I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t desire success (with the exception of possibly one person). Who doesn’t want to accomplish their goals, finish their tasks, have more of this or that, have more influence, etc.?
The problem is that success as it is generally thought of in modern culture finds little support in Scripture (or maybe no support!), and especially in the words of Jesus. And this is where the rub is – how do we “good Christians” follow Jesus by “taking up our cross” and still pursue success?
We can’t! That’s right, We can’t. The two are elements of opposing kingdoms and double agents are allowed in God’s Kingdom.
It seems to me that the depth of Scripture only increases with age and understanding and this is one of those areas, especially having grown up in modern western Christianity that seeks bigger and better everything.
But Jesus (Don’t you love the “but” statements in Scripture!) says the Kingdom of God is more like a mustard seed, starting small and growing large – that doesn’t mean the little church gathering you are part of will grow large – but it does mean God’s Kingdom will grow large – all over the world – that kind of large! Now that’s a different kind of large all together! Maybe not 2,000 in one building but maybe 2,000 groups of 20 in your city! Do that math, which is better for God!
And that’s the rub – which is better for God? Because we are so accustomed to think about what is better for us. While the reality is that what is best for God and His Kingdom is also best for us, the truth is, we are often too blind to realize it. Of course I’d rather have 4,000 people from my city living eternally with me than just 2,000 that I met in our building.
But I digress. The ‘good life’, prosperity, popularity, and profit usually associated with success is a bit different than the more old school definition that basically refers to ‘something accomplished/completed’, something that is a bit more Biblical.
When Abraham’s servant had ‘success’ or was ‘prospered’ in searching for a wife for Isaac, it was because God gave him that success. And when Joseph succeeded at everything he touched (even if in prison), it was because God caused the success/prosperity. But what was really going on was a combination of God’s sovereignty and faithful obedience.
Faithful obedience – that’s the Christian goal, not ‘success’ because success is nebulous and fleeting and usually the fruit of the desires of another kingdom – a kingdom at war with God’s Kingdom.
Where is the success is the Widow’s Mite story or the Good Samaritan story? Really, neither one has an ending – we don’t know what happened. Did the widow woman get ‘blessed’ and ‘prosper’ after this episode, or did she die poor but faithfully obedient? And what ever happened to the man who was helped off that Jericho Road?
What if there are no ‘success’ stories in my life or my ministry? Have I failed? Is being beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, jailed, and more ‘success’ or is it obedient faithfulness. Is years of ministry in a foreign land with no converts to the faith a lack of ‘success’ or obedient faithfulness? After all Jesus did say make disciples of all nations, not just ours. Is a life of ministering to homeless and poverty stricken people who never seem to outgrow their poverty a lack of ‘success’ or faithful obedience? (Have you ever looked at how frequently the Scriptures – Old and New – speak about the poor?)
It’s difficult to feel satisfied if you don’t feel ‘successful’ but what if we’re chasing the wrong thing and ‘success’ is just empty wind, vanity of vanities, frustratingly enigmatic. Jesus talked a lot about doing what his Father asked of him – being faithfully obedient – even to the point of death (book of Hebrews), even when it wasn’t going to be easy (Garden of Gethsemane).
The Father repeatedly told the world that Jesus was his beloved son in whom he was well pleased – despite the fact that Judas betrayed and deserted him, Peter denied him three times and the rest all scattered and were only brought back together by the resurrection appearance of Jesus Himself. And I think that’s the key right there – the presence of God.
The Presence of God enables Paul to be faithfully obedient and to dismiss any worldly notions of ‘success’ because he knew the One from whom all things come – and when you’ve seen Him – the fleeting kingdoms of this world lose their appeal – they are all worthless compared to the all consuming knowing of Him.
And thus we must destroy the broken cistern, the lifeless idol of ‘success’ in favor of the living Word and faithful obedience to Him and His Kingdom.
Let’s fight the good fight together! Let’s break our idols together! Let’s be faithful and obedient together!