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Success: God’s Way or the World’s Way

Everybody wants to be successful! At least, nobody wants to be labeled a failure. But success like many words holds different meanings for different people. At the end of the day what does God say about success?

One of the most famous verses in the Bible about success is Joshua 1:8. The Scripture says, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” It is clear from this passage that reading, meditating, and then obediently doing the Word of God is what leads to success.

When you read Psalm 1:1-3, you see the connection again of meditating on the Scripture and then being obedient as the way to success. Here is what that passage says, “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with scoffers. But they delight in doing everything the Lord wants; day and night they think about his law. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season without fail. Their leaves never wither, and in all they do, they prosper.” But what does God mean by success?

In some camps, success is always defined as being healthy and wealthy. Whether you call it the “prosperity gospel” or the “name it and claim it” theology, success is clearly shown by abundant finances and no sickness. While I believe that God can bless someone financially and can heal us miraculously, this definition is way too narrow for what is taught in Joshua and the Psalms.

God teaches us that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). He says in these verses that His thoughts and ways are higher than ours; in other words God sees things from a different perspective than mere humans.

So we have to raise our understanding of what success means to the Lord. As mentioned earlier success can mean increased financial blessing and a healthier life. But there are other Scriptures that indicate blessing or success is more about having good and healthy relationships, even if it means less financial benefits. A case in point is Proverbs 15:16-17: “It is better to have little with fear for the Lord than to have great treasure with turmoil. A bowl of soup with someone you love is better than steak with someone you hate.”

So what is God’s standard of success? I define it as “doing what God wants, God’s way.” Period! Here are some examples from Scripture where people did things God’s way, even if they didn’t always experience financial blessing and good health.

Think of Moses in the Old Testament. While in Egypt, he lived in the lap of luxury. When it was found out he was in fact a Hebrew and not an Egyptian, Moses ended up in the desert for forty years. Then after God called him to deliver the Jews from the Egyptians, Moses takes roughly two million people on a journey through the wilderness to the “Promised Land.” Throughout the time in the wilderness Moses endured hardship, jealousy and rebellion from the people, and yet during those forty years I would say he was successful because he was doing what God wanted him to do.

Paul the apostle is another example of success because of his complete obedience, but also experiencing immense trials. In 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 he lists numerous beatings, being shipwrecked, dangers of being robbed, sleepless nights, being in pain, hungry and thirsty, not enough clothing to keep him warm, and emotional turmoil from worrying about the churches he founded. And yet, to him this was all light, momentary affliction.

No one would question that Jesus was successful, because he was always in the perfect will of God. However, we see Jesus dependent for his financial needs on others’ generosity. For much of his ministry he didn’t have a home when he and his disciples were travelling. Here’s the real rub, he was always persecuted and hounded by the religious authorities. So, if we define success as everything going well for us, then Jesus would be a failure.

The more I read about our faith, the more it keeps coming back to me that to follow Christ, is in fact to follow Christ. This means to give up everything for him; to want what he wants; to do what he does. How often do I want Jesus, but then want what I want? How committed am I to say that Jesus is all I need? How willing am I to desire whatever he wants in such a way that I may have more trials or difficulties instead of a life of ease?

Yes I want to be successful, but I want it on God’s terms. Because we are only passing shadows in this life, a vapor that is here for one minute and then gone the next. What I want is something that lasts for eternity.

When I die, I hope to hear Jesus say to me, “well done good and faithful servant.” That is a success worth dying and yes worth living for.

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