Summary: We may need to re-define "success"

“How to Get Promoted” Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts

A few days ago I received an email from a friend in Germany, a fellow Army Chaplain. He had some bittersweet news--he had just been selected for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel…but many of his friends were non-select. It is impossible to figure out how promotion boards pick some and not others. Officers pour over their military files in a futile attempt to make some sense of why they weren’t chosen. The selection process seems arbitrary and unfair. A soldier’s sense of worth is on the line, and his or her future as well. Those who are passed over face self-condemnation—“I’m not good enough.” To make things worse the military has an “up-or-out” policy for Lieutenants, Captains and Majors. Those who don’t make the cut are released from the service. For most, a military career is a matter of survival, and simply making it to retirement is considered a near-miracle.

I know that the Army doesn’t have a monopoly on difficult promotions. Teachers strive for tenure, members of corporations fight their way up the ladder, and all through the process one encounters politics and pitfalls.

Now consider Joseph. When you really think about it, things haven’t changed much over the years. Joseph was successful at everything he did—yet his life was full of ups & downs; promotions and imprisonment; success and slavery. Throughout this painful process he never complained; he simply trusted his life to God. That isn’t easy when you find your identity in your profession. Joseph was able to re-group, change course, and entrust his future to God.

In order to be “successful” we may need to re-define success, to see it from God’s point-of-view. Success means to be doing what God wants, where He wants us, and the way He wants us to be. That means faithfully seeking His will, His direction, according to His standards.

My ministry verse is on the cover of the bulletin each week, and was read by Robin at the Installation Service--Colossians 1:28. But I also have a career verse, which has helped me get through every selection board and every assignment. That verse is Revelation 3:8, “I have set before you an open door which no one can shut.” Our sovereign Lord is the One who gives us success. He is the President of the Promotion Board. His purpose is never frustrated. He is in control. What if we don’t get what we’re hoping for? This means that sometimes He says “no” to our goals. Sometimes life seems to take a nasty turn. If you don’t believe me, ask Joseph! Sometimes we look so hard at the door God has closed we don’t see the one He has opened for us. When life seems to fall apart we need to believe that God is causing all things to work together for good. If you’re struggling in your career, remember that in life we can only count on uncertainty and God’s sovereignty.

The cupbearer’s forgetfulness worked in Joseph’s favor—at the most opportune moment he recalls Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams. He apologetically told Pharaoh of the unusual Hebrew slave with whom he had “spent time.” Joseph is cleaned up, brought to Pharaoh, and given a chance to speak. This was not a “lucky break”; God planned it this way. Pharaoh had 2 disturbing dreams; Joseph understood with double assurance that the separate dreams were about one topic and were to be taken seriously. This was even worse than Y2K! The chief wealth of Egypt consisted of cattle and grain. The Holy Spirit had been preparing Joseph for this moment.

Early on in my military career I had a Christian Battalion Commander, a LTC Chuck Hines. One day he called me into his office at the HQ and asked me to pray for him. He was being considered for the Army War College. I’ll never forget what he told me that day: “Bob, I know that if the Army wants me but the Lord doesn’t, I won’t be picked. I also know that if the Lord wants me and the Army doesn’t, I’ll be selected anyway.” Colonel Hines was selected, then later served as an instructor at the War College, and retired about 10 years ago as a Major General and is now a college president in Texas.

Nelson Mandela’s term of office is coming to a close. Here’s a man who spent most of his adult life in prison, only to become the leader of his post-apartheid nation. Who would have foreseen this turn of events during Mandela’s years as a political prisoner?

God makes us what we are; we’re not self-made. The Apostle Paul declared, “I am what I am by the grace of God.” Pride causes us to think we’re great; pride fools us into believing all the glowing comments on our evaluation reports. Joseph never fails to give credit to God for his success. He is quick to point out that He is simply God’s instrument. Greatness comes from above.

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