No series on ancient wisdom, especially wisdom from Jewish kings, would be complete without a contribution from Solomon, son of David. The one thing that everybody knows about Solomon is that he was very wise. When he was anointed king, he asked God to give him the wisdom to govern the people, and God answered his prayer.
In I Kings 4:31 we read, "…He was wiser than all men…" This wisdom was exercised in many ways aside from leadership. Solomon studied botany, built the temple and other great edifices, wrote poetry and made a lot of money.
So King Solomon surpassed all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom.
- II Chronicles 9:22
You could say that he had the golden touch because his wisdom gave him the ability to succeed in everything he did. As a supremely successful individual Solomon was well equipped to give advice to others on how to attain and maintain success. In our time of economic stress and uncertainty I believe it would be profitable for us to review Solomon's strategy for success found in Ecclesiastes 11:1-10.
The book of Ecclesiastes is much like a personal diary. In his wisdom, Solomon tried to find out what life was really all about and if it was possible to be truly happy without God. He purposefully experimented with all of life's great attractions:
- Sensual and sexual pleasures of every kind
- Strong drink and its effect
- Creative building projects
- Acquiring knowledge in the sciences of his day
- The pursuit and exercise of political power
While experimenting with these Solomon was careful to record his observations concerning what he felt and learned from his experiences. Near the end of the book there is a chapter describing how to achieve and maintain success throughout one's life. Here, in short form, are Solomon's seven strategies for success:
1. You've Got to Give in Order to Get
1 Cast your bread upon the waters, For you will find it after many days.
This is a business principle that all successful people learn right away. There is no return without investment, no reward without risk. This is true if you want to succeed as a business executive as well as a student or a partner in a marriage. There are no opportunities for success in any of these or other ventures without an investment of time, effort, self-discipline and general giving of self.
People who fail usually have excuses and blame, resentment and anger. Those who succeed, on the other hand, do so because they were willing to give up something of themselves in order to achieve their goals. The old saying is as true today as it was in Solomon's day, "The more you give, the more you get."
2 Give a serving to seven, and also to eight, For you do not know what evil will be on the earth.
Successful people understand the reality of the world, that sometimes (more often than not) bad stuff happens.
Being prepared for this is wise. It's smart to have a back-up plan, a second window of opportunity. Success doesn't always come with the first career, the second try or the third idea. Sometimes it comes later, after several tries and in an area we never would have imagined. For example, the IBM Company believed that there would only be a market for two or three of their computers back in the 1950s but they continued to develop and expand their products and applications anyways and grew into the international leader it is today.
Successful people develop as many of their talents, and pursue as many opportunities as time and energy permit.
3. Don't Worry About What You Can't Change
3 If the clouds are full of rain, They empty themselves upon the earth; And if a tree falls to the south or the north, In the place where the tree falls, there it shall lie.
Solomon uses examples from nature to demonstrate situations over which we have no control and cannot change once they take place. The idea is that we don't always succeed at every step. Things happen that we can't control and when they do, we have to roll with the punches.
Successful generals choose when and where they will fight. They rarely go into battles that they don't believe they will win. In worst case scenarios they are able to recognize when they can't win and try to cut their losses in order to survive and fight another day.
To succeed, we need to invest our energy into viable causes, and not worry about past mistakes or the lack of resources and talent. To succeed, we need to use what we have, where it will do the most good, without regard for those things that are impossible for us to control.
4. Do it Now
4 He who observes the wind will not sow, And he who regards the clouds will not reap.
There is never a perfect time to begin. In most instances we simply need to begin or else lose the opportunity at hand. There is always a reason to put off doing something, always a pretty good excuse for not starting something challenging, difficult or life-changing. This is why there are only a few who make it to the Olympics, only a few who have been to the moon, only one Mona Lisa. Successful people act on their dreams, their goals and their vision right away.
I remember having a dream and in this dream I had a terrific idea for a lesson and series about a certain Bible topic. The outline was perfectly visible in my dream. I half awoke and asked God to remind me in the morning to write down the material I had thought of. The next morning when I tried to recall the idea and outline I was completely blank! I have spent many hours awake since then writing outlines, ideas and devotional articles that have come to me in the middle of night, not waiting for a more convenient time the next day.
