One of my favorite websites is Successories.com. It started as a mail order business featuring beautiful posters and plaques that had success oriented themes. For many years it was very successful in opening up stores across America that provided every kind of stationary, knick-knack, poster, and gadget that had printed messages that gave the buyer an insight into how one could obtain success. For example, on beautiful posters were printed quotes such as:
- "Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference."
- "The speed of the leader determines the rate of the pack."
- "Success is a journey, not a destination."
There is a great demand for these products because the need to succeed, to reach goals, to feel a sense of accomplishment is basic to every person. Even Paul, the Apostle, was eager to succeed in evangelizing in places where no one had been before.
And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man's foundation;
- Romans 15:20
And so to desire success is natural and good; how we as Christians obtain it is another matter.
The World and Success
Like all good things, success can become an occasion of sin, a way to cause us to stumble in our walk of faith with the Lord. If we are not careful, the striving for success can lead us into sin in three main ways:
1. We Make Success Our God
Where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.
- Matthew 6:21
In other words, the thing that you value the most will be what you worship and serve. If succeeding is what your life is about...
- Succeeding in your job.
- Succeeding in your hobbies.
- Succeeding in winning at whatever.
Then all your emotions, time, and energy will be wrapped up in obtaining success.
I once visited with a member of our congregation who hadn't been to services in months, and his reply was that his time was devoted to schoolwork so he could get ahead in his job, and in coaching so his team could win the championship. He said he had no time for church. Jesus said we cannot serve two masters. If success is our master, then God in Christ is not, and we've found a new god for ourselves, success.
2. We Make Success Our Standard
This is a more subtle trap, but an easy one to fall into. When success is very important to us, we begin to believe that it should be very important to everyone else and that everyone should be success oriented.
As Christians, James tells us not to make distinctions between men. As he puts it in his epistle, giving the rich man a favored position and place in church and treating the poor man with contempt. (James 2:1-4)
The danger (and sin according to James) is to judge the value and worthiness of a person based on how they have succeeded in life. Jesus said, "Life is more than food or clothing." (Matthew 6:25)
There is more to a person than what they eat or what they wear, yet some will judge others simply by the appearance of success they may have, and this judgment will usually guide the way they treat them. Therein lie the sins of insincerity and selfishness caused by our false notion that a successful person is more worthy of our love than one who isn't successful.
Micky Dolenz, a member of the 70's band "The Monkeys," said that when he was famous and successful, everybody wanted to give him stuff for free. After his fame and much of his wealth was gone, when he actually needed help, no one would give him the time of day.
Jesus died for all, irrespective of personal success, therefore, our judgment should not be more exclusive than His.
3. Success at All Costs
There are two strategies for success in the world:
A. The Highway to Success
This is represented and encouraged by companies like Successories. They promote teamwork, excellence in work and product, innovation in approach, and a continual motivation of individuals with incentives, encouragement, and self-image builders that they provide through their products.
Another method is found in Steven Covey's book, "7 Habits of Highly Effective People." In the book, he stresses character and says that the development of one's character is the key to effective and successful living (it's not what you do - it's who you are).
B. The Low Way to Success
The low way says, "Do whatever it takes to get ahead." The low way's philosophy is that the end justifies the means. Cheat, lie, compromise yourself or your values, but just make sure you win! Seems that we're seeing a lot of this in the news lately.
Of course, the higher way is to be recommended but one must be careful not to fall into the "mind-set" of success:
- Where everything is calculated to produce the maximum effect for success.
- Where character development, encouragement, friendships, and contacts are all weighed out against their usefulness for success.
One reason I've always been wary of some (not all) multi-level marketing schemes is the idea of seeing everyone as a potential "customer" and a stepping-stone to greater personal success. The world gets awfully small and one dimensional when the only reason everyone and everything exists is to provide me with the resources for my own success.
The God of Success
The ideas of Christianity and success are not in opposition to each other - that it's somehow unchristian to succeed in this world.
- Our God is a God of success. He succeeded in creating the world that He intended to create.
- Our Lord Jesus succeeded in His very difficult mission to come here and die for our sins, resurrect, and send out Apostles.
- The Apostles succeeded in spreading the gospel and establishing the church in the Roman Empire against tremendous odds.
- The Lord's church has succeeded in lasting almost 2000 years despite constant attacks from every quarter. It is stronger than ever.
- The Bible, God's word, has remained unchanged and unmoved and continues to save, encourage, teach, and correct every new generation of believers.
