Every single one of us wants to be successful in life. No one starts out life with the dream of becoming a failure. You ask a child what they want to become in their life, they says things like, “I want to be a fireman, a doctor, a pastor, a mother.” No child wants to become a drug addict, a wino, a homeless vagabond or a criminal.
So where do we go wrong as we grow, and how can we achieve lasting success. And by lasting, I mean eternal, not something that blossoms for a few years here in earth then fades to nothing in eternity?
WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE?
What does success look like to you? It looks different for many people, depending on what they themselves are into. Success for a footballer might be playing for their country or winning a premiership, while success for a musician is having a hit record. A painter wants to sell a painting for megabucks, while a businessman sees success as making money or climbing the corporate ladder.
So what constitutes success for you? Is it having a nice house it? Is it being famous or being praised by your peers? Is it finding the right wife or husband? What does success look like, and what do you actually pray for?
Genesis 24:12 (ESV Strong's)
And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham.
Now many people have prayed for success in finding a life partner… some may be doing that right now! But many of us have prayed for success in exams, sports, business or other things in life. We tend tell God what we want to have happen and pray for success, for Him to crown our efforts and bless us with success.
I’M SO CONFUSED!
As Christians we often have a confused view of what true success actually is. When surrounded by other people constantly pushing to succeed, people of faith often struggle with the place and pursuit of success. The world tells us what success should look like, but for believers we have a vague notion that this isn’t real success and that God has a better plan, right?
Some believe material success always represents a compromise of spiritual convictions. Others feel success signals that God is pleased with them. I believe that neither of these extremes are necessarily true.
Still other Christians say they are not interested in success, and many use their lack of striving for success as an excuse for poor performance in key areas of life. If we cease to strive for success, we often satisfy ourselves with a second rate performance.
The issue is not whether we as believers should strive for success, because every one of us would agree that God deserves our best, but the real issue revolves around the question of what success really is.
The issue of success is complex and charged with emotion. But these observations may prove helpful:
1. TRUE SUCCESS IS DEFINED BY GOD NOT MAN
True success is defined by God, not by man and what people tell us constitutes success. We often pray for God to prosper us, and it is His desire to prosper us to success as defined by Him.
3 John 1:2 (ESV Strong's)
Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.
3 John 1:2 (KJV)
Beloved, I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers.
So God wants us to prosper, in health and every way, but above all He wants our souls to prosper, clearly a different measure of success than the world offers!
Worldly success, the success that we are constantly told to strive for, implies striving to meet a set of standards established by a person or group. Those standards may be false or true, but I would suggest that they do not constitute true success. For the Christian, only God can define true success! Consider these people…
Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Cobain, Sid Vicious, Janice Joplin, Heath Ledger, Robin Williams, Amy Winehouse, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ernest Hemingway … so many have achieved incredible success in their field of music, writing or acting, they were famous, they were rich, but found that when they achieved the success for which they strived for, the result was an emptiness inside, and they took their own lives.
Mark 8:36 (ESV Strong's)
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
2. SUCCESS EXACTS A COST
Obtaining success always involves a cost. It requires time, ability, and resources that may have been better invested in other areas. For example working long hours may bring a temporary promotion but you might lose the joy of working, lose your relationship with your spouse or weaken relationships with Christians who keep you joyful and accountable.
What good is it to work hard getting a business off the ground only to find that you lose your family because you are never home?
Then again, sometimes investing long hours in a job may be exactly God’s plan for this particular season and this job. We cannot sit back and hope that success will roll on down the line to us. Thomas Edison once said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
So any success takes effort..
Your job is to invest the effort where it achieves long lasting, eternal and true success.
Colossians 3:23-24 (ESV Strong's)
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
Everything worthwhile costs something. As Gordon Hinkley said, “Without hard work nothing grows but weeds.”
It costs you time and commitment to come to church, to do the Bible reading plan, to attend a connect group, but they are great steps towards success in your relationship with God. Don’t invest time, money and effort in a short term gain… play the long games for eternity!
