Summary: Pt 1 of the series investigates how Christians should view success in the world around us. Are our standards different than those of the world?
The Secrets to Successful Living
Pt 1 – What is Success?
What is success? What does it mean to be successful? Over the last couple of weeks I have had a lot of time to think over what it means to be successful. As I traveled I spent time in recession ravished towns in North Carolina and in 2 million dollar houses in Cape Hatteras. I drove through the bustling metropolis of Washington DC and the isolated hamlets of Boone and Banner Elk. It occurred to me just how much time we spend posturing and trying to impress other people. From the clothes we wear to the cars we drive to the discussion of the stuff we have – we spend so much time trying to prove to the world that we are successful in what we do. Of course the whole time I was gone the news has been a buz with the death of Michael Jackson (the king of pop). His death begs the question what does it really mean to succeed? By all the measures of this world we live in he was a great success. Riches, fame, influence, power but riches and fame, bought him no peace at all. In the end he died addicted, afraid and alone tormented by the trappings of his so called success. So what is success?
Google the word success and you get 330 million hits. Do an Amazon search and you will find over 820,000 books on the subject. With all this information we certainly should know what success is right?
One person defines success as “the completion of anything intended.” That’s no help at all – I drop a pencil and I’m a success.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the approbation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty; To find the best in others; To give of one’s self; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived - This is to have succeeded. That definition is a bit on the shallow feel good side for me.
So what is success and even more important what is success as God sees it? As Christians should our measures of success be different from those of the world around us?
Over the next few weeks I want to share with you what the manual for life says about success and how to achieve it in your life.
I know that we have recently looked at this passage from Philippians – but Paul’s words here help us to understand more clearly what success really looks like in the eyes of God.
The scriptures make it clear that success is in becoming who and what we really are – Paul had spent his life chasing after success as the world defined it. A Hebrew of Hebrews – the right pedigree, the right philosophy, the right enterprise. He did everything His world told him to do to be successful but in the end he found it to be worthless (skubalon – rubbish, dung). Everything his culture, his friends, his mentors told him was success in the end left him empty and alone. Until the day he met Jesus Paul was very much like Michael Jackson – he had it all and in the end had nothing. But then Jesus showed up and Paul lost everything he had and became what he was made to be. If Paul had not followed Christ he would be nothing – just another name in history. As Paul found himself in Christ he found out who he really was and why he was created. “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord…” Jer 29:11 “In your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” Psalm 139:16. What I’m saying to you today is that you can have everything this world says makes you successful – but if you are not becoming what God made you to be, life is just a twisted empty mess. God made you, designed you, to be who you are – who are you? What did God make you to be, to do, to share?
Paul makes it clear that success is in the journey not the arrival – v13-14 – The journey to success in this life begins when we make a choice to follow Jesus. Jesus calls His disciples out of their boats (the only lives they ever knew) and says follow me and I will make you fishers of men. What Jesus says is follow me and I will make you into what you were created to be. Thirty plus years later after a life of following Paul says “I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet..” Paul understood that success in the Christian journey is not in obtaining perfection but in pursuing it. The wonder of real success is in always becoming not in arriving. The joy, the blessing, the hope, the wonder of success as a Christian is in the journey. The problem is that most people have never even begun the journey. They have said the words, and even believed in Jesus but have never begun the journey of following Him in life. A W Tozer writes “…how long have you been listening to the same truth and hearing the same doctrine? You must be born again and there’s a judgment and so on. While that is true and we must not leave that, we must use that to advance. But we don’t do it. Whole generations of Christians grow up in the first grade…To them, nothing in the Bible means anything beyond this elementary stage…For my part I feel that I want a little ambition, a little spiritual ambition. Paul said, ‘forgetting what is behind…I press on toward the goal.’ There is a man not satisfied with the first grade.” Success as a Christian is a process of building upon the foundation that Christ has laid in us. It’s important that in kindergarten you learned your ABC’s but if you don’t learn how to join them together to make words you will never read. If you don’t learn how to phrase them properly you will never speak clearly. We build on a foundation – following Jesus is a journey that is ever becoming and never arriving – one that continues to the end of our appointed days.