This newsletter is really about success. I know it says “Purpose” on the top and I keep talking about “true potential,” but the degree of success you will experience in life comes from understanding your purpose and fulfilling your true potential. So, yup, this is really just a success newsletter.
What separates it from most of the other success literature is its point of view. As far as I can tell, there are only two points of view regarding success. The first we’ll call “man-centric,” the second we’ll call “God-centric.” In the first, the universe revolves around man – me in particular. In the second, the universe revolves around its Creator, and I’m just a part of that revolving universe.
For the past few weeks we’ve discussed purpose, potential and success from the God-centric point of view. This week we’ll try to get a handle on success from the man-centric point of view; definitely the more popular as far as success literature is concerned.
The man-centric point of view puts man – me in particular – at the center of all things. Success in these terms means satisfying my needs and desires and fulfilling my own goals and plans; living according to a purpose I have set for myself. The world and everything in it - the universe itself - is defined in terms of how it relates to me. I am the center and all of creation transverses its orbit around me.
Kind of defines the term self-centered doesn’t it? I am the center of my own universe and everything revolves around me. To be fair, this point of view didn’t really start with man; it had its beginnings much earlier. The inventor and chief promoter of this point of view wasn’t a man at all. But it would suit him just fine if all men, you and me included, followed his example.
Lucifer, the father of man’s most popular success program, was put into a position unparalleled in Creation. In effect, Lucifer was a Prime Minister for God. The earth at the least and possibly the entire universe was under his supervision. Ezekiel prophesied of his glorious position:
You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created.
(Ezekiel 28: 12-15)
Lucifer was about as high and lifted up any created being had ever been. He had been put in a position of nearly absolute power; second only to God. His relationship to all of creation was that of superior to subordinate.
There was a problem though. Lucifer in all of his glory and majesty and power and authority mistook his position of Prime Minister with that of Crown Prince. What directly follows the description of Lucifer’s magnificence as the most glorious of all creatures vividly describes the speed and finality of his fall from grace:
… till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries. So I made a fire come out from you, and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All the nations who knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more.
Isaiah related Lucifer’s fall from grace as well:
How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.
Heaven’s true Crown Prince, Jesus related to his disciples the event to which he was eye-witness: “‘… I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’” (Luke 10:18).
What happened? How could God’s most glorious creature become the most reviled and twisted being in the universe? Lucifer mistook God’s glory for his own. He mistook Gods majesty and power for his own. He mistook God’s purpose and property for his own. Lucifer mistook the role of servant for the role of master.
Lucifer attributed his position and power to himself. He came to believe that he was self-made. He came to believe that he could accomplish anything his will desired. “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” He came to believe that he was the master of his own destiny, the cause of his own success, and the author of his purpose and plan.
Sound familiar? “Anything you can imagine, you can accomplish.” “You are the master of your own destiny.” “You deserve the very best life has to offer.” “Man is the measure of all things.” “You determine your own reality.”
A little success tends to go to our heads. We see our position and the wealth we’ve acquired and think somehow that we are the cause of it; that we have created our own situation. And that because of our hard work and talent and beauty and skill we somehow deserve what we have and anything else we could imagine or desire. It’s an old feeling; now at least you know where it comes from.
Satan tried his program on Jesus. He caught him at a low point; alone and in the wilderness, after forty days with nothing to eat. Physically and psychologically Jesus had pushed it to the limit. He was being prepared for the next three years of his life on earth and boot camp was hell. Now at the end of it, Satan appeared on the scene to offer Jesus a little worldly relief.
“You’re hungry.” Satan said to Jesus. “You’ve not had a bite to eat for forty days.” “I’ll bet you’re wondering too - are you really the Christ, the anointed one?” “Turn these stones into bread. If, at your command, the stones become bread you will erase all doubt that you are the Son of God and you will be fed.” “Why not see for yourself if this is true?”
Satan tempted Jesus with the most basic of human needs. He was hungry. Satan wanted Jesus to look to himself for the provision of his needs. Surely Jesus was capable of something as simple as providing food for himself. If he was truly the son of God, he could change stones into bread with a word. He knew he had the power. Surely Jesus could demonstrate his self-sufficiency in an act as simple as providing his own meal.