3. EACH PERSON CAN CHOOSE WHAT TO PURSUE
The pursuit of success is made or denied by each person. No one can make someone else pursue success. You might say you want success in a particular area, but I can’t make you pursue it, only you can.
I have seen Christians pursue all kinds of things, some good, some bad, some important, some just a complete waste of time. So which successes are wise to pursue, and which are foolish to pursue?
Joshua 24:15 (ESV Strong's)
And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
The pursuit of success is a choice… your way, or God’s way?
As we pursue success—and as we choose what success to pursue—we can ask three questions:
- Who determines what success means for me? You, your parents, your family, your church… or God?
- What am I choosing by pursing this particular success? Am I choosing the eternal or something temporary?
- What should I, and should I not, invest to achieve this success?
A STORY OF FAILURE AND SUCCESS
Luke 5 tells the familiar story of a time where Peter and his fishing partners, James and John, went fishing and caught nothing. This is an interesting story of both failure and success in the life of Peter, a man we can all relate to with real triumphs and also real failures in his life.
The thing that turned his failure into success is really quite simple. I mean, he had fished all night and caught zip! This is roughly the equivalent of my fishing prowess. But when Jesus came on board his little boat, things took a dramatic turn.
Jesus gave specific instructions that a somewhat reluctant Peter followed.
Luke 5:4-7 (ESV Strong's)
And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.
Now Peter and the boys had been fishing, they had been doing what was their calling, their skill. They had been striving for success as they understood it, for prosperity in fish. They had chosen what to pursue, you could argue it was their God given mandate as fishermen, and they had certainly toiled and worked hard.
Peter’s problem up to this point, which had caused him to have empty nets, was that he was engaged in undirected service. In other words, God had not told him to do what he was doing, he had just assumed that if he worked hard God would bless his efforts.
But there was no lasting fruit. There were no great results. There was no success, not because he was sinning or out of God’s will. He was working and getting nowhere, spinning his wheels trying to get success, and the result was that he had toiled all night and caught nothing.
Like Peter, maybe you know what it’s like to try and do something for God, only to end up failing. Hopefully, the principles we’ll be looking at over the next several weeks will help you discover where you went wrong, and help you to really attain success in the areas that matter.
NOT AS THICK AS SOME
I must confess, I am pretty dopey at times when it comes to situations like this. Instead of pausing to reevaluate, I just knuckle down and keep plowing ahead, hoping against hope that things will get better, often finding I dig myself further into the mire rather than out of it! Is anyone else like that? Sometimes I think if brains were dynamite I would struggle to blow my nose!
How often we have begun a work for God that bears no fruit, because we have not really been directed by Him… but we’ve chosen what we think God wants and told Him to bless it? How often we have entered into a business deal or a relationship that is a disaster, because we failed to consult with the Lord. And even then, we don’t ask a Him or pull out, we ignore Him and keep plowing on!
If we are smart, we will learn to fail forward—which means that we will learn from the mistakes we have made and hopefully not make them again.
I’m sure that, looking back on the fishing expedition, Peter could quickly see that while the job he did was not bad or evil, he was outside of the will of God. He was not being directed by God. And when he finally obeyed, when he reluctantly did as God told and directed him, he saw the success he longed for.
And I believe many times in our lives, we miss what God wants to do, because we don’t take the first step. We don’t ask God, we tell God what we want to do and demand He bless us. And if we do ask, we often don’t listen and obey.
Proverbs 16:9 (ESV Strong's)
The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.
If you want God to tell you His agenda for your life for the next month or the next year, you’re not going to get it. God establishes our steps one at a time. He wants you to obey Him and take the first step He has already shown you. Why should He roll out His plans for your life when you won’t even obey the first step, or the next step?
Many times we don’t see what it is God wants to do in our lives. We just say, “I don’t want to do that”, or “thanks God, I can take it from here!” So we end up missing out. God wants to do something great in your life. He wants to do a miracle, He wants to move you into unbelievable success, eternal success in your life, but you have to obey.
