Jim Binney, Christian counsellor, said “Success is the continual achievement of what God wants me to be and the continual achievement of the goals God has helped me to set.”
Pastor and author John Piper interestingly said this about success: “Our true success will never be known until all the branches of all the trees of all the seeds sown shall blossom in the sunlight of God’s eternity.”
Charles Malik chimed in: “Success is neither fame, wealth, nor power; rather it is obeying God. If you seek, you will know; if you know, you will love and if you love you will obey.”
Success has been elusive for many. Neil Diamond sang a song that gave testimony to that fact: “Did you ever hear the story about the frog who dreamed of being a king, and then became one? Well, except for the names and a few other changes, when you talk about me, the story’s the same one. But I’ve got an emptiness deep inside; and I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but it won’t let me go.” A man that by many would be considered successful concluded, “I’m not a man who likes to swear, but I’ve never cared for the sound of being alone.” To him, success brought an emptiness, an aloneness that he could not rid himself of no matter the crowds, acclaim or achievements.
In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 19, a rich young man, by any of the world’s measurements, a success, came to Jesus asking the Master what he lacked, for though he was wealthy, his soul was not at peace and he was not confident about his eternal destiny. After a brief exchange with Jesus, Matthew relates that this very successful, wealthy and religious young man departed from Jesus sorrowfully, for the one thing that Jesus told him he was lacking, a willingness to cease trusting in his material possessions and instead trusting and following wholeheartedly God, His Word, Way and Will, the young man was unwilling to do. A successful failure against the backdrop of eternity.
So, in searching for success, it is imperative that one posits first and foremost a right relationship with God. Success by His standard is not measured by the world’s canon but by the question, “What is your relationship with your Creator? One of trust, obedience, submission?” This is where and how success begins and unless one is in tune spiritually with the God of the universe, it matters not the heights to which he or she rises on the world’s measuring scales, success will be elusive and the emptiness will continue to be nagging.
But if you are in a right relationship with God through faith in the one mediator between God and man, Christ Jesus, it is well that you should desire to succeed in pleasing Him. No follower of Jesus should desire to be a failure, but rather should look forward to receiving what the apostle Paul looked forward to receiving, the crown of righteousness “which the Lord, the righteous judge shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them that love His appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:8) It is good that each believer strives to hear his Lord say, at the Judgment Seat of Christ, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
So, on a practical note, concerning success, hear what some have shared with those who would be interested in achieving success in order to glorify God:
Lorne Sanny, founder of the Navigators, said, “If you are suffering without succeeding, someday someone will succeed after you. If you are succeeding without suffering, it is because someone suffered before you.” On the front end or the back end, success usually will mean at some point, suffering. That may be why the wealthy young man, mentioned in Matthew 19, went away sorrowful. He would not allow the fact that to follow Jesus, giving up an enjoyment and dependence upon his wealth, would mean without doubt, suffering.
Teacher and author Kenneth Gangel, quoted Henry Ford on the subject of success: “Success is not rare. It is common. Very few miss a measure of it. It is not a matter of luck or of contesting, for certainly no success can come from preventing the success of another. It is a matter of adjusting one’s efforts to overcome obstacles and one’s ability to give the services needed by others. There is no other possible success. Most people think of it in terms of getting; success, however begins with giving.
One of my former pastors and teachers, Richard V. Clearwaters, pastored the Fourth Baptist Church in Minneapolis for 42 years. He was also founder of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. No one would have questioned his success. He was an extraordinary pastor-teacher and a master administrator. It was my privilege to have Dr. Clearwaters speak at the church I pastored in Indianapolis, shortly after he had retired. He said something that would yield an insight as to why he was successful; and so that I would not forget it, I wrote it down: “I recently retired (at 82) but still go to the office between 7:00 and 7:30 every day. My wife said, ‘Why do you go to the office every day at 7:00 when you are retired?’ I said, ‘It’s an old habit; I’ve just got some things to catch up on.’” People who have achieved success have cultivated some good (though “old”) habits through the years that have made them what they have become; those people, like “the Doc,” probably never feel like they have really ever “caught up” on everything.
One final thought from a person who reached the top rung in his profession, Sam Walton: “The key to success is to get out into the store and listen to what the associates have to say. It’s terribly important for everyone to get involved. Our best ideas come from clerks and stock boys.”
Knowing that some, if not many, of the readers of this “You and God” post are pastors or Christian workers, I leave you with this question: since it was important for Sam Walton to “get out into the store,” is it not also important for those of us who minister in God’s Word and Work to get out into the sheepfold and listen to what our people have to say? It just might enhance the possibility of our being or becoming a “successful” pastor, teacher or Christian worker.
“Moreover, it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.” (I Cor. 4:2)