Anything of value is certain to be counterfeited. Walk the streets of any large city and counterfeited designer fashion items can be bought for a fraction of the cost of the real thing.
Scripture often warns us against spiritual counterfeits. Spiritual growth and maturity can be imitated by false teachers who can lead the naive astray. Jude writes about men who have crept into the church to bring error:
“These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.” (Jude 12–13, ESV)
As I read these words this morning, I thought of those smiling faces on the television that tell me that Jesus wants me to be healthy, wealthy and wise. They tell me that any problem that I face is not really a problem if I only have enough faith. They tell me that if I am sick, it is because I have not claimed my health. They tell me if I have a physical need it is because I have not appropriated the blessing that is mine for the taking.
In a drought, clouds forming on the horizon bring hope of much needed rain. If those clouds pass overhead without producing rain, the hope they produced is dashed. Therefore waterless clouds are useless to those in need of rain.
Those that promise unending health, wealth and security to those who believe are like those clouds. When life gets hard, when sickness comes, when loved ones fail you, when jobs are lost, when persecution comes, they have nothing to offer. Their only solution is to let you know that it is your own fault because you lacked faith.
Yet this is not what Scripture tells us. Jesus told us that we will have tribulation but that he would be with us through it (John 16:33). Paul tells us that even when we lack faith in a situation, God remains faithful to us (2 Tim. 2:13). We are told to expect persecution and hard time as a result of our faith, not because of the lack of it. In addition, from Job and the Apostle Paul (2 Cor. 12:7), we know that God allows problems in our lives for purposes that we may not understand.
While pointing the finger at prosperity teachers, we would do well to acknowledge the pull in our own heart to be like them. It is easy to give a glib answer when someone is hurting. It is easy to put on my “game face” when coming to church and present myself as more squared away than I really am. It is easy to avoid difficult situations or difficult people. It is easy to be counterfeit.
It is easy to be a waterless cloud.