- Christians and Christianity have a strong record of success, better than any nation, government, philosophy, or product.
Christians have a long track record of success, and the Bible provides some principles that help us understand why they have succeeded and how we can succeed not only in our religious life, but in every aspect of our lives as well.
How Christians Succeed
Much of what the success "gurus" preach comes from basic ideas that are found in the Bible, so you will recognize many of the concepts. I just want to make sure that you realize that they are from God and not from man. So, here are five ways to succeed as Christians:
1. Take a Risk
There is no faith without risk. Faith is all about taking a step, not knowing if that step will lead you to where you want to go or not.
- Noah risked his reputation in building a boat in the desert.
- Abraham risked his family in leaving for an unknown land.
- Moses risked his freedom in going before the Pharaoh.
- David risked his life fighting Goliath.
- The Apostles risked everything in following Jesus.
A recent survey of men over 90 years of age asked them what they would have changed if they could do it over. They answered that they would have risked more.
The Bible doesn't say to take foolish risks or sinful risks, but in order to get to somewhere or something else, we always have to risk what we have in hand. One of the Successories posters says, "You cannot discover new oceans unless you're willing to lose sight of the shore."
2. Take Responsibility
No one ever succeeded on someone else's hard work. Success in any endeavor requires that a person take the responsibility for failure or success. No one ever succeeded by accident. Sure, some win lotteries or Publisher's Clearing House or inherit money, but the number of these are tiny in comparison to the ones who succeed because they aim for it and work hard to achieve it.
Paul said in I Corinthians 15:10, "...I labored even more than all of them." He was explaining his response to God's grace and how it motivated him to work very hard in order to succeed in accomplishing all that he did in mission work. He knew where he was going and his gains were not by accident. It is an old story but true, no pain; no gain. Like everyone else, Christians need to visualize their goals and be willing to sacrifice in order to achieve them.
My success is my responsibility. If I achieve it, I will rejoice and give thanks. If I fail, I will blame no one and nothing else but myself. Unless it's my responsibility, it will never be my success.
3. Expect Opposition
The reason so many people fail is because they quit the moment there is opposition or difficulty. They think that opposition is God's way of telling them to quit or that if God wanted them to do something He would give them a smooth ride as a sign. With every opportunity there comes opposition. That's why the mountaintop is up, not down. I didn't say that one has to like opposition, trouble, or trials. I said that if you want to succeed (in business, in marriage, in ministry, in whatever) expect obstacles, adversaries, and unexpected things to go wrong.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians about a great opportunity to bring the gospel to Asia Minor, but listen to how he described this opportunity.
But I will tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
- I Corinthians 16:8-9
When we know there is going to be opposition we can be calm, not discouraged, ready to deal with it when it happens. Successful Christians understand that opposition is simply part of the cost of obtaining success. An open door of opportunity is never without some form of obstacles, otherwise everyone would be bold and courageous.
4. Be Prepared to Lose it All
Job was able to bear under his great suffering because he was prepared to lose it all if it came to that.
"Naked I came from my mother's womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord."
- Job 1:21
If success is your god, your only game, your one motivation in life, then you are in a bad bargaining position. Under these conditions if you lose, you lose it all. This attitude can easily tempt you to sell your soul in order to succeed.
When success is part of your life but not the focal point, however, you have the strength to start over when defeated and you have the ability to find peace and joy regardless of your rate of success.
Finally, do you really want to succeed?...
5. Depend on God
Of course this is the key element that separates a Christian's struggle for success and the rest of the world. For a Christian, success is simply another way of expressing what is at the center of his life, and that is glorifying God. This goal is perfectly reached through faith and obedience to Christ. Worldly success simply provides another avenue to honor the Lord. Education, skill, money, character, contacts, and hard work are all useful tools in obtaining success, but a Christian knows that his ultimate success depends on God, and so he does his best, but depends on God for the outcome. Solomon says:
Commit your works to the Lord
And your plans will be established.
- Proverbs 16:3
If your heart's desire is to please and honor God, He will delight in blessing your plans and give you the success that you strive for.
In closing, let me say that...
My prayer is that every Godly dream and hope and goal you have will succeed as you pursue them, regardless of the risk, as you invest your energy into your goals, as you overcome every obstacle, ready to lose it all, and as you put your full confidence in the Lord for final success. If you pursue success in this way, the Lord will surely bless you.