs of prosperity gospel were a viable solution for hard circumstances in life. Their cover-over-everything shiny greenness is so alluring and appealing. How I wish they would banish the nearly 10-year old constant pain that won’t leave and tie down the hope that continually threatens to leave!
But they don’t.
Because they can’t.
So I keep on planting my heart and my hopes even deeper into my Jesus, the True Vine and Root of David, Who won’t leave and gives hope for the now and not-yet (see John 15:1-8 and Revelation 22:16).
For only God gives the strength from joy to help me keep fighting to hold hard to truth and not let kudzu-lies encroach on the edges of my life and faith (see Nehemiah 8:10). Only God gives the hope necessary to help me be strong and courageous to recognize and speak out against kudzu-lies and show them as noxious weeds. For these kudzu-lies seem harmless but in reality they are tools of the evil one who lurks on the edges of our lives waiting to erode and devour our faith even faster than “the vine that ate the South” (see Joshua 1:9 and 1 Peter 5:8).
Thank You, God, that Your truth renews and transforms me for now and forever. Please change my entire life as described in Romans 12:1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Written by and copyrighted to Beth Madison, Ph.D., 2021.