Jesus saw through Satan’s trap. Man’s sustenance doesn’t come from himself, not even the Son of Man, and bread doesn’t equal life. Man finds his sustenance in the Word of God and his supply at the hand of God; even in something as simple as a loaf of bread. Jesus answered Satan’s tactic with scripture. “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Having failed at twisting this most basic human need to his own purpose, Satan moved up the pyramid a notch (remember Maslow’s pyramid and the hierarchy of human needs?). He brought Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, its highest point. Adjusting his strategy to include scripture he said, “Throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Satan was appealing to his need for safety and security. It was promised in scripture that God would not allow His chosen one to come to harm. He was also appealing to his need for acceptance. The Temple was a very public place. If the Jews were to see Jesus plummet from the highest point of the temple, only to be caught up by the angels of God before his foot was allowed to strike a single stone of the pavement below, then surely the Jews would recognized his position of majesty and authority as the Son of God, the Anointed One.
Jesus, however, already knew the source of his safety and security. He knew that even if the entire world failed to recognize him as the Son of God, acceptance and approval from his Father in heaven was sufficient. He didn’t need to prove himself at the request of his adversary. He answered Satan’s twisting of scripture with scripture. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Finally Satan played his trump card. The strategy that had worked for him since man began to populate the earth. A universal weakness in man, something Satan had recognized from the beginning because it was also the weakness that precipitated his personal fall from grace.
Satan took Jesus to a place where he could view the kingdoms of the earth in all of their splendor, wealth and glory. “I will give you all of their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.”
All the kingdoms of the earth. All of their wealth. All of the power, the glory, the honor that comes along with ruling the kingdoms of the earth. Quite a success story. “Anything you can imagine, you can accomplish.” “You are the master of your own destiny.” “You deserve the very best life has to offer.” “Man is the measure of all things.” “You determine your own reality.” “All you need to do is fall down on your knees and worship me.”
Jesus was hungry and ragged. He had been in the wilderness for forty days. By all appearances he was no King of Kings. His current circumstance certainly didn’t reflect his role of the Chosen One. But Jesus did know his true position and authority. He knew his destiny and was confident in his ultimate reward. He knew also, Whom he served and his place in the Kingdom. Anything Satan could offer in his kingdom was insufficient in light of the Kingdom to come. “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” Jesus’ reply silenced his adversary. Satan left him to wait “for a more opportune moment.”
We’ve discussed before how our drive for success has its roots in the necessity of fulfilling our basic needs. We’ve also discussed how God’s instruction of how to go about fulfilling our needs is very different from man’s philosophy. Now that we’ve seen who invented man’s philosophy of success, we can get a glimpse of its ultimate end.
Man can make up some pretty impressive positive affirmations: “You are the master of your own destiny.” “Recognition for your accomplishments and position rightfully falls on your own shoulders.” “Your position, accomplishments and wealth are the result of your own efforts and talent.” “You deserve the credit.” “If you put your mind and resolve to it, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.” “Your reality is determined by your thinking.” “If you think on a thing long enough and hard enough, you can make it come to pass.” “The power of attraction will draw all things unto you.” “Imagine yourself at the center of your own universe; all things orbit around you and were created for your benefit.”
Keep working on the slogans. You can create a modicum of success and self-satisfaction in this world through your own efforts. People do it all the time. You can create your own reality, your own universe; and all of the objects in your own self-made universe can find their orbit around your center. A lot of very successful people have done just that. They are, in their understanding, self-made. Like the inventor of the program, these folks believe they are the master of all they survey, the source of their own glory.
But be warned. The inventor of this success plan has a miserable future waiting for him. Ultimately, those that follow the program are headed for the same destination. Unfortunately that’s where the plan leads.
But there is a better plan. One in which you’re not the center of your own little universe, but a unique part of a much larger one. One in which you give glory and honor instead of receive it. One in which you accept the position and destiny created for you before the foundations of the world, rather than trying to carve out your own. The only one that ultimately leads to the kind of success we’ve been taking about.
Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:3-6 ESV)
Looks like I’ve done it again! Remember a few weeks ago when I gave Paul credit for something Peter wrote? Well, last week I attributed a passage in Hebrews to the Apostle Paul. A long time ago people called Hebrews, “The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews,” but Bible scholars pretty much agree that Paul didn’t write it. They don’t know who did, but they don’t think it was Paul. So, sorry again for giving Paul more credit than he’s due (I must really like the guy). As far as I know, I’ve never attributed an Old Testament book to Paul, but keep an eye on me.