The best time to begin succeeding at your dream or goal is now. Putting it off until tomorrow is the lazy person's way of avoiding the burden of success.
5. You Never Know Until You Try
5 As you do not know what is the way of the wind, Or how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, So you do not know the works of God who makes everything. 6 In the morning sow your seed, And in the evening do not withhold your hand; For you do not know which will prosper, Either this or that, Or whether both alike will be good.
Some things you don't see (the wind and, before x-rays, an unborn child) but they are never-the-less real. Success cannot be obtained or even seen until a person actually tries. Other people may be blind to the possibility of your success because they don't share your vision or lack confidence in you. Many won't support your efforts because they are jealous that your success will reveal their failure or weakness.
Solomon tells us to believe the evidence of the unseen, believe the evidence of God and the power of faith. Trying is another way of saying, "I believe," "I see," "I know," when others disbelieve, are blind or refuse to understand.
You never know until you try, but if you don't try, you'll never know.
6. Remember God's Judgment
7 Truly the light is sweet, And it is pleasant for the eyes to behold the sun; 8 But if a man lives many years and rejoices in them all, Yet let him remember the days of darkness, For they will be many. All that is coming is vanity. 9 Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, And let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; Walk in the ways of your heart, And in the sight of your eyes; But know that for all these God will bring you into judgment.
Success is marvelous and was meant to be this way by God. He didn't create us to be failures or to be unhappy, but rather to be productive and joyful, to enjoy the things that He gives us while we can. However, the pleasure that comes from success is not the end of life, nor is it the goal of life. In Ecclesiastes 12:13 Solomon says that the goal of life is to know and obey God.
Success is a by-product of the life lived to please, know and serve God. The danger lies in making success the goal of life rather than a benefit of a good and obedient life before God. Successful people understand that their success is a gift and they don't become so enthralled by success that they will do anything in order to obtain or keep it. Many who are rich and famous confess that they are often unhappy and dissatisfied because they sold their souls in the chase for success and learned that success, all by itself, was not worth the cost.
7. Success is Sweet But Success is Short
10 Therefore remove sorrow from your heart, And put away evil from your flesh, For childhood and youth are vanity.
Who won the gold medal for gymnastics ten years ago? Who was the richest man in the world 75 years ago? Someone has said, "If you want to judge the value of something or how much of yourself to put into it, see what meaning it will have 100 years from today."
Solomon's advice to the successful is to enjoy their success while they have it, because very soon it will be gone. Good advice for many who work hard to build families, homes, careers, but spend so little time enjoying the fruit of their labor.
What good is success and what honor does God receive if we don't take the time to smell the roses while they are in bloom?
What is interesting about this passage of Scripture is its worldly tone. Solomon writes about the things we need to know, remember and do in order to succeed in this world, whether one is a child of God or not. The strategy works either way. One thing not mentioned here, however, is that success in this world does not guarantee success in the next world. Jesus told us that there is nothing in this world, no degree of success or wealth, that will guarantee our soul's entry into the heavenly realm.
If we study Solomon's life, we find out that despite his great wisdom and incredible success, he failed in the one thing that was needed: obedience to God. His wealth and desire for pleasure led him to marry many foreign wives who eventually influenced him to sin by worshiping pagan gods, the one thing God warned him to avoid.
There is nothing wrong with pursuing success using Solomon's strategy to achieve our goals and dreams. After all, God is the one who gave him this wisdom which he passed on to us. But in doing this, let us remember that in order to achieve final success, which is to live forever with God, we must follow His strategy for heavenly success, not earthly success. This strategy can be summarized in the following way:
- We must believe that Jesus Christ is God and Savior (Acts 8:37)
- We must confess our belief in Him (Matthew 10:32)
- We must repent of our sins (Acts 2:37-38)
- We must be immersed/baptized in water in Jesus' name (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38)
- We must remain faithful to Jesus by following His commands and leadership our entire lives (Matthew 10:22)
This strategy may not lead to monetary wealth, may not put our names in the history books, but it will put our names into the Book of Life and guarantee our eternal existence with God in heaven.
If you have been struggling or discouraged I hope this lesson from King Solomon will help you learn how to better succeed in your family, career, business or character. What I truly hope for everyone, however, regardless of success on this earth is that all succeed in going to heaven with Jesus when He comes.