If we live our lives God’s way and in God’s timing, our nets will be breaking, just as Peter’s net was, because it is directed service. How often have we wasted days, months, years, or even a lifetime pursuing things that are not the will of God for us.
Success, you see, true, lasting, eternal success, depends on you simply yielding to God, giving your life totally to Him and asking Him onto your boat—or into your life. But it also depends on you being obedient and allowing Him to be in control. There are many choices in life, and many of the choices are good. But you don’t want good choices, you want God choices. This makes all the difference in the world. Same for the church… we don’t want good choices, we want God choices!
ONLY ONE SHOT AT LIFE
This week I attended the funeral of a lovely young lady called Ruth. She has gone to be with the Lord, and I can tell you there is nothing so sobering as sitting in front of a coffin and contemplating your own mortality. Ruth’s short life of only 32 years was a life well led, and much loved. Likely you will get a lot longer than she had, so what will you do with the time you are given on earth. What will they say on your gravestone with all the years you’ve been given?
Hebrews 9:27 (ESV Strong's)
And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,
We all, you and I, have an appointment with death. God may call us home in 40 years time, or perhaps much sooner than that. You don’t get another life, you don’t get a rewind button, you cannot unscramble the egg that is your life, your choices, your successes and your failures.
Statisticians tell us that 3 people die every second, 180 every minute, and 11,000 every hour. That means that every day 250,000 people enter into eternity.
So what will they write on your gravestone? Will they write that you were a great businessman, or a great mum? What success will you be remembered by?
More importantly, how does God see your successes and failures? If this is the only life you get on earth, how can you make it a success for eternity, a success in God’s eyes? Someone one said, “Only one life, twill soon be passed, only what’s done for Christ will last.”
WHAT IS THE SUCCESS YOU STRIVE FOR?
So what is the success you strive for in your life? Many people simply don’t strive for any success at all, but are content to just float along, wasting the gifts God has given them. I don’t know about you, but I want more than that! I want to serve Jesus with all of my life, because that is fruit that lasts.
Many people are just treading water in their life. They are merely marking time, instead of enjoying real success in their lives. Their favourite day of the week is “someday.” Someday my ship will come in. Someday my prince (or princess) will come. Someday it’s all going to get better. Someday my life will change. Someday, when I’m financially set up, I will start serving the Lord. In a recent study ninety-four percent of the people surveyed said they were simply enduring the present, while “waiting for something better to happen.”
But here’s what people don’t plan on. They don’t plan on death. And they never envision it coming around the corner unexpectedly. When you’re young you tell yourself, “I don’t have to even think about that for another fifty or sixty years.” And that may true, or it may not be true. But death knocks at every door.
In this series on success, I want to shake us all out of our comfortable existences and open out eyes to the greatness of what God has called us to be, not just for ourselves, but for our families, our church, our community and our nation. I don’t care how successful you are in business, in your job, in the stock market or realestate or bitcoin. That stuff fades, falls, and I want to challenge you today to lift your eyes and focus on the Lord, and do what He calls you to do. I challenge you to take your eyes off worldly success and focus, even strain and strive towards eternal goals, the true success God has for you…
Philippians 3:13-14 (ESV Strong's)
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Most of us are afraid of dying, but many of us are also afraid of living. Afraid of trusting God, afraid that His success may not equate with success that we want. Paul earlier said this…
Philippians 3:7-8 (ESV Strong's)
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
Paul laid all his earthly success aside, the fame, the fortune, the learning, the earning, the prestige… everything, and he saw that true success is what we do for the Lord.
You have one life. You can waste it, you can invest it in something that ultimately doesn’t matter, you can put the nets out and order God to bless your efforts, or you can ask God what He wants to do with your life.
Question: What is the success you are striving for in your life? Is it what God wants for you? Does it really matter in eternity?
Now give it , whatever it is, to